THE HOARSE WHISPERER By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 8 September 2010, Wednesday
Third Race Track?
Headline got your attention? Of course it would. For ages since anyone can remember, there have been only two – the Manila Jockey Club (founded 1867) and the Philippine Racing Club (1937). Yet in this age of declining sales due to substitute products (other forms of entertainment), an investor is poised to set up another facility as a venue for the ‘sport of kings’.
Over breakfast last week with horseowner and businessman Norberto Quisumbing, he discussed his vision for Metro Manila Turf Club. The 25-hectare property sits on the towns of Malvar and Tanuan in Batangas, sharing the cool climate of nearby Lipa, where 80% of the country’s Thoroughbred breeding ranches are located. Building a racing facility in this area, said Dr. Quisumbing, is only logical, given the close proximity of the farms where the horses are bred and spelled.
The track surface will be of sea sand, which is plentiful in this archipelago and still has, to many minds, excellent features such as superior drainage and good cushioning, as long as it is of the right grade. It is also cost-effective. A comfortable grandstand will be built that will have restaurants and VIP boxes – think Santa Anita Park in California. Stables will be constructed close by.
Apart from the racetrack, other contemplated amenities are villas and other residential spaces, a landscaped park for rest and relaxation, and a horseback riding trail. Groundbreaking for the project is slated for the end of this year, with completion by late 2011 or early 2012.
With the existing two tracks already in stiff competition for sales, the addition of a third racecourse will up the ante on the business and marketing end. At present, neither MJC nor PRC have anything by way of a consistent, branded marketing effort that makes intensive and effective use of traditional advertising channels and professional ad agencies. Much reliance is still placed on the existing niche market, word-of-mouth, and cable television racing channels run by homegrown talents, not experienced pros from the networks.
In terms of computer-mediated communication, the racing community might as well be in the Dark Ages. Use of digital media such as the Internet are not optimized; the official websites are slow and cranky, with minimal content that is not often updated. The fan websites provide more interesting and dynamic user-generated content. Mobile phones? Social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which have proven powerful for disseminating information? Forget it.
One constraint the industry has that it perhaps does not realize is the inadequacy of competent and imaginative writers to produce quality material. Racing needs not only competent, but excellent writers.
The sport of kings is alive and thriving in the Philippines; what a pity not more than a handful of people know about it. But hope springs eternal; perhaps someday the tracks will recognize the importance of communication and use trending channels in addition to others that have been proven effective for business purposes.
However, it must be mentioned that the industry also operates under heavy burdens, among them taxation. Philippine racing is among the highest taxed in the world while track take is low, leaving little left over for the tracks after operations to improve their facilities with.
A pending bill in Congress, authored by Tarlac representative Jeci Lapus and left over from last year, which was written by Palawan congressman Abraham Mitra and supported by Manila lawmaker Amado Bagatsing, seeks to reduce some racing taxes in a move to boost the sport’s sagging revenues by making it more attractive to bettors.
Maybe this year that law will finally be passed and bring some relief to an industry filled with passionate supporters like Dr. Quisumbing and stalwart institutions like PRC and MJC. ***