THW: Three Racetracks: Is There Room?

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The Hoarse Whisperer

by Jenny Ortuoste

for 28 March 2007, Wednesday, BusinessWorld

 

For over five years, prominent racehorse owner and breeder Raymund B. Puyat has dreamed of establishing another horseracing track in the country, one to rival the existing San Lazaro Leisure Park of Manila Jockey Club (MJC)in Carmona, Cavite, and the Philippine Racing Club’s (PRC) Santa Ana Park in Makati City.

 

Puyat’s family is finalizing a joint-venture agreement with the real-estate and gaming firm Belle Corporation to build a racetrack on 45 hectares of Puyat-owned land in Silang, Cavite. Puyat, president of the Metropolitan Manila Turf Club (MMTC), has acquired the horseracing franchise of Belle and is said to be targeting January 2008 as the opening date of his as-yet unnamed racecourse. With P2 billion of Belle’s financial backing, Puyat could indeed be on his way to seeing his dreams finally become reality.

 

Quite a number of horseowners are very supportive of Puyat’s plans. They say the climate at the proposed MMTC site is much cooler and better for their horses than the hot and humid conditions at the Sta. Lucia Realty’s Saddle and Clubs property in Naic, Cavite, where PRC is to relocate their racetrack by January 2008.

 

But can the industry support three racing clubs? Gross revenues from racing have been in decline for the past three years and in 2006 suffered a 2.78% dip, as previously discussed here. If the two existing raceclubs are finding it difficult to maintain profitability, how then can MMTC do the same, much less achieve ROI in a decent span of time?

 

At present, MJC and PRC conduct their races six days a week on alternating weeks. They share a loyal niche market that is not growing substantially. If MMTC joins the fray, they would have to run their races at the same time as one of the other tracks. That would mean that bettors’ money would be divided between two tracks, possibly resulting in weaker sales for both. Does MMTC have a plan to counteract this?

 

A terrific marketing scheme could kick-start MMTC’s entry into the industry. Huge billboards and splashy tri-media ads with promos and freebies could attract the attention of mainstream sports fans as yet unbitten by the racing bug. More significantly, high-profile corporate sponsors backing big-money stakes races starred in by current track champions will have racing fans stampeding for the ticket windows.

 

But for many years, the marketing efforts of both MJC and PRC have been hampered by a dearth of sponsors, most of whom are leery of supporting an activity they perceive as a form of gaming rather than as the “sport of kings”. Can MMTC persuade them otherwise?

 

MJC and PRC collect over 95% of their revenues through “off-track betting stations” or OTBs, of which there are 334 all over Luzon, with most of them located in Manila and Quezon City. Local governments issue the permits-to-operate. Many city mayors are reluctant to allow OTBs in their cities, among them Pasig and Makati. Can MMTC change their minds?

 

If this business was a horse race, MJC and PRC are many lengths ahead of MMTC, which is just entering the starting gate. It has to run a long way to catch up. Can MMTC can stage a come-from-behind victory, or will it just trail behind the front-runners in the race towards profitability and viability? ***

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THW: The Business of Horseracing: A Sure Bet?

hse_jjm_silks.jpgI was recently given the privilege of writing a racing column for BusinessWorld, which for 20 years has been the pre-eminent business and economic paper in the Philippines. Here’s the very first, in unabridged form…

The Hoarse Whisperer

by Jenny Ortuoste

for 13 March 2007, Tuesday

BusinessWorld

 

Horseracing has been called the “sport of kings”, since it was born during the days of the absolute monarchies in Europe. Today, it is called the “king of sports” and is enjoyed by the masses. Global revenues from horseracing are estimated to be over a hundred billion US dollars and the sport has huge support especially in Asia.

