THE HOARSE WHISPERER By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 27 March 2013, Wednesday
Who is Hagdang Bato?
Hagdang Bato – “stone staircase,” and the name of a place in Mandaluyong City – is rightly regarded as the best Thoroughbred on the tracks today, and with good reason.
His record stands at 17 wins out of 18 runs (the lone loss was a second place finish) with earnings of P15.8 million as of February 13 this year, barely a couple of months into his fourth year.
He was valedictorian of his juvenile year and topnotcher of his three-year-old (3YO) season as well for sweeping the Philippine Triple Crown series, the first to do so in nine years since Silver Story.
He holds a track record – 1:37.8 for the mile, posted with regular rider Jonathan Hernandez during the 19 August 2012 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Grand Derby at Santa Ana Park.
So impressive are his record and past performances that the Philippine Sportswriters Association crowned him the 2012 Horse of the Year, and Hernandez, Jockey of the Year.
Hagdang Bato’s most recent major win was the March 9 Philippine Racing Commission Commissioner’s Cup at Santa Ana Park in honor of former commissioner and star jockey Eduardo “Boboc” C. Domingo Jr.
Hagdang Bato’s owner, Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos, is justly proud of this product of his breeding regimen.
“Buyer lang ako ng kabayo noon; ang maganda, breeder na ako ngayon,” he said. Abalos has bred other champions in his five years or so as a Thoroughbred breeder, among them Ibarra, Redemption, and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office stakes race winners Cat’s Silver, Bumpy Ride, Never Cease, and El Libertador.
“As a breeder,” he went on, “the feeling is overwhelming. Andoon na ang luck. But all this is not a fluke. With just a small but reliable band of six broodmares and a system based on fundamental principles, we are getting good results.”
Hagdang Bato was sired by Quaker Ridge (a Herma Farms stallion) out of Abalos’s broodmare Fire Down Under, which he imported from the United States in 2004.
Fire Down Under earned $47,814 in 13 starts, and comes from a lineage that’s predominantly Northern Dancer (a “sire of sires”), with, interestingly enough, some Sham blood (called “one of the fastest racehorses of the 20th century”, but overshadowed by his contemporary Secretariat).
Quaker Ridge, on the other hand, provides a “balance to the Force” with his Forty Niner and Mr. Prospector blood. He earned $95,610 in seven starts before being sent to the Philippines in 2006.
Abalos says there are many factors that go into breeding. “Choosing bloodlines, nutrition for the mare while pregnant – those are all important,” he said, “along with the proper pasture, a good jockey, and a knowledgeable trainer.”
He is sentimental about the very first horse he acquired nine years ago, Dandansoy, which recently died, the Mayor said, giving birth to a large Quaker Ridge colt “which we will hand-raise on goat’s milk.”
As for his racing operations, Abalos attributes his success to careful programming of races – “hindi ako nanlalaspag ng kabayo,” he said. “I don’t double-run my horses and I select their races carefully, like in the case of Hagdang Bato. I don’t enter him in all the big races, such as last December’s Ambassador Eduardo Cojuangco Cup.”
“My horse is still young,” he added. “His conditioning especially at this point is important. The Horse of the Year award makes it all complete, that’s why I don’t overwork him.”
What else is in store for Hagdang Bato?
“We are preparing him for the PCSO Silver Cup in June and the PCSO Presidential Gold Cup in December,” Abalos said.
Other races may yet be in the offing in 2013 for this supercolt, but one thing’s for certain – he has already secured himself a permanent place in racing history as one of the sport’s greatest racehorses. ***