The New Savior of Philippine Racing

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Two days after the race, fans are still talking about Ibarra’s phenomenal victory in the 2nd leg Triple Crown (the Philracom-sponsored Jaime V. Ongpin Cup) at San Lazaro Leisure Park (SLLP).

By and large, his devotees are more fervent now in singing his praises, most of the unbelievers have converted, and the only heretics who mutter darkly about his possible losses in future races are few.

They hail his consistency, speed, and flexibility. All are in awe of his capabilities, that some say are not fully tested as he has not had to work very hard to win. So far unbeaten in all seven starts, he is being extolled as the new savior of racing, the one that will lift the sport out of the doldrums it sank into after the great Wind Blown was retired to stud in 2004.

Fans discuss in awe how cool Ibarra raced, and how calm his jockey Antonio “Oyet” B. Alcasid Jr. was atop the skinny bay colt. “Malamig tumakbo, malamig rin ang pagdadala,” was the consensus.

Despite stubborn filly Es Twenty Six’s latching on to his flank for most of the race, Ibarra was not fazed and in fact this may have helped him perform better. According to his trainer Ruben Tupas, the island-born colt prefers to run with another horse beside him; the herding instinct goads him to keep racing.

As to the “cool running”, Tupas surmises this could be due to Ibarra’s discomfort over an undescended testicle – a minor issue, though, says Tupas, that does not require a surgical procedure. “Hihintayin nalang naming bumaba ito ng kusa,” he remarked.

Unbeknownst to many, Ibarra almost did not get to join the Triple Crown. Philracom rules state that 3-year-olds qualify to enter based on their earnings. Ibarra had not been raced often and the prize money he had earned put him out of contention. He was only allowed to compete after EJ Forever and Cats On Fire were pulled out from the race.

Ibarra’s owner, Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur C. Abalos, spoke with passion about this issue during a live TV interview at SLLP. “Philracom should review their rules on this matter,” said Mayor Abalos.

Named after the protagonist Juan Crisostomo Ibarra in Jose Rizal’s influential novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, the 3-year-old island-born bay colt by Yonaguska (USA) out of Fire Down Under (USA) is now the most valuable runner in Philippine racing.

Fire Down Under was acquired by horseowner and breeder Mar Tirona at the Keeneland, Kentucky January 2004 sale. She was then in foal to Ibarra when brought over. Abalos bought her from Tirona only on instinct and with respect for the pedigree, and to help out a friend. His kindness was rewarded many times over; his hunch paid off with a champion. His purchase of Fire Down Under is perhaps the best move he has made so far for his racing operation.

Yonaguska (1998), Ibarra’s sire, was sired by Cherokee Run out of Marital Spook. On his sire’s side he has Nasrullah and Sir Gaylord blood, while from the dam side he has an infusion of Mr. Prospector, Nashua, and Buckpasser.

To the mix, Fire Down Under (1995) adds (via Sham) Bold Ruler blood for speed with dashes of Princequillo for staying power – the recipe that yielded the incomparable Secretariat.

Hoary old horsemen nod their heads and say, yes, pedigree is good, but in the end, it is the track that will determine who is and who is not a champion. Ibarra goes into the fray armed not only with the quality of pedigree, but with his own tough physique and fighting heart.

He has what turf writers have called “the look of eagles” – it means having the will and the spirit to persevere and win. This is something that mere lineage or training cannot hope to pass on, for it is innate.

I believe Ibarra will sweep the Triple Crown. I confess that his last performance erased any doubts I had about his abilities. I pray that he will remain sound and healthy as he gears up for the Triple Crown 3rd leg (July 22 at SLLP).

Ibarra is the new savior of Philippine racing, and July 22 will be his coronation day.

Photo: Ibarra placidly paces the parade ground before his historic win in the 2007 Jaime V. Ongpin Cup last 24 June at SLLP. (Roel Taripe)

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