HD#4 Preview: Amazing Horse Series: Kalashnikov

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<HORSEMAN’S DIGEST 4> AMAZING HORSE SERIES

Kalashnikov – Pinto Track Star

by Jenny Ortuoste

“Dapat ang pinangalan diyan ay ‘Champorado’”.

That’s what one jockey’s wife said about Kalashnikov, a pinto who’s a familiar sight to everyone who watches the races. Amidst the proliferation of bays, chestnuts, and the occasional grays or roans, Kalashnikov stands out with his unusual patterning of brown and white spots. The effect, for a racehorse, is almost clownish. But the color of his hide has nothing to do with his speed, stamina, and skill, which are considerable – definitely one instance when the old proverb “Don’t judge a book by its cover” applies.

His owner, Mariano “Mar” Tirona (48) is a BS Management graduate and runs his own printing business, Master’s Touch. He’s mild-mannered and well-spoken, sprinkling his conversation with interesting turns of phrase. “People call me ‘Mr. Kalashnikov’,” he says with a smile. “They take pictures of that horse at my stable. He’s a star.”

The ever-pleasant Mar Tirona has been a horseowner for over ten years, and a breeder for seven. Introduced at twelve to the world of horseracing by two uncles who were enthusiasts of the sport, he never imagined that he would one day own his own racehorses. In the early 1990s, former jockey Leopoldo Andes told him of a horse, Kalatagan Bay, that was priced at P70,000. Though it never won Mar any prize money, he was hooked. “I wasn’t discouraged,” Mar recalls. “I got another horse, Louder Sun, for P40,000. It earned some money, placing fairly consistently. But in the race that she was supposed to win, she broke down!”

Mar took the breaks of the game in stride, and entered into breeding with the same enthusiasm he did racing. For him it is an intellectual exercise of sorts, and credits Jose “Bebo” Yulo Quiros and Francisco “Coco” Cayco, two local breeding experts, with guiding him in his breeding studies. Two huge black bookcases in his office hold row upon row of thoroughbred sale catalogues, breeding books, and popular business books, his favorite reading materials. Kalashnikov, sired by Deputy Chairman out of Ez Bugsy, is one of the produce from Mar’s breeding farm.

Mar says that the mare was a riding horse which was hard to breed. He could not find her pedigree on any of the usual websites; so instead of going by his usual habit of breeding based on the tail-female nicking with the “x-factor” and other arcane breeding considerations, he bred her to the sire based only on conformation.

The sturdy pinto was Ez Bugsy’s first foal, born in 2002, followed by Varsity Girl (presently a runner as well) who is a bay, as are the other siblings of Kalashnikov.

Now why did Tirona name his piebald pet after a Russian-made semi-automatic weapon?

He grins as he explains. “I was in Canada when [stable manager and jockey] Joey Macaraig called and told me, ‘Ready to run na ito’ and that he needed a name for the registration. I was half-awake and settled on Kalashnikov. If I had been fully awake, I would have named him ‘Holy Cow’ since his color is similar to that of certain cattle. I’m still thinking of changing his name!”

In truth, though, Kalashnikov, like the other produce of Mar Tirona’s breeding operation, was for sale, but “I felt the horse was for me to keep,” says Mar. “When he was a yearling, I was selling him for P180,000, but the buyers wanted a lower price. I said, but it’s a long time from the pregnancy of the mare to the racing of the foal, more than 30 months at a cost of P5,000 a month. They offered me only P150,000. I said what the hell, I’ll race the horse myself.”

Mar’s instincts, from breeding to racing decisions, have paid off many times over. Kalashnikov is one of the acknowledged “iron horses” of the track, which for Mar means “having run more than a hundred races with little injury to the horse”. The worst health hazard he has survived is a chip bone operation, a fairly common procedure especially for those runners who are raced often.

To make a horse into an “iron” one, Mar says, “you have to be careful of the horse’s feet. It’s very important. No legs, no horse. I tell my grooms, at the slightest sign of any injury to the horse’s legs, to have it checked. Ingat lang lagi.”

Out of 121 starts, “Kalash”, as he is also known, has posted 21 wins, 8 seconds, 14 thirds, and countless fourths. Now a five-year-old, he runs twice every other week, only at Santa Ana Park, where he is stabled, and is a consistent money earner, with career earnings of close to P 3 million.

“His performance is totally unexpected because he’s not perfect conformationally,” says Mar. “May konti siyang toe-out. I’m amazed how sturdy this horse is.” Just how sturdy? Mar illustrates. “Nabato siya noong nakaraan niyang takbo, sumakit ang kanyang kasko. Tumakbo uli pag balik ng karera sa Santa Ana.”

Kalashnikov, says Mar, is “quite special. He is one of the money-makers of my stable. He’s not hard to handle. Iyong ibang siblings niya, may toyo, may problema sa gate. Kalash and Varsity Girl are doing well because the nicking did well. Probably the stallion [Deputy Minister] is carrying the gene pool.”

Is there a secret formula to Kalashnikov’s success? “There’s no secret,” says Mar, “just the usual thing. I don’t even know what Joey [Macaraig] gives him. I just give instructions for the run. We’re always out to win, but if we don’t have a chance of winning, I tell Joey to tell the jockey to take it lightly and preserve the horse.” Mar firmly believes in keeping his horses sound and healthy. “Kelangan bumalik ng buo ang kabayo natin. Ang karera hindi mauubos.”

Such a performer who always brings home the bacon is a keeper. Mar agrees. “I’ll keep Kalash unless someone comes up with an outrageous offer. But if I do sell him – iiyak ang mga tao sa cuadra ko.”

Whether he’s Kalashnikov or Champorado or some other name to you, one thing is certain – he’s a certified, card-carrying “iron horse”, a keeper, living proof that a horse by any other name is just as swift! ***

Photo: The Kalashnikov Weapons Museum has this limited edition version of a Kalashnikov AK-47 on display: the butt, hand grip, fore grip, hand-guard and magazine are made from glass filled polyamide material of green color.

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