THE HOARSE WHISPERER
by Jenny Ortuoste for BusinessWorld
Friday, 6 July 2007
Suggested heading: New importation rules
My columns on the recent surge in importation of racehorses discussed the many benefits this would bring to the local racing and breeding industry. I applauded the buyers who invested time, effort, and resources into bringing in thoroughbred bloodstock from the USA and Australia. I waxed lyrical about how future races starring these runners or their prodigies would build a heightened level of excitement for sports fans. I rhapsodized over the inevitable growth in the racehorse and breeding population which can only boost the industry upward.
Imagine my disappointment when I learned that the Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) is contemplating the implementation of guidelines that would discourage importation.
A resolution dated 14 June 2007 restricts the age of racehorses that may be imported to three years old or below. (Broodmares and stallions may be of any age, but shall not be allowed to race.) These runners would be allowed to race only until age 7. (Why should there be these age limits?)
Importers would not be allowed to buy horses that have run in races abroad (limiting the purchase of runners to those who have not proven their racing ability). Moreover, an importer may only sell a horse one year after the date of its importation (discouraging “pinhooking”, or buy-and-sell, an accepted practice around the world).
Ostensibly, this resolution is to benefit and boost the local horse-breeding industry – a worthy cause. However, the glaring reality is local breeders cannot produce enough horses. They cannot keep up with the rising demand caused by the influx of new players into the sport and by attrition of the racehorse population due to age, accident, disease, or other causes. They cannot make their produce affordable to buyers.
Since all breeders also have racing operations, what commonly happens is that many of them choose the best of the crop for their own racing stables, and sell off the “leftovers” at very high prices (the average is P650,000 for a 2-year-old). Many buyers cannot afford or do not wish to pay, and why should they, when they can buy a proven runner from Australia for a landed cost of P400,000 or even less?
Imposing restrictive importation rules would curtail the initiatives of buyers to bring in varied pedigrees that would raise the quality of local bloodstock for racing and breeding and bring more accrued benefits to the industry as a whole.
Some comments from industry players: “There should be a level playing field.” “Why unduly favor the few breeders?” “Let market forces prevail.” “The quality of races will suffer because there will be fewer horses to run and they will be of a poorer type.”
Yes, the breeding industry should be protected. Yes, it should be encouraged. But at the stage it is now, it cannot maintain, much less increase, the racing population and importation is the best solution to hike up numbers.
With a third racetrack in the offing (MetroTurf in Silang, Cavite), numbers are even more crucial. And what if the holder of the fourth racetrack franchise (Mindanao Racing Club) decides to actually build his dream facility in Davao?
In fairness, Philracom is asking for “comments/suggestions/inputs if any, on herein new guidelines prior to its implementation on 1 January 2008”. I think I can predict fairly accurately what comments will be tossed their way – none too complimentary, and I’ll bet my last peso on that. ***
Photo: Island-born champion Ibarra (Yonaguska-Fire Down Under) with jockey Antonio B. Alcasid Jr. after winning the Jaime V. Ongpin Cup (2nd leg Triple Crown championship) last 24 June 2007 at San Lazaro Leisure Park. Ibarra’s dam, Fire Down Under, was imported when pregnant with Ibarra. Philracom’s proposed new importation rules do not mention whether “in-foal” mares may still be brought into the country or not.