THE HOARSE WHISPERER By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 10 December 2008, Wednesday
Ibarra, Racing’s New Superhorse!
This is how last Sunday played out for many sports fans. Early in the morning, they were tuned in to the Manny Pacquiao-Oscar de la Hoya prizefight, live via satellite. As the Pambansang Kamao wore down, punch by punch, his aging yet proud opponent, racing fans kept an eye cocked on their programs, wondering how the PCSO Presidential Gold Cup at Santa Ana Park would unfold later that day.
De la Hoya’s team threw in the towel before lunchtime, handing Pacquiao yet another international victory and further cementing his reputation as a “Mexicutioner”. With that resolved to the deep satisfaction of sports fans, they trooped to Santa Ana Park or their nearest OTBs for the day’s races.
On the track, as in the ring, it was the one closest to the hearts of fans that won the ultimate. Ibarra, acknowledged as one of the most talented racehorses to ever grace the sport, tied the record for the 2,050 meters by clocking 2:09 in the PCSO Presidential Gold Cup.
The island-born son of multiple American stakes winner Yonaguska out of the racemare Fire Down Under, Ibarra crushed opponents as formidable as Real Spicy, who set the record for that distance twice in 2006; 3YO Indelible Ink, juvenile champion last year; Native Land, PCSO Gold Cup defending champion; Shining Fame, winner of the third leg of this year’s Triple Crown and the Nov. 23 Santa Ana Park-MARHO Breeders’ Cup Colt Mile; and veteran runner Henry D’Eight.
Kentucky-bred Yonaguska (1998, Cherokee Run-Marital Spook) winning the Fall Highweight Handicap (G2) as a 3YO. His career earnings as a runner total US$536,355.
At the start, Ibarra was slow out, as he reared and stepped backward before launching out of the gate. The delay may have cost him the record; track pundits estimate that he lost up to one second, precious time that could have allowed him to set a new track time in a sport where clockings are reckoned in fractions of a second.
Once out, though, Ibarra took the lead under the guidance of regular rider Kelvin Abobo, who just sat coolly on the horse, despite the pressure from Shining Fame, who briefly got a nose in front of Ibarra just before the home stretch.
But with a mere flick of the whip at that point, Ibarra bounded forward once more. Kelvin never lost his head for a moment; he knew his horse through and through, and was certain that the bay colt still had much to give.
Down the stretch the whip, which was never raised and remained tucked in Kelvin’s right hand, flicked Ibarra’s shoulder, once, twice, four times. The colt flung his legs out, eating up meter after meter in a magnificent performance that had the overflow crowd on its feet, roaring with delight.
Behind the 4YO Ibarra, Shining Fame’s jockey John Alvin Guce beat the horse with his stick perhaps as hard as Pacquiao rained jabs and hooks on de la Hoya. To no avail; the 3YO bay was pressed to his utmost and had no more to give. Ibarra won by two-and-a-half, with Kelvin standing in the irons just before they hit the wire, giving his practically unused whip a victory twirl.
Jockey Kelvin Abobo just can’t hide his excitement at winning one of the year’s biggest and most prestigious races.
Ibarra’s owner, Mandaluyong City Mayor and Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners president Benhur Abalos, was ecstatic. His pride and joy had been sidelined for most of his 3YO season with a chip bone problem. Abalos and trainer Ruben Tupas didn’t rush the colt’s recovery; their patience paid off.
PCSO Draw and Races Dept. manager Rey Empremiado, trainer Ruben Tupas, Mayor Benhur Abalos, jockey Kelvin Abobo, and PCSO Committee on Races member Dr. Romeo Buencamino at the awarding ceremony.
Now Abalos is reviving plans to bring his supercolt to Singapore to race, raising the bar not only for the horse but Philippine racing in general. “We want to show the world that the Philippines can produce champion racehorses – that is why I named him Ibarra,” said Abalos. Ibarra was the protagonist of national hero Jose Rizal’s two novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Describing the oppressions of the Spanish colonial regime, they sparked the Philippine revolution.
For Philippine sports, last Sunday was a red-letter day. Ibarra and jockey Kelvin Abobo, along with Manny Pacquiao, brought pride and honor once more to the country with their athletic accomplishments. Congratulations to the victors and their connections! ***