Briefing on the Philippine Horseracing Industry

This briefing was delivered by Philippine Racing Commission chairman Atty. Jose Ferdinand M. Rojas II on the occasion of the Congressional Visit to the Manila Jockey Club’s San Lazaro Leisure Park on 4 September 2008. It offers a short history and overview of horseracing in the country, meant for an audience unfamiliar with racing and breeding.

The visitors included congressmen and staff from the Games and Amusements Committee of the Lower House, under whose jurisdiction horseracing falls. 

Present at the event were the following congressmen:  Amado S. Bagatsing, chairman, Games and Amusements Committee (5th district, Manila),  Jeci A. Lapus (3rd, Tarlac), Ma. Milagros Magsaysay (1st, Zambales), Manuel Agyao (Lone District, Kalinga), Victoria Reyes (3rd, Batangas), Oscar Malapitan (1st, Caloocan), Franklin Bautista (2nd, Davao del Sur), Bernardo “Jun” Piñol (2nd, North Cotabato), Herminia Ramiro (2nd, Misamis Occidental), Pidi Barzaga (2nd, Cavite).

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Chairman Rojas delivers a short briefing to congressmen, staff, and other visitors. Behind him is a view of the home turn of SLLP’s inner and outer dirt courses.

Good evening, Congressman Amado Bagatsing, the Congressmen-members of the Games and Amusements Committee, Atty. Alfonso Reyno, Atty. King Reyno, officials and staff of Congress and Manila Jockey Club, ladies and gentlemen:

 It is my great pleasure to welcome you to San Lazaro Leisure Park for a night of racing, and to the world of horseracing in general. In honor of your visit, MJC and Philracom have prepared four Congressional races which you will witness tonight.

 For those not yet familiar with horseracing, it is an exciting, vibrant sport that not only provides a unique form of entertainment but also economic benefits, jobs generation, agricultural development, and government revenue by way of taxes.

 As a casual activity, horseracing has been enjoyed in this country since horses were imported into Luzon and Visayas by the Spaniards, and even before that in Mindanao, with the ponies introduced into that region from Javanese breeding farms.

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Calesa pony, early 1900s (Photo: Elmer Nocheseda, Flickr)

 As an organized sport, horseracing was formally organized in 1867, with the establishment of the Manila Jockey Club, our hosts this evening. The MJC was set up by the prominent Spanish and Filipino personalities and families of the time. A racetrack was initially built in Sta. Mesa, but the Club later moved to permanent facilities in Tayuman – the San Lazaro Hippodrome. Regulated betting was implemented and contributed as early as then to government coffers.

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San Lazaro Hippodrome

 In the early 1930s, American and Filipino investors put up the Philippine Racing Club and built the Santa Ana Park in Makati City. Other racing clubs came and went, but only these two racing clubs have endured to this day.

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The first bend at Santa Ana Park. (May 2008 )

 In the mid-90s, the Reyno group acquired MJC and invested over a billion pesos to move the racetrack to its present 70-hectare site here. PRC, also after being acquired by new owners, has also invested about the same amount to construct new facilities, also occupying 70 hectares, in Trece Martirez, Cavite, to which they plan to move within this year.

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A race at SLLP, taken from the backstretch, showing the SLLP Turf Club in the background. (Photo: Twinphoto, Flickr)

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Construction of the new Santa Ana Park racetrack in Trece Martirez, Cavite, is almost complete. (Aug 2008 )

 The past 141 years of racing have seen many changes and improvements in the industry, in both racing and breeding aspects. In view of this growth and expansion, government deemed it best to set up an agency that would directly regulate the sport. The Philippine Racing Commission was thus established via PD 420 in 1974, with regulatory powers over the sport but not the betting aspect, which remains with the Games and Amusements Board which used to have overall supervision.

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The 2008 Philracom Board: L-R (front): Commissioner Atty. Vergel Cruz, Chairman Atty. Jose Ferdinand M. Rojas II, Comm. Eduardo Domingo Jr. (back) Comm. Atty. Victor Tantoco, Comm. Dr. Reynaldo Fernando, Comm. Gerardo Espina.

 Races used to be run with short but sturdy native horses, while abroad, using the larger and speedier Thoroughbred species was the norm. When Philracom was established, it promoted a better climate for importation of Thoroughbreds and during that time, many horseowners invested in the best pedigrees from the USA, Australia, and New Zealand. Breeding became a bigger activity, and better horses began to populate the racetracks. As a result, track times have improved by an average of seven seconds from before.

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A thoroughbred stallion is paraded at the Herma Farms and Stud Mixed Sale in Batangas. (8 Sep 2008 )

 New technological advances have also been adopted when applicable to boost the sport’s revenues. In the 1950s, races were televised live for the first time, bringing racing to a wider audience. Up to today, races are covered live on cable television, providing for transparency in wagering for the good of the public.

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Racegoers at SLLP watch the races and view the odds through the live broadcast coverage of the races on cable television.

 With the rise of computers and the introduction of the computerized pari-mutuel betting system, off-track betting stations were set up all over Luzon, serving as additional channels for the racing public to place their wagers. This has led to larger revenue and corresponding government share throughout the years.

 MJC, for their part, has investigated other innovations such as “text betting” in coordination with SMART Communications, and hopefully this will be rolled out soon.

 Philracom, together with MJC, PRC, horseowners and breeders, jockeys and trainers, and all other industry stakeholders, are committed to making best efforts to continue to uplift and promote this sport that is not only a means of livelihood for many, but also a passion.

 In addition, Philracom, as an agency under the Office of the President, seeks to always, perform its mandate of supervision of this sport in a responsible, conscientious, and innovative manner.

 However, this industry needs the help of members of the Congress Games and Amusements Committee to pass laws that will promote a beneficial climate for investors, bettors, and other racing stakeholders. We trust and hope that we can count on your continued support.

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Over the live cable TV broadcast, Cong. Amado Bagatsing explains the role of Congress in making laws that will help the racing and breeding industry develop. With him at SLLP are (L-R): Philracom executive director Jorge Necesito, MJC executive vice-president Atty. King Reyno, Cong. Vicky Reyes, Cong. Mitos Magsaysay, Cong. Herminia Ramiro, Philracom chairman Atty. Joy Rojas, Cong. Pidi Barzaga. (4 Sep 2008 )

 I know that you will have many more questions about racing, and I – and everyone here – will be happy to answer them personally as the evening progresses.

 Please enjoy the evening, enjoy the races, and we hope you will come back soon for more. Good evening to all, and once again, welcome to SLLP and welcome to the world of horseracing!

JOSE FERDINAND M. ROJAS II, Philracom Chairman

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