Racing history articles by JENNY ORTUOSTE on this page (scroll down to see all):

1) MARHO: Past, Present, and Future

2) A Short History of the Manila Jockey Club


This article appeared in the 2008 MARHO Breeders’ Cup Magazine, the official souvenir program of the annual MARHO Breeders’ Cup Championships event. It appeared in a different form in the 2006 issue.

The Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners: Past, Present, and Future

 by Jenny Ortuoste

 MARHO: The Past

Sometime in the early 1970s, a group of dedicated horsemen encountered problems in sourcing a consistent supply of oats for their racehorses. Bound by a common need, together they sought a solution to their dilemma. Their attempt at cooperation worked so well that they decided to extend the process further to establish in 1974 the first horseowners’ organization in the country – the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners (MARHO).

The founding members were Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., Antonio Araneta, Macario Asistio, Angel Castano, Jose Cojuangco Jr., Pedro Cojuangco, Elias Coscolluela, Emilio Espinosa, Asterio Favis, Eric Moreno, Jose Revilla, Isidro Rodriguez, Constante Rubio, Samuel Sharuff, and Conrado Trinidad. The relative success of their initial venture encouraged them to undertake other projects with the objective of benefiting the industry as a whole.

One of MARHO’s first efforts as a group involved inviting from other countries a professional farrier and large-animal veterinarians to disseminate their knowledge to local industry members. 

Inspired by these undertakings, the then-president of MARHO, Amb. Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., and some other notable MARHO stalwarts pushed for the creation of a specialized government agency that would oversee the growing sport of horseracing. They believed that nothing less would secure the trust of the racing public and speed up the process of improvement needed to make the country at par with the rest of the racing world.

Thus the Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) was created in March 1974 under Presidential Decree No. 420. One of the reasons it was established was to ensure the clean, fair, and unbiased operation of racing and to raise the standards of the sport to international levels.

To acknowledge MARHO’s tremendous role in the creation of the Philracom, Cojuangco was named its first Chairman, while MARHO members Favis, Alfonso Lacson, and Federico Moreno were appointed Commissioners.

At first, the law provided that only MARHO recommendees would be qualified for appointment to the Philracom. In 1991, the law was amended to allow representation from all other sectors of the industry.

Upon his appointment to the Philracom, Amb. Cojuangco passed on the presidency of the MARHO to Antonio Araneta, himself a noted sportsman. After Araneta’s stint of service, Justice Federico Moreno took over the reins. His dynamic leadership revitalized the association, which spearheaded such projects as the giving of annual awards and recognition to champion horses, jockeys, and trainers, among others.

Moreno and the rest of MARHO also pushed for the reduction of horseracing taxes, a move which resulted in the enactment of Exec. Order No. 194, which in 1988 restructured the level of betting duties.

In 1989, then-President Corazon Aquino reappointed Moreno to the Philracom. The leadership of MARHO fell to an equally dedicated horseowner and breeder – Aristeo “Putch” Puyat, who steadfastly steered MARHO through the group’s turbulent years.

Among his many accomplishments, Puyat was instrumental in bringing together warring horseowners’ factions, ushering in a new era of harmony and cooperation among horseowners’ groups that led to a resurgence of spirit and vitality to the sport.

In 1996, Puyat, along with eminent breeder and fellow MARHO leader Leonardo “Sandy” Javier Jr., established the annual MARHO Breeders’ Cup (MBC) program. From a low-key racing event, it has grown into a yearly extravaganza that brings together the best horses in the land to compete for track supremacy and rich purses.  It is inarguably the most prestigious annual event in racing, and is now firmly entrenched as a respected racing tradition.

A MARHO Breeders’ Cup trophy on a shelf brings a glow of pride to owner, breeder, jockey, and trainer alike, as the program recognizes not only accomplishments in racing, but in breeding as well. Open only to Philippine-bred runners, the program has provided valuable incentive and encouragement to breeders to invest in and raise high-quality stock. Their efforts can be seen in the dramatic recent improvement in track times.

In addition, the MARHO Breeders’ Cup has gained so much popularity among racing fans that it is the most awaited festival of the year. The 2004 edition broke all sales records when it was held at the Santa Ana Park.

Puyat also spearheaded the running of the First MARHO Founders’ Cup festival in 2004, on the association’s 30th Anniversary. Dubbed the Pearl Stakes, it was warmly received by all in the industry and promises to be the start of another revered tradition.

In 2005, Puyat stepped down from the presidency for a much-deserved rest from the labors of leading the MARHO and the industry. The baton was passed to Atty. Benhur C. Abalos, then a congressman. Though a virtual newcomer to the sport, Abalos has shown his dedication to the sport and industry he has embraced with so much enthusiasm.

Abalos arranged the 2005 edition of the MBC, which was the tenth anniversary of the event. “A Decade of Champions” was the theme for that year, in celebration of ten glorious years of producing champions and rewarding excellence in the sport.

He also took charge of the 2006 and 2007 MARHO activities, including the MARHO Founders’ Cup and MARHO Breeders’ Cup.

 MARHO: The Present

Now Mandaluyong City Mayor and president of both the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines and League of Cities of the Philippines, Abalos still heads MARHO and finds time from his busy schedule to guide the group’s projects and give his advice on industry concerns.

In 2005, Abalos, backed by fellow MARHO directors and members and other horseowners’ groups, galvanized the industry into taking action on the illegal bookie problem. This was done with the cooperation of the two racing clubs – Manila Jockey Club and Philippine Racing Club – which removed for a time the Daily Double wagering event in the hopes of curtailing bookie activities. The campaign continued until 2006, with Abalos coordinating increased police and legal action against bookies.

Early this year, MARHO again showed concern for the industry by being in the forefront of the campaign for change in the leadership of the Philracom. Abalos, MARHO executive vice-president Eric Tagle, other MARHO directors and members, and independent horseowners and those affiliated with the other groups – Philippine Thoroughbred Owners’ and Breeders’ Organization, Klub Don Juan de Manila, and Samahan ng Horseowners ng Pilipinas – rallied together in a rare show of force that proved to all that there is strength in unity. Working as one, they succeeded in achieving their common objective.

 MARHO: The Future

MARHO’s members look forward to the organization’s Jade Anniversary celebrations in 2009, in commemoration of its thirty-fifth year. Plans are being made to stage both the MARHO Founders’ Cup and Breeders’ Cup racing festivals and to strengthen membership recruitment, fund-raising, and other efforts necessary for growth. Other projects for the upliftment and promotion of the sport are being considered. 

With the support of all its members and the rest of the industry, MARHO will continue to blaze new trails, create more innovative programs, and remain vigilant as the industry’s defender and protector.   ***



by Jenny Ortuoste

I wrote this piece in late 2006, for inclusion in the “History and Background” portion of my Strategic Management paper (thesis), a requirement for my MBA degree at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business. The final version of my Strama paper (defended in January 2007) included an edited version. For early historical data, I relied heavily on MJC’s self-published “Manila Jockey Club: 130 Years of Horse Racing in Southeast Asia” (1997).

The Founding Years

The Manila Jockey Club, the first racing club in Southeast Asia, was founded in the summer of 1867 by a group of sportsmen led by the then Governor-General of the Philippines, the Spaniard Jose de la Gandara y Navarro.

 These 100 socio fundadores came from the prominent and affluent Spanish, Filipino, and English families of the time. Many of these names still resound in Philippine business today – Ayala, Zobel, Tuason, Elizalde, Prieto.

 One socio fundador, Edward Boustead, figures indirectly in history. He had a daughter, Nellie, the love interest of Filipino national heroes Jose Rizal and Antonio Luna, who fought a duel over her in Paris.

 MJC was formed initially as a social club, and membership was highly exclusive, granted only after strict and rigorous screening by the Board of Directors. One dissenting vote was enough to bar any applicant. 

 Organized purely for recreation, there was no betting at first. For a decade in the late 1860s to 1870s, members held “fun runs”, racing Philippine ponies on a quarter-mile (400 meters) straight course from San Sebastian Church to Quiapo Church.

 The races were held only once a year, in April or May, with tokens such as gold and silver medals, watches, or other ornaments as the prizes. Only members of the Club – the gentlemen riders – could compete in the carreras officiales.

The Move to the Sta. Mesa Oval

By 1880, Quiapo had become a stronghold of commercialism, its streets crammed with the shops and homes of business tycoons. The Club moved its races to rural Sta. Mesa, beside the Pasig River, to a rice field rented from the Tuason family. There was built an oval track with a bamboo and nipa grandstand.

 Beginning in 1881, race meetings were held twice a year for three successive days. The business community would declare a holiday with the list of race aficionados headed by no less than the Governor-General and the Archbishop of Manila. Professional jockeys were now allowed to ride in two of the average eight races of the day.

 Races were then run clockwise, as in Europe and Japan today; in the Philippines today, as in the United States, Australia, and Dubai UAE, races are run counter-clockwise.

 The Gran Copa de Manila

The Philippine Revolution of 1896 halted MJC’s racing activities for some time. They resumed after the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato in late 1897, which ended the conflict between Filipino revolutionaries and Spanish soldiers.

 To celebrate the truce, Manila mounted a month-long fiesta in January 1898, complete with boat races, fireworks, and plays. MJC’s contribution to the festivities was the “Gran Copa de Manila“, a magnificent race set for 1 May that year. An ornately chased silver cup, 22 inches high and decorated with the heads of horses and Justitia, the goddess of justice, was ordered from Hong Kong as the prize.


 On daybreak of race day, the Spanish-American War broke out. MJC closed down temporarily and sent the Gran Copa off to the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank for safekeeping.


The Battle of Manila Bay, with USS Olympia in the foreground, as depicted by a Japanese eyewitness

 There it stayed in the bank’s vaults for 38 years, until the bank returned the Cup to MJC in 1937. When the Second World War broke out in 1941, an MJC officer, Dr. Salustiano Herrera, kept the Cup and restored it to MJC after the War.

 The precious artifact was installed in the Club Trophy Room, until a fire in 1971 gutted the premises. The Gran Copa that is now displayed at SLLP is a replica and serves as a reminder of the grandeur of Philippine racing’s past.

 The Gran Copa de Manila races are still held to the present day. In the 1970s, it was the biggest and most spectacular racing event of the year, with two divisions (the Gran Copa de Manila Division I and Division II), with the sponsor being San Miguel Beer.

 In fact, for almost three decades (until the 1990s), the two names were tied inextricably in the minds of racing fans as the “SMB Gran Copa,” until San Miguel Corporation pulled its support from the sport in the late 1990s after Asia Brewery was brought in as another major sponsor.

 The Move to San Lazaro Hippodrome

In 1899, a few months after the occupation of Manila by American forces, races were resumed at the Sta. Mesa Oval. A year later, the Club moved to a 16-hectare site in Sta. Cruz, Tayuman, Manila, where a new grandstand and six-furlong (1200 meter) track were built.

 Under the American civil government, social life became more democratic. Horseracing, once exclusive to the rich, became open to anyone interested. In 1903, legalized betting was introduced, increasing the sport’s mass appeal.

 Under the commercial impetus provided by betting, two competitors opened shop, one in Cebu and the other in Pasay, known as the Pasay Country Club, with its track bounded by Harrison and Vito Cruz Streets. Both, however, were short-lived.

 MJC continued to reign as the only racing club in the country until 1937, when the Philippine Racing Club in Makati was founded by a group of Filipino and American investors. It remains a worthy competitor of MJC to this day.

 That same year, in March, MJC abandoned its outdated “social club” format and was formally incorporated as a business entity under the name “Manila Jockey Club Inc.”

 More improvements were undertaken, of which the most noteworthy of all was the demolition of the old wooden grandstand to make way for a magnificent concrete building in the Art Deco style, for decades thereafter a beautiful example of that graceful style of architecture.

 In the early 1940s, MJC president Don Rafael Roces introduced the “daily double” and “llave” bets which spurred racing’s popularity and raised the volume of betting. The daily-double is still a beloved option on today’s racing menu and is distinctly Filipino, offered no where else in the world.

 The Second World War

In 1941, after the onset of the Second World War, MJC closed down. In 1943, Japanese troops occupied the Club and used its buildings as barracks. Americans took over after Liberation in 1945 and used it as a garrison and a hospital.

 When MJC members regained possession of the track in March 1946, everything was in a sorry state, dilapidated and destroyed. Reconstruction began immediately; new equipment was purchased and installed; and just after two months, MJC was back in business.

 Sixty Years of Change

The succeeding years brought many changes to the Club. Further modernization was done in 1957. The Club was listed on the Manila Stock Exchange. To help curb the nefarious activities of illegal bookies, off-track betting stations were set up all over Manila and nearby provinces like Pampanga and Cavite. Races were televised on Channel 11, bringing horseracing excitement into homes.

 In the 1960s, the Philippines became a member of the Asian Racing Conference, a regional racemeet involving participants from all over Asia with the purpose of “deepening mutual friendships among nations and to gaining insights for the improvement of horseracing”.

 The 4th ARC was hosted at MJC in 1964. The Philippines has been the venue of two other ARC meets, in 1974 and 1993. (To illustrate the prestige of the ARC, the 2007 meet will be held at the magnificent Nad-al-Sheba Racecourse in Dubai UAE in January.)

 In the early 1990s, computerization of operations began. Revenues at the time were at P1 million; there were only 35 OTBs. With the start of the new millennium, the OTB network was greatly expanded, to almost 350 today with annual MJC gross revenues of over P4 billion the past two years.

 For the past eight years or more, racing has been regularly broadcast live on cable television, with SkyCable, Home Cable, Destiny Cable, and other cable providers carrying the races on a designated horseracing channel. This has contributed greatly to public awareness of the sport. MJC also makes sure that the races, tips, and results can be seen live over its website, beginning in 2005.

 In November 2006, MJC, in partnership with SMART Communications, launched the MJC “Karera Info sa Text” to provide SMART users with race schedules, tips, and results through mobile phones, the first raceclub to provide such services. Text betting is in the offing. Globe has already signified its intention to join MJC in these initiatives.

 The Move to SLLP

The year 2003 marked a milestone for MJC and the industry as a whole, when MJC moved from the historic San Lazaro Hippodrome in Manila to the sprawling 77-hectare San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona, Cavite. The construction and move all took place within one year, all under the guidance of MJC’s Chairman and CEO Atty. Alfonso R. Reyno Jr.

 Among the complex’s features are a spectacular glass-and-steel four-story Turf Club, similar to the one at the Macau Jockey Club; a comfortable Jockeys’ Quarters and a landscaped saddling paddock; expansive twin tracks designed by an affiliate of the Japan Racing Association; stable complexes for 1200 horses; and housing for their grooms and other attendants.

 Diversification Furthers MJC’s Growth

In the early part of the millennium, faced with a need to have more innovative business strategies, MJC triggered its plans for diversification, entering into joint-venture development agreements with real-estate titan Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) to develop the Tayuman property, and with Century Properties for SLLP.

 In 2005, at SLLP, Century constructed the magnificent Canyon Ranch, an upscale master-planned community of luxurious homes overlooking the twin racetracks and the Turf Club, and will soon begin building nearby fully-outfitted and -managed units called The Casitas at Canyon Ranch.

At the Tayuman property, SM Prime Holdings has built a mall, SM San Lazaro, over four hectares, greatly boosting the adjoining properties’ net worth. On the remaining areas of the site, also in 2005, in joint venture development with MJC, ALI subsidiary Community Innovations Inc. has launched Celadon Residences – San Lazaro, a high-end townhouse enclave, while another ALI company, Avida Land Corporation, has constructed the mid-priced condominiums Avida Towers – San Lazaro.

 MJC still has a hold-out area of one hectare in Tayuman. A groundbreaking ceremony was held some months ago for the construction of a BPO (business process outsourcing) building on the site, in partnership with a prominent real-estate developer.

 Asia’s First Racino

Also in 2005, MJC Chairman Atty. Reyno began talks with PAGCOR to establish a casino at the top floor of the SLLP Turf Club. On 8 December 2006, the Casino Filipino at San Lazaro was launched as an extension of Casino Filipino – Tagaytay.

 Although initially just a mini-casino, it offered four table games (baccarat and black jack) and 110 slot machines offering the popular games Cash Express, Red Hot Link, Fire and Ice, and Jackpot Carnival, among others. Poker games were held in cooperation with a third-party coordinator, but were not as well-received, and shut down soon after. More slot machines were added in 2007.

 The combination of both gaming and racing facilities under one roof makes the SLLP Turf Club Asia’s first “racino”. The concept was developed in the US in the late 1990s as a way to stem the declining sales of some racetracks there. Gaming facilities were added, bringing in more patrons to the tracks who could enjoy not only the races but also table games, roulette, the slots, and other casino activities.

 As the first “racino” not only the Philippines but in the whole of Asia, MJC is poised to enjoy attention from a whole new crowd of local and foreign players seeking a higher level of gaming excitement.

 Also starting December 2006, SLLP offered fine dining at the Turf Club through its new business partner, Makati Skyline, which caters to Manila Golf Club, Ayala Alabang Country Club, and other prestigious establishments. An affordable but delicious “all-you-can-eat” buffet spread is prepared for lunch and dinner daily for racino patrons and walk-ins.

 MJC draws heavily on the Club’s historical cachet as a social organization, and on its 140-year existence as a brand familiar to many Filipinos, in order to push its new ventures, finding MJC’s longevity useful to convey a sense of credibility, integrity, and quality. ***




HISTORY OF PHILIPPINE RACING CLUB, PHILIPPINE RACING COMMISSION, and other subjects pertaining to racing history.

Any information, photos, and other help would be greatly appreciated.

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