Chika Muna! with Horseowner/Breeder Mar TironaIf you’re familiar with the much-touted “superhorse” Ibarra of Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos, and wonder how this 3-year-old Triple Crown prodigy was acquired, look no further than Mar Tirona. His savvy horse-sense led him to pick Ibarra’s dam Fire Down Under from a mixed bag offered at the January 2004 Keeneland Sale.
A horseowner for ten years, and a breeder for seven, Mr. Tirona (48) is quiet, unassuming, always smiling, and widely acknowledged to be one of the “good guys” of racing. He’s never controversial, ever calm, and most passionate about horses and their lineages.
He owns “iron horses” Kalashnikov, Aminin, and Getting Personal, among others, and has a reputation for providing excellent care for his horses, ensuring a productive operation.
As of May 31, Philracom records show that Kalashnikov is ranked #42 among money earners, with total prizes of P968,514. Out of 19 runs, he has five wins, two 2nds, two 3rds, and three 4ths. His total career earnings are over P3 million. Mr. Tirona’s stable has earned P2.6 million for the first five months of the year, making him horseowner #29 in the rankings – definitely not bad for a modest racing stable.
I interviewed him at his office in Mandaluyong, where he runs a printing business, Master’s Touch. A Management degree holder, he loves to read, as evinced by the books that fill his space. Two huge black-painted wooden bookshelves dominate one wall, and both are filled with business tomes (such as “The Tao of Warren Buffett”) and thoroughbred sale catalogues.
LOVES: “The thrill of winning. I always dream of having a champion racehorse, but it takes a lot of luck. I want to breed champions too. I enjoy reading catalogues and studying pedigrees.”
HATES: “When people try to control the industry for themselves. It should be fair game – there should be a level playing field.”
OTHER INTERESTS: “Pinhooking, meaning I buy horses abroad and sell them here. At the January 2004 Keeneland Mixed Sale, I bought nine pregnant mares, including Fire Down Under whom I got for $8,000. She was in foal to a first-season sire, Yonaguska (by Cherokee Run).
“She was in foal that time to Ibarra. I also got the in-foal mares of Lovely Bid [entered for the Hopeful Stakes on June 24 at SLLP], Savannah Wind (who was in foal to Real Quiet), Pearl Buck, Lily Bellini, and Pilyo.”
IBARRA’s ACQUISITION: “While I was still in the US at the time, an American wanted to buy Fire Down Under from me. I set a price of $12,000 and he backed out. So I brought all nine pregnant mares home. No one wanted to buy them from me at my prices, considering all the expenses and trouble I went through to import them to Manila.
“Only Benhur Abalos helped me by buying most of them, so he now has Ibarra, Pearl Buck, Savannah Wind, Lily Bellini, and Pilyo. Vinery [the breeder] is elated that a stallion of theirs produced a Philippine champion.”
MOST FAMOUS HORSE HE OWNS: “Kalashnikov! He has his own set of fans who drop by the stable and take his picture. He’s the only painted racehorse now running. I was in Canada and half-asleep when I named him; if I had been fully awake, I would have called him ‘Holy Cow’ since most people say he looks like one.”
CONCERNS FOR THE INDUSTRY: “Philracom should give a clear-cut direction on where the industry should be heading – it’s clearly missing – and a lot of people have lost interest in racing, among them [horseowners] Albert Yam, Johnny Tionloc, and Atty. Ed Moreno [former owner of champion Wild Orchid].
“Our goal should be to widen our base, make racing more popular nationwide. We’re not addressing that. It’s the most important thing for our industry to flourish.”
Photo: A seascape in blues and greys frames Mar Tirona at his Mandaluyong office. (13 June 2007)