THW: Bucket List

THE HOARSE WHISPERER By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 22 February 2012, Wednesday

Bucket List

Okay, this is what happened in the “false start” incident in Race 3 of last Wednesday’s racemeet at San Lazaro Leisure Park.

What’s a “false start”? In thoroughbred racing, it’s when a horse or horses break through the starting gate before the official start of the race.

Under PR 63 of the Philippine horseracing rules and regulations of the Philippine Racing Commission, the “failure of more than two gates to open simultaneously with the other gates shall warrant a declaration of a false start. In such case, the Board of Stewards may order a re-start if possible (i.e., no entries reached the half-mile marker), or cancellation or re-scheduling of the race to a later date.”

In that particular race, four horses broke through – those in stalls 4, 5, 7, and 13. The Manila Jockey Club Board of Stewards should have sounded a siren to halt the race, along with tripping blinking lights to alert the jockeys. Both signals failed to function and the race continued, with Entry No. 1, Hot, reaching the finish line first.

The race was considered cancelled, but all entries were deemed live on exotic bets such as Pick 6 and Winner-Take-All. Bettors were enraged when the winning WTA combination was not paid out that night, as MJC invoked the Games and Amusements Board ruling that dividends will be reassessed before a pay-off. The payments were said to have been ready at the MJC main office last Thursday.

The failure of the gates, siren, and lights all at once in that particular race is Murphy’s Law at work, but the incident could have been avoided if proper care and maintenance were given to the equipment.

I used to be assistant racing manager at MJC back in 2007 and the gate was already a problem back then. I had begged for a hangar or garage to be built to house the aparato and keep its magnetic mechanism safe from the elements. Approval was given, but for some reason construction didn’t happen.

The photo-finish camera was also wonky – it was an obsolete model – and needed to be replaced, according to the camera’s Japanese manufacturer.

I remember that the photo-finish photographs that were computer-printed on the floor above the stewards’ room were lowered from a window to the level below in a bucket. The stewards or their helpers would stand out on the balcony outside the Stewards’ Room, hands outstretched to catch the bucket – an old tin bucket encrusted with dried cement – and fish out the all-important photo. They would then tilt it this way and that to make out the grainy details. Ah, the memories of being in racing operations.

Forward five years later, and it’s still the gate, and now even the lights and siren, that are malfunctioning. Racing clubs are obligated to provide adequate facilities and properly maintain them, as listed in PR 3, items A to U.

Item B is a “well-maintained starting gate apparatus for use during official races;” Item L is “sirens and/or other devices controlled by the Board of Stewards to announce any race protest, inquiry, or annulment of races.”

The Philracom under Chairman Angel L. Castaño Jr. summoned last Thursday and Friday the MJC personnel involved to explain the incident – from stewards to starting gate boys. Sanctions will be imposed, says Philracom commissioner and executive director Jesus Cantos, after all the findings of the investigation are in.

The good that will come out of this incident will be the tighter monitoring of the condition of racing facilities and equipment.

The importance of these two basics cannot be over-emphasized. They ensure the proper conduct of races according to international standards, the safety of participants (jockeys and horses), and, as per PR 3, “raise public confidence in the sport.”

Sometimes, though, I wonder what happened to that old tin bucket.

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