THW: Importation:Racing’s Hope



by Jenny Ortuoste for BusinessWorld

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Suggested heading: Importation: racing’s hope

Some long-time horseracing fans seek deeper involvement in the sport that they love. Obviously not everyone can be a jockey, trainer, racecaller, or what have you. But anyone with the ready cash can become a horseowner – and feel the glory in lifting a trophy at the races and the sense of belonging to this close-knit world.

Lately the industry has seen the entry of a spate of new owners, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with their one, two, or three runners. As they learn the ropes, they add more horses to their stables, while some even start up a ranch and try their hand at breeding.

Where do they source their thoroughbreds? There are local breeders such as Herma Farms and Stud, Paris Match Farm, Red N Ranch, Mesa Stud, and the acclaimed Royal Maverick Ranch, just to name a few. All are Lipa, Batangas-based (where the soil is said to be rich in calcium so the grass is as rich as that in Kentucky, birthplace of champions).

However, the demand is so high that local breeders cannot supply enough. Prices are at a premium, with the lowest at around P500,000. The average cost of a local-bred is P700,000.

Importation is deemed a more cost-effective way of acquiring horses. Most buyers flock to the sales in Australia and New Zealand, where they can obtain the desired pedigrees (usually American). At sales like the Magic Millions and William Inglis, a runner can be acquired for as low as Aus$5,000. Instone ships to the Philippines for as low as US$1,400. (There is also an import tax of P50,000 per horse.)

But the Mecca for buyers is still the US, where those with well-lined pockets converge at the Keeneland Sales in Kentucky or the Fasig-Tipton in Maryland. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is well aware of the eagerness of Filipino buyers for renowned US pedigrees, so last May, they provided incentives for them to attend the Fasig-Tipton Sales of 2-year-olds in training. The icing on the cake was free admission to Pimlico Racecourse to watch the May 19 Preakness Stakes (second leg of the US Triple Crown).

The Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) was represented by commissioners Atty. Vergel Cruz and former star jockey and film actor Eduardo “Boboc” Domingo Jr. (of “Isang Platitong Mani” fame). Also with them were horseowners Cesar Avila who, at the sales, bought three (sired by Officer, Glitterman, and Gibson County); Rene Villoria (one); Ferdie Dimaisip (one); and Manny Santos (nine, one a Proud Citizen-Jelly Roll Frolic worth US$26,000).

On June 14, Comm. Domingo will meet USDA reps to discuss concerns such as shipping costs – it’s a stiff US$6,680 per horse via Korean Air.

Says Comm. Domingo, “More Filipinos will buy from the US if shipping is more affordable. We are also looking into easing strict importation rules, such as the one that allows only horses 7 years or younger to be imported.

“There is also a clamor for higher prize money for imports, which at present are barred from many stakes races that are open only to local-breds. The Philracom is studying these and other issues that impact the supply of horses.”

For thrilling races that draw spectators, it’s an industry axiom that the more horses, the better. While waiting on local breeders to increase production, importation is the best way to quickly, easily, and cheaply boost the population of quality runners and allow more fans to get involved as horseowners. ***

Photo: Yearlings at Herma Farm & Stud, Lipa City, Batangas. 9 December 2006.

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