HORSEMAN’S DIGEST March-April 2008, by Jenny Alcasid
Calling the Shots
Ricardo de Zuñiga on the past, present, and future of race calling
Ricardo de Zuñiga calling a race at Santa Ana Park. (18 Nov 2007, Santa Ana Park. Photo by Jun Pinzon)
His sonorous voice with a faintly American accent is familiar to all who have been watching races for the past several decades. Acknowledged as the “Dean of Racecallers”, Ricardo “Carding” de Zuñiga (66), has seen years wax and wane in the sport that is closest to his heart.
Carding’s father was Oscar de Zuñiga, a racing writer who had an influential newspaper column in the 1950s and did much public relations work for the industry.
Forty years ago, the Manila Jockey Club (MJC) was still based at the San Lazaro Hippodrome in Tayuman, Manila. At the time, the racecaller there was Manolo Marvive. He was to migrate to the United States in 1963, and needed someone to take over his duties. He fastened his eye on the 22-year-old Carding.
“Isang araw, hinanap ako ni Manolo,” says Carding. “He found me at four in the morning somewhere in Avenida. He told me I would be announcing the races. Just like that. Wala pa kasi silang ibang nakukuha.” Soon after his talk with Manolo, the then-manager of MJC Francisco Beech Jr. also invited him to be a part of the team. Carding’s start in racing was that simple.
The first time he ever called a race, he was set up by several people in a position where he could not back out. “It was in the early ‘60s,” he says. “I was at San Lazaro in the announcer’s booth with Tony Trinidad and Manolo Marvive. Kasama namin sina horseowner Leroy Salvador, and my mom. Then one by one, they got up and left. The race started. I was all alone. Leroy came back and said I had to call, as neither Tony nor Manolo had returned. So I announced one race. Chila won that one, ridden by jockey Torno.” Carding recalls being very nervous at his debut. “Bandera lang si Chila throughout the race, kaya siya lang ang tinawag ko. Wala na akong ibang kabayong tinawag kundi siya.”
It was difficult at first, but as he settled into the job, Carding became more comfortable with it. “Noong unang dalawang buwan,” he says, “mahirap, kasi pag nagkakamali ka, binu-boo ka ng tao.” What made it even harder was that he was calling the races alone. “Walang ibang announcer sa MJC noon, ako lang. Sa Santa Ana Park naman, si Tony Trinidad lang ang announcer.”
In 1963, when Carding started, MJC had races only on Saturday and Sunday. Races commenced at around nine in the morning and lasted until seven at night. There used to be twenty races per day, then this was reduced to eighteen later on.
In 1968, Carding got a chance to call races for a year at Santa Ana Park, when its former owner, Aurelio P. Reyes, was still alive. “I was one year with PRC, in the ‘60s,” Carding recalls. “(Horseowner Armando) Mandy and Tonichi Trinidad also called at PRC, while their brother Tony was at MJC. I returned to PRC in 1997 when Rey Bersalona and other racecallers there went on strike. Later, Ernie Enriquez and Ira Herrera joined me on the team.”
The racehorses back then had nice names, Carding says. “Naroon sina Balalaika, Wichita Lineman which belonged to (Aristeo) Putch Puyat, Jonas Cord. Yung Brown Carpet, mayroon na noong araw. Carpetbagger, Iron Man, Partnership, Taga-Ilog, and Arampoy ridden by jockey Leonardo.”
Carding’s favorite horses included “Iranza, a native horse – maliit pero magaling. Kahit sino ang sumakay, nananalo – si jockey Elias, jockey Artacho, jockey Fortunato, jockey Baby. It was owned by Mr. Alva.” He also cites the Yulo family’s Now Giddyup and Gypsy Grey. Other horses were Bringhomedbacon; Gray Lord; Distinctive, owned by film director Leroy Salvador; Paris Match and Wichita Lineman of Putch Puyat; Blue Bahadur; and Ragtime Rhythm ridden regularly by jockey Camba.
But his all-time favorite horse is Iron Man, owned by Baby Ismael. He also liked Red Fantasy of Mr. Yujuico, as well as Cavite Starlet. Another good runner was “Mr. Comedy, owned by Johnny Veloso. Magandang kabayo na lumaki hanggang hindi na siya kasya sa aparato; lahing mestisong mola.” It’s hard to imagine a horse growing so large that it can barely fit into the starting gate, but apparently the ironically-named Mr. Comedy was such a one.
“Ang mga sikat na horseowners naman,” Carding continues, “bukod kay Putch Puyat, ay sina Placido Mapa, Don Antonio Floirendo, Johnny Veloso, Ponching (Alfonso) Lacson, Doding Lacson, William Liao, Danding and Peping Cojuangco, Baby Ismael, and CJ Yulo and Sons.” Of those he mentioned, only Puyat and Floirendo are still active in the local scene.
Racing back then, he recalls, was quite different from now in many aspects, such as prize money. “Mas malaki ang premyo ngayon kesa nung araw. Ang sales, ang isang DD (daily double) tumatakbo ng P100,000, hanggang lumaki na ngayon. Kasi noon, manual lang ang kwenta ng benta, hanggang nagkaroon na ng machines.”
Racing was also more nationalistic. “During the time of Manila Mayor Villegas,” he says, “kapag Araw ng Maynila, kailangan Tagalog ang pag-tawag, pati tugtog sa radyo.” This was tried recently at MJC’s new San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona, Cavite, but the racecallers of today lack confidence in their ability to call in their native language, preferring to stick to the tired, worn, and often ungrammatical clichés they spout automatically at each race.
Familiar voices: Racecallers Peter Morrison, Romy Cheng, Ira Herrera, and Ricardo de Zuñiga (18 Nov 2007, Santa Ana Park. Photo by Jun Pinzon)
During the ‘70s, Carding says, there used to be match races – one-on-one fights – Confetti vs. Muscles, Top Soldier vs. High Pocket. “Pero walang tayaan,” he clarifies, “side betting lang.”
“Mas magagaling ang kabayo ngayon kaysa noong araw,” Carding asserts. “Noon, may tumatakbo pang nativo, hindi de-lahi. Ngayon, puro thoroughbreds ang nasa pista. At napakabilis na ng mga tiyempo nila kumpara noong araw. Noong araw, ang prueba sa milya, pag nag-1:56, magaling na yun. Sa 1500 meters, pag nag 1:47, magaling na. Sa bagay, maliit lang ang kabayo noon.”
He also notices that the style of riding has changed. “Ang style ng pananakay noon, iba. Ang tawag doon ay “sakay costable”. Ang estribo mahaba, halos sumayad na sa lupa. Ngayon, ang iksi ng estribo. Tumulin din ang kabayo dahil scientific na ang pananakay.”
Asked to compare racecalling then and now, Carding shrugs. “Walang pagkakaiba sa tawag through the years.” What, then, makes a good racecaller? “Ang pinakaimportante para maging isang magaling na race caller ay dapat gusto mo ang karera ng kabayo. Kailangan mahal mo ito. Dapat pag-aralan din ang diviza, kulay ng kabayo, pananakay ng hinete, at parts of the racetrack.”
Carding insists that a good racecaller must also know proper grammar and usage. “Di puede kung kung anu-ano ang sasabihin, dapat angkop.” He advocates a simple and straightforward style. “Pag trying hard ka at nag-a-adlib, nagkakamali. Dapat at ease lang ang tawag – kung ano lang ang nangyayari, na maiintindihan agad ng tao. Di kailangan na nagsisisigaw ka diyan. Kailangan simple lang ang pagtawag.”
Simple and direct. That’s Carding, in racecalling and in life . Embodying the past and present, he looks forward to the future of racecalling and racing. ***