THW: Was Hagdang Bato Hit by the Gate?

THE HOARSE WHISPERER By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 11 December 2013, Wednesday

Was Hagdang Bato Hit by the Gate?

 Did superoutstanding favorite Hagdang Bato lose the 41st Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Presidential Gold Cup because he was hit by the starting gate at the jumpout?

After repeatedly viewing a tape of the race, Hagdang Bato’s owner and breeder Mayor Benhur Abalos has come to this exact conclusion.

In a letter he sent to the Philippine Racing Commission, Manila Jockey Club, and PCSO, the Mayor said: “Right from the sounding of the starting bell, while the rest of the gates opened just fine, Hagdang Bato’s gate apparatus failed to function correctly…the stall door…after opening, swung back and hit him…

“Thus, at the jumpout, the impact with the protruding door caused Hagdang Bato to trip and fall on his belly while his muzzle smacked the ground.” The horse and rider, he added, escaped serious injury but, having lost ground, managed to salvage only fourth place.

Abalos also said in his letter that he found out the starting gate used in the race “was a renovated one constructed way back in the 1960s. Surely there was a newer one. According to reports, the old starting gate was used only for the Presidential Gold Cup while the newer starting gate was used in all other races.”

“It is not so much because I wish to claim our losses,” added the Mayor, “that I bring these to your attention, rather it is my sincere desire that steps should be taken to prevent similar events…in the future.”

He also said that Hagdang Bato should be considered a non-starter to “protect the interest of the racing public.”

Hagdang Bato’s loss cost his connections the P4 million winner’s prize and the breeder’s prize, not to mention the honor and the glory.

An inquiry was conducted by Philracom into the matter on December 9, with Abalos and members of the media in attendance, along with representatives from MJC. We are awaiting the official findings of the Philracom on the matter, but prior to the inquiry, I’d been asking around and gained information from reliable sources.

The MJC Stewards report for that particular race is very short: “Hagdang Bato (JB Hernandez) tripped at the start and was slow to begin. When questioned Hernandez explained that his mount knelt down after it jumped out form the gate. Stewards told him to be careful with his future rides.”

Hernandez reportedly said at the inquiry that he did not actually feel the gate bump Hagdang Bato, which is why he did not mention it to the stewards, who grilled him about the stumble given that he was riding the favorite in the biggest race of the year.

A veteran rider told me that during a race, they are supremely focused on nothing else and often fail to notice other things, so it’s quite possible that Hagdang Bato was hit by the gate but that Hernandez did not notice.

Why was the old Puett gate used? I was told that it was thoroughly renovated with new frames and mechanisms, and is considered more reliable than the other gate being used by MJC, therefore it was the one trotted out for the PCSO Gold Cup.

PCSO, for its part, is only the race sponsor and has no authority over race conduct and monitoring. MJC already aired its side during the inquiry. At this point, all we can do is wait for the recommendations of Philracom, which is the governing body of the sport and has motu propio powers with regard to the races.

If you want to see the tape yourself, go to Youtube and search for “Hagdang Bato tinamaan ng gate”. I also posted a photo of the jumpout on my Facebook Page, “Gogirl Racing”.

Let’s hope this incident has a conclusion that Mayor Abalos and all parties will find fair and satisfactory.

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