PROFILE OF A RIDER: Ramon B. Guce
Horseman’s Digest #3, April-May 2007
by Jenny Ortuoste
The name “Guce” is instantly familiar to any local race aficionado as the racing dynasty of jockeys and trainers. From the legendary “El Maestro”, Jesus Jr. to the young ones John Paul and John Alvin, this family is one that has produced perhaps the most number of accomplished members of the racing industry.
Racing fans who have been around since the late ‘80s and ‘90s will recall jockey Ramon “Monching” B. Guce, son of jockey and now trainer Pablito and brother of jockeys Lyndon and Andres. Monching grew up near Santa Ana Park, started galloping horses in 1983, and after graduating from George Stribling’s Philippine Jockeys’ Academy, became a professional rider on 6 September 1985.
Monching made quite a name for himself in the ranks of Class A riders, having steered stakes champions Hobby (Triple Crown leg, Presidential Gold Cup, Sampaguita Distaff), Three In One (Millenium Open Championship, at that time the richest race in the country), and Out To Conquer (Gran Copa de Manila), as well as consistent winners Robertito, Master Color (trained by his father), and High Horse (owned by the late great Fernando Poe Jr.).
For 16 years, from 1985 to 2000, Monching was a familiar presence in local racing, considered dependable and talented, but overshadowed by the more prominent riders of the time, such as his cousin Jesus C. Guce Jr., Eduardo C. Domingo Jr., Elpidio S. Aguila, and others. He felt the need to strike out on his own and face new challenges, so he took on perhaps the biggest of all – to try and make it in the highly competitive world of racing in the United States.
In December 1999, he received the Jockey of the Year award. Emboldened by this recognition from the racing industry, he bought a plane ticket to California in July 2000 and sought out his godfather Aurelio “Boyet” Reyes III, the only Filipino trainer in the US. He got his first mount at Los Alamitos in late 2000 and, to everyone’s surprise, won – a foretaste of all the good things to come.
Today, after seven years in a foreign land, Monching is one of the foremost riders in his circuit. Early in 2006, he was awarded his third Thoroughbred Riding title (for 2005; he also won in 2001 and 2002) at Los Alamitos after notching 69 victories, despite sitting out the first half of 2005 due to a back injury. He has won more than 300 races and has reaped many other awards. One of the most memorable was the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Association (PCQHRA) Special Achievement Award. “I couldn’t believe I heard right when they called out my name for that award,” he says.
While he hasn’t copped any major stakes wins yet, he has tucked quite a few minor ones under his belt, such as the Jack Robinson Stakes (twice) at Pleasanton, the Scott Lewis Handicap (550 yards), Appaloosa Championship (870 yards), the Fresno Arabian Distaff Handicap, the Pomona Handicap, and many more.
When asked the “secret” of his success, Monching just shrugs and smiles. “Being a jockey runs in my blood,” he says. “But my greatest inspiration is my dad, former jockey and now trainer PL (Pablito) Guce.”Some of the local riders that he admires and shaped his riding style are Jesus C. Guce Jr, Danilo I. Castor, Esteban S. de Vera, Joe Noel D. Camu, Gerardo E. Biazon, Renato C. Sordan, and Arsenio R. Lantin.
While many other Filipino riders are making waves abroad, especially in the Middle East, he is the only one who was able to strike it rich in the United States. Jesus C.Guce Jr, “El Maestro”, endured three losing years there before calling it quits. Johnny Saulog, Joe Noel Camu, and Estoy Jacob (his brother-in-law) only lasted a year or two before throwing in the towel.
What makes him different? “I like challenges and competition”, he says. “I wanted to prove to the people here in the US that a Filipino rider could do just as well as they do – and even beat them.”
But it wasn’t an easy coast for Monching to get to where he is now. “When I first arrived, in 2000, I felt that the discrimination against me was really strong. Even fellow Filipinos didn’t think that a Filipino jockey like myself could adjust to the riding style here. What’s even more painful is that my fellow jockeys ganged up on me by doing their best to ‘burn’ my horses.”
“Burning”, he explains, is when another jockey would deliberately ride fast at the beginning to tire out Monching’s horse. Envy would make the other rider throw his own chance of winning just to ensure Monching’s defeat.
But with the help of Boyet Reyes, Boy Claudio, agent Neil Bricks, trainers Charles Treece, Adan Farias, Blane Schanaveldt, and Eloy Navaro, and fellow riders Modesto Linares, Baltasar Contreras, John Court, Martin Pedroza, Alex Bautista, Carlos Bautista, and others, Monching was able to weather the storm and settle in. Also lending him invaluable support is his family – wife and “soulmate” Socorro, son Arbhiemon (18), and daughters Clarissemon (16) and Mary Monique (12), who joined him in the US in 2001.
Was it worth all the heartbreak and pain he went through? “No regrets,” he says immediately. “I am so happy here.”
His home track is Los Alamitos (his home is close by), but he also rides at Santa Anita Park, Hollywood Park, Pomona/Fairflex, Del Mar, Bay Meadows, Golden Gate, and other racetracks in Northern California, with a three-month stint recently at Sunland Park in New Mexico.
How does American racing compare to the local version? “There’s a very big difference. Here in the US, all the horses are trained to change lead. They have very good quality pedigrees and are all very competitive.”
Monching adds, “One thing I really like here is that the safety of jockeys is well-protected. Track insurance will take care of a rider in case of an accident, provide him with 2/3 of his regular income and all other medical expenses until he recuperates and gets back in the saddle. Trainers here are different too – they saddle their horses themselves before the race. And there’s no class distinction – whether you’re an owner, trainer, groom, jockey, or helper, you’re all treated the same.”
When asked to compare the abilities of Filipino jockeys to their American counterparts, he is fiercely patriotic. “Nothing beats the courage and determination of Filipino riders. The only problem is that (riders in Manila) just go along with what the horse wants; they don’t bother to change lead properly. Here, it’s the first thing that trainers look for when choosing jockeys.”
Monching doesn’t rest on his laurels, though – he feels that he still has more to learn and develop in terms of his riding skills. “I’d like to be using four fingers instead of three on the reins, and look good on top of the horse, getting really flat. I try to switch whip hands more neatly, and to be more disciplined while riding.”
His dream races and goals? “I’d love to ride in and win the Kentucky Derby, Dubai Cup, a Breeders’ Cup race, and to win an award as an Eclipse and Quarter Horse Jockey of the Year.”
One of these days, he says, he’d like to pay a visit to Manila and share what he has learned about American riding styles to his fellow jockeys. For those who’d like to try their luck in the US, he says, “they should have confidence in themselves, determination, and they should never forget to pray to God.” ***
Photo shows Ramon Guce at the parade of a race.