THW: (Maiden Column in MST) Philippine Horseracing, Alive and Running

My sincerest thanks Manila Standard-Today for giving my English column, “The Hoarse Whisperer”, a home in their Sports Page. My salaams to Mr. Victor Agustin (Chairman of the Editorial Board), Mr. Riera “Rey” Mallari (Sports Editor), and my friend Ms. Adelle Chua (Opinion Editor), for giving me this opportunity to write for one of the most respected broadsheets in the country. This column will appear every Wednesday.

To my readers, I appreciate your continued support of my writing and this blog. Please patronize the publications I write for – and help keep quality and responsible racing journalism alive. Thank you very much for your trust.

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My maiden column in MST. Headturner doesn’t seem to mind being the backdrop for this shot.

THE HOARSE WHISPERER 

By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  23 April 2008, Wednesday

 Philippine Horseracing is Alive and Running

HELLO, Sports Fan. New to the game? Through this column, I’ll be here to take you to the races.

Horseracing  is like no other sport. It is a partnership of man and beast. Man must control beast, but at the same time they must work together, and be as one on the track as they seek victory.

The terms and rules, the horses and jockeys, the people and places, these may be unfamiliar to you. Don’t worry, you’ll catch on. Come, take my hand. We’ll go up into the stands, right in front of the finish line, and watch the horses run.       

***

A backgrounder: Racing in this country has been around since the mid-1800s, when casual “fun-runs” were held nearly every year by members of elite society along main roads. Schools and businesses were closed so everyone could watch. In a bid to formalize the conduct of races, the first racing club in Southeast Asia – the Manila Jockey Club (MJC) – was established in 1867 by prominent Spanish and Filipino families of the day. In the 1930s, American and Filipino investors set up the Philippine Racing Club (PRC).

Both racing clubs are still around today. That tells you something about the longevity and sustained popularity of this admittedly low-key sport. With a minimum of publicity and marketing hype, it has grown into a multi-billion peso business that generates jobs, economic growth, and revenue for investors and the government. However, no third racing club has survived for any appreciable length of time. That also tells you how insurmountable are the barriers to entry in this small industry.

In 2003, MJC moved from the historic San Lazaro Hippodrome in Manila to the sprawling San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona, Cavite. PRC is packing up to transfer from Santa Ana Park in Makati City to their new facility at Saddle and Clubs in Trece Martires, Cavite, by the third quarter of this year.  These wider areas are needed to accomodate the stables of the growing number of new players coming into the sport, who are buying horses locally and abroad (Australia, New Zealand, and the United States are the preferred sources) on a scale that old-timers say are unprecedented.

Thanks to our balmy, tropical weather, races are held year-round, every week. The bulk of the races on the racing calendar are ordinary or regular races; stakes races are scheduled on Sundays. The greatest number of stakes races are sponsored by the government agency tasked to regulate and oversee the sport – the Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom). It is this agency that closely controls all aspects of the sport – handicapping, licensing, monitoring – except for betting, which is under the purview of the Games and Amusements Board.

***

Look, the race is ready to run. The horses? They’re thoroughbreds, a special type bred and trained to do one thing well – to run very fast. See how they snort, shake their heads, and paw the dirt with their hooves. The jockeys, clad in colorful silks, tighten the reins and pull goggles over their eyes. One by one, the horses enter the starting gate. The bell rings… the gates fly back…and they’re off! ***

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