 

In the Philippines, horseracing has its roots in the mid-1800s, with yearly “fun run” races staged by gentleman riders of Spanish or Creole heritage. In 1867, the first racing club in Southeast Asia – the Manila Jockey Club (MJC) – was organized in Tayuman, Manila, by the most prominent Spanish and Filipino families of the day. In the 1930s, American and Filipino investors established the Philippine Racing Club (PRC) in Makati. Both these raceclubs still exist, though MJC has moved to sprawling, modern facilities in Carmona, Cavite, and PRC is slated to do so in 2008 to Naic, Cavite.

 

The horseracing industry today is relatively lucrative. In 2005, the horseracing industry enjoyed earnings of over P9.02 billion in gross sales from bets. More than P1.4 billion was remitted to the government’s National Treasury as taxes, while the rest went to the bettors (as dividends); horse owners (as prizes); and racing clubs (as their share of sales based on their respective franchises as mandated by national law). From 2000 to 2004, the industry growth rate was in the double digits (ranging from a high of 29.03% in 2001 to 10.81% in 2003).

 

However, the past couple of years have seen a sorry decline in growth. From a robust 14.87% in 2004 to an anemic, but still positive, 4.37% in 2005, in 2006 the industry was shocked with negative figures of -2.78%, the first time the industry had experienced such a drastic slump since 1994.

 

MJC did a bit better in 2006, posting a gross handle of P4.31 billion (a dip of only 1.18% from 2005 earnings), while PRC suffered a greater decline to P4.46 billion, or a difference of 4.27% from its 2005 earnings.

 

Both racing clubs share practically the same niche market and are operating in a mature industry, but faced threats caused primarily by the proliferation of illegal “bookies” who are estimated to rake in between P8 billion to P22 billion per year without having to own and operate racetracks. Poor marketing efforts, a dismaying lack of corporate sponsors, and a shrinking niche market are also constraints against the continued profitability of the industry.

 

However, local horseracing still does have its strengths – government support (albeit lackluster); a strong and loyal fan base; raceclubs that strive to continue operations; and horseowners who at their own expense import and breed pedigreed thoroughbred horses in order to uplift the sport.

 

Gaming, especially in Asia, is a steadily-growing industry. Coupled with innovative marketing and technological advances in race-viewing and bet-collection, local racing could expand its market to reach untapped local markets and global audiences that would appreciate the Filipino style of horseracing.

 

The potential for growth in this industry is enormous. So what’s keeping it from moving forward?

 

Recently, conflict between the Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom), the government body tasked to oversee the sport, and some horseowners’ groups regarding a new and controversial handicapping scheme proposed by the Philracom, resulted in the “boycott” by some horseowners of the races at MJC’s San Lazaro Leisure Park (SLLP) last March 3 and 4. There were two less races that weekend, with fewer horses than usual on the racecards.

 

Sales dipped, which alarmed Philracom chairman, Gen. Florencio Fianza. On March 4, he accused the horseowners involved of “economic sabotage” and vowed to implement the proposed handicapping scheme by April even if it costs him his job.

 

Horseowners called off their threatened strike for March 6 and 7 at PRC’s Santa Ana Park, but the conflict remains unresolved.

 

These and other unaddressed issues are among the constraints keeping racing in check at present. For the “king of sports” to reign in this country, everyone in the industry must buckle down to the work of nurturing and growing it and allowing it to reach its huge potential, or else face losing what so many have worked so hard for over the decades. ***

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Department of Tourism Race

nelle_race.jpgLast Sunday, Feb 4, was the first-time visit of the Department of Tourism’s R&D director, Elizabeth Nelle, to SLLP. She came with other DOT officials to inspect our facilities and recommend them to tour operators who will place SLLP on their itineraries.

In honor of their visit, we arranged for a little trophy race named the “Wow Philippines” race, which was won by Engr. Ed Mailom’s Manhattan, the favorite. Things are looking good promotions-wise for the company!

Photo shows Jockey Randy Lagrata on Tellmenolies, parading for the succeeding race.

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Horseman’s Digest #2: Braveheart

benhur.jpgThis is a profile of Mandaluyong Congressman Benhur Abalos that I wrote for the second issue of Horseman’s Digest, for release on January 23, 2007. This guy is brilliant; but what’s more important is that his heart is in the right place. Too bad I don’t live in Manda, I can’t vote for him if he runs for Mayor or Congressman again.

Can he be President? I’d be first in line to vote for him!

“We need a vision for the next five to ten years – a blueprint for improvement. But it will remain only a vision unless everyone pitches in. This is true not just for racing, but for the entire country.”

These are earnest words from one of the “young guns” of the industry, Mandaluyong Congressman Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. At 44, he looks much younger, trim and buff in a casual shirt, his eyes friendly behind thick lenses.

Over breakfast at an Ortigas café, he discusses issues that face racing today – a proposal for a revised handicapping scheme; plans for international accreditation; ways to combat the threat posed by illegal bookies. “To help the industry, we have to carefully study these things and actually do something about them.”

Abalos burst upon the racing scene just three years ago, yet in that brief period, he has gone from simple horseowner to president of the oldest horseowners’s organization in the country (MARHO, or the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners) and a respected and influential force in the industry.

What led him to enter the racing industry? “I’ve always loved animals,” he smiles. “I have 30 dogs, many macaws, parrots, monkeys. I used to raise chickens. I have a fascination for horses, been riding since the late ‘80s. I could have been a vet.”

When horseowners Tony Tan and Joey Dyhengco took him to the races, one visit was enough to hook Benhur. “I acquired Dandansoy from Joey for P350,000. She was a champion, winning the Sampaguita Stakes in 2003 and and earning P2.8 million in her career.”

Other horses that he bought later on were Empire Cat, Bumpy Johnson, Cat’s Gold, Nothing Impossible, Tiger Song, Cat’s Jewel. His interest in thoroughbred bloodlines led him to start a breeding operation on three hectares in Batangas, with seven broodmares and seven yearlings at present.

Though he prefers breeding, he acknowledges that racing is important for showcasing his ranch’s produce. His racing stable has two fine young runners – Pearl Buck and the magnificent Ibarra, both island-born from Australian mares. “Suerte ako sa mares,” he says. “Dandansoy, Tiger Song, Cat’s Gold, and Nothing Impossible have really done well for me.”

His interest in racing and breeding, coupled with an innate desire to help others, has led him to embark on projects benefiting the industry.

In 2005, he raised financial assistance for the medical care of several injured jockeys and sponsored a charity race.

In 2006, he led a fearless attack against illegal bookies, enlisting the help of the National Bureau of Investigation, the horseowners’ groups, the Manila Jockey Club, and other industry sectors. While not totally eradicated, the presence of illegal bookies has significantly declined.

He has gained a reputation for toughness and courage, for not just talking about things but getting them done swiftly and effectively.

How did Benhur gain such heights of eminence in the industry so soon? Was it just because he is a prominent legislator and an intelligent man? Racing boasts of many politicians and intellectuals among its ranks, many of them more powerful and wealthy, yet none have achieved what he has in such a brief span of time.

The answer lies in his personality. Gracious, yet forceful and commanding. Gentle, yet brave and battle-ready. There is no hint of arrogance or hubris in his aura; he is sincere, eager, and concerned for others.

Standing up for what you believe in and fighting for it are very important to him. “It’s not being quixotic,” he avers, “it’s being true to yourself.”

To discover how his personality was shaped, I ask about his early years. Benhur laughs. “I was a bad boy!” he says. The look on my face tells him, “You’re kidding.” “It’s true,” he insists. “I was notorious. I founded a fraternity called Scouts Royal Brotherhood when I was in high school in Don Bosco Mandaluyong. I was almost expelled, except I promised the principal I would turn it into a social action group.”

My eyes widen. SRB was famous until my time, the late ‘80s, and beyond that. His grin is sheepish. “I wanted a way for my classmates and I to bond even until we were old. It was probably immature of me, but at the time akala ko makakatulong ako.”

As he speaks, I notice a recurrent theme that runs through his discourse, that of helping, assisting, caring. He is forever doing something to touch the lives of others in a positive way.

He mentions their family’s Ciara Marie Foundation, named in honor of his teenage daughter who died in 2004 of an E. coli infection. The organization has helped over 90 needy people who are afflicted with the same illness. As the mayor of Mandaluyong City in the mid-‘90s (the youngest ever elected in the history of the city), he implemented social programs that benefited his constituents. Now a congressman and head of the Metro Manila Congressmen, Abalos does his part to “heal our country” in the legislature and government. And there is his intense desire to uplift and reform racing.

He picks at his light breakfast of fruit and toast. “I believe it is important that you have an advocacy,” he says. “It’s all about balance. When I was young, I never let up on my studies. I wanted to excel in everything. But I wasn’t a nerd; I was good in sports. Art and culture, I was into that. I also left room for spiritual things. I was inspired by the Renaissance men of the 16th and 17th centuries who were good in everything.”

Gusto ko bilog ang buhay ko – at hanggang sa huli, may heart ka pa.”

Excellence and advocacy continued to be his watchwords for the rest of his education. He graduated from De La Salle University with a degree in History and Political Science in just three years, and went on to the Ateneo de Manila University for his Bachelor of Laws.

At the Ateneo, he served as the school year representative on the student council and was a student activist. “Na-batuta at na-teargas ako noon.”

His inspiration, he says, for taking up Law was his father, also an attorney, Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. “I took up his profession because I saw many people respected him and asked for his advice,” says Benhur. “But money can’t buy respect. You have to work for it.”

Character, though, is shaped not only by education, but also by transformational experiences that are often tragic and traumatic. For Benhur, there were three. The first happened in childhood.

“We were not well-off then,” he says. “My dad was a janitor, my lola was the locker girl at the Wack-Wack Country Club. When I was five, I went for a swim in the pool. The manager saw me and scolded my grandmother. She hid me in a locker until her shift was over.”

Benhur’s voice trembles slightly. “Inside that dark and stuffy locker, I thought, bakit ako inaapi? I just wanted to swim. My skin wasn’t different from anyone else’s, just because we were poor.” From that moment, he vowed to treat everyone equally, regardless of social or economic station in life. He promised to fight for the rights of those who were unable to do so.

It is ironic, he mentions, that when he became the Mayor of Mandaluyong years later, he was only the second person, after President Ferdinand Marcos, to be named an honorary member of Wack-Wack.

The second life-shaping event, he says, occurred in the late ‘80s, after law school. The newly-minted lawyer had set up his own law firm with friends, and soon enjoyed success as a corporate attorney with big clients such as Agfacolor. “My experiences as a ‘bad boy’ helped me with clients and people because I had been through so much before.”

He was making a lot of money from his practice and his business supplying chickens to Vitarich. Successful in his career, married, and with a growing family, he felt on top of the world. But a severe abdominal pain sent him to a doctor, who shocked him with a diagnosis of probable colon cancer, the illness that killed his grandmother and two uncles.

From 175 pounds, he shrunk to 85. Bedridden for six months, he became depressed and suicidal. He became angry at God, yelling, “Why me?” But after much soul-searching, he realized that God had given him a good life and family.

He memorized Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd”. Clinging to his faith, it gave him hope. God granted him a miracle; all signs of the cancer cleared up.

“I have looked Death in the eye,” Benhur says. “Kaya siguro ako ganito, matapang.”

The third event was the death of his beloved teenage daughter, Ciara Marie, two years ago. “I will never ever recover from it,” he says, his voice hushed, and it is only at this point of the conversation that I sense tears close to the surface, held in check by force of will.

He shows me his cellphone screen; on it is a picture of a lovely girl, face lit up in an incandescent smile. “You learn to adjust, but there will always be something missing. You move on, but your happiness will never be 100%.”

The tragedy caused him to again question God, to rage at the unfairness of it. Then – another miracle. