HD #4 Preview: Horseman’s Profile: Leandro “Nardy” Naval

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for HORSEMAN’S DIGEST #4

Horseman’s Profile: Leandro “Nardy” Naval

Racing by Remote Control

by Jenny Ortuoste

Gentleman’s Lady. Divine Right. Vivere. Smart Alec. These names of race horses are familiar to those who read the racing forms each week, searching for a winner. Equally familiar to racing fans is the name of their owner – Leandro “Nardy” Naval, who has been a part of racing for almost 35 years.

He’s 61, a Manileno by birth. When he smiles his face crinkles and his eyes shine. First impression? A simple man, able and trustworthy, whose life revolves around horse racing.

It’s always interesting to find out how racing personalities began their involvement in the sport, and Nardy tells his own story in a roundabout fashion. Apparently it was not just one or two factors that lured him into the world of racing, but a combination of several.

He says that he started as a bettor, doing that for a couple of years before deciding to venture into owning a horse. “Kapitbahay ko dati si Jockey Diño, the handler of the stable of Vanjo Laurel, [son of former Speaker Laurel]. When Vanjo died in a helicopter crash, his horses were sold. Inuto ako ni Jockey Dino na magkabayo.”

Later he recalls that his brother-in-law Manuel Lagunsad, husband of Nardy’s sister, LVN actress Milagros Naval, owned a horse named King Solomon and would have the young Nardy “go down and collect” his winnings or place a bet for him. All these influences came together and crystallized his love for the sport.

He has been in racing so long that he has forgotten the names of the horses he owned early on, save for the one he named after his daughter, nicknamed Kitty. “It was called Hello Kitty,” he says. “Nowadays, I have a good batch of horses.”

He now rents 30 stalls at San Lazaro Leisure Park (SLLP) for his racing operations. “But I go there maybe once a year only. May sota ako na trusted. I want to know everything, so he tells me. Kung ano man ang kalagayan ng aking kabayo, gusto kong malaman. Gusto ko ako ang magdesisyon.” He keeps in touch with his groom and trainer by phone “everyday. Minsan ako din ang nagpapa-ensayo.”

It’s a form of “remote control” management that has worked for him over the years. He elaborates on his style. “We pace the horses over the year. Hindi puede lahat tumatakbo.”

Nardy is careful to take into consideration the individual needs of the horse. “Take Smart Alec,” he says. “I told the sota, one week huwag itakbo. Tapos, 1 trot 1 canter at pakagat lang. It won a race recently. Ang mga batang kabayo kasi, taranta sa hirap. Ang ibang mga trainers diyan, tatlo ng tatlo. General ang tingin nila sa kabayo, hindi on a case-to-case basis.” Nardy has a high regard for his trainer, Dr. Jojo Buencamino. “As a veterinarian, maingat siya sa kabayo.”

He realizes the need to invest in his racing operation. “Totoo ang sinabi ni [horseowner] Hermie Esguerra – you have to spend. Sa gamot nalang, kailangan mo talagang gumastos. I spend over P100,000 a month on medicines, supplements, supplies – Red Cell, Spectrum, Vetrap, bandages.”

He doesn’t mind owning horses that are in lower groups. “Mababa man ang grupo, pero nananalo. What I do is run them, then rest.”

Nardy reveals a wealth of knowledge on handicapping, equine health, and other racing lore. “Kailangan mong buenas, pero kailangan din pag-aralan mo ang kabayo.” He knows the industry and its idiosyncrasies and has adopted a philosophical bent towards adversities. “Tulad sa diperensiya -ang pinaka-common ay ang chip bone. The trainer will say, itakbo natin, mananalo pa iyan. Kaya lang ang kabayo, pag sira na, hindi na nao-operahan. Kaya kailangan agapan agad ang diperensiya.”

Take the case, he says, of his own La Signorina. “Meron siyang iniinda kaya pinatingnan ko kay [veterinarian] Dr. Romy Modomo. He x-rayed her back and found a crack. Nilagyan ng bakal, pinahinga ng six months. Ngayon nine years old na si La Signorina, pero tumatakbo pa rin.”

Divine Right, on the other hand, had a slab fracture and Dr. Modomo recommended the insertion of a screw to stabilize the break. After a six-month vacation, “nanalo pa ng 20 wins.”

While he considers Vivere his most accomplished horse (having won the 2007 Binay Cup at Santa Ana Park) his favorite is Gentleman’s Lady. “Binili ko siya from the late Speaker Ramon Mitra for P200,000. Umabot siya ng grupong 4-7B [the lowest group]. I got an offer for her for P200,000 from [horseowner] Jess Cantos. I told him, ‘Buo iyan, walang diperensiya maliban sa isa – mabagal tumakbo.’ He wanted to give me a check already, but I said, look at the horse first. He sent his trainer Caloy Macaraig to inspect the horse. Caloy’s comment was payat daw. The following week, itinakbo ko, nanalo. Tumama ako ng winner-take-all, double, lahat, I won around P1.8 million.

“Gentleman’s Lady now has around 35 wins, 32 second places, 29 thirds, and countless fourths. She’s earned around P9 million. Mapapatayuan mo nga ng monumento ang kabayong iyan!

“Now, whenever Jess sees Caloy, he shakes his fist at him,” Nardy chortles at the joke.

Nardy’s voice is a pleasant hum as he recounts the health issues his horses encountered, their wins, their losses, all taken in stride by a man toughened by time and experience.

He shares with candor his humble roots. “I started from nothing,” he says cheerfully. “Nakatira lang kami noong araw sa isang apartment sa Blumentritt kaya bata pa lang ako, business-minded na. I’m street-wise.” He ventured into a string of businesses. “I started an ukay-ukay in the 70s. I’d buy used jackets for P2, P2.50. I’d launder them, then sell them for P12. Not bad.”

Once his brother-in-law Manuel’s horse won as a longshot, netting Manuel P14,000 in bet payoffs and Nardy P12,000 on his own bets. “I used the money to buy a Hillman Hunter, an American car. Pinang-colorum ko sa Manila Hotel for tourists. In six months, I got my investment back.”

He attended high school at Mapua Institute of Technology and was on the junior basketball team. “[Basketball coach] Danny Floro was a friend. I was 14 when he recruited me for the team. At 5’7”, I was a guard. A left-handed sharp shooter too,” he says with pride.

At 15 he got married. “My wife was a high-school student at the Philippine Women’s University then. Her father was Italian, her mother Filipina.” The former Elisa Baldisseri gave him four children – Catherine (Kitty), Carlo (a nurse now based in the US), Jonjon (who loves racing too), and Angelo (who helps Kitty run the family printing business). “We have twelve grandkids!” Nardy marvels.

His innate entrepreneurial savvy served him well through the years as his family grew. He went into the paper business, selling stock wholesale, then into printing. In the ‘80s, he obtained a Smokey’s hotdog franchise, starting with one outlet along Timog Avenue then expanding throughout Cavite, Laguna, and Batangas.

“Ang Jollibee, nasa Manila pa lang noon. I grew my Smokey’s chain to ten outlets. From an investment of P1.2 million, we grossed P25,000 daily. We would gain back our investment in three or four months.” But he gave that up in the face of stiff competition some years later. “We were killed by Jollibee,” he says dolefully.

As the years went by, he ventured into other businesses – a resort in Calamba, an OTB in Quezon City (the latter well-patronized by fellow horseowners), build-and-sell ventures in the posh residential enclave of Ayala Alabang.

In the face of his triumphs, he is still in touch with his roots and remains humble, which he says is the secret of success. “Bukod sa buenas at tiyaga, importante sa tao na mababa ka. Maraming tao riyan, pagnakuha nila ang success, it goes to their heads.”

I ask him if he has other hobbies. He shrugs. “Horses,” he answers. Yes, I say, but there must be something else he’s interested in. He thinks for a while, then shakes his head. “Horses lang,” then again that smile that transforms his face into a network of laugh lines, a map that marks his personal journey through years of joy, faith, and love of family, racing, and life. ***

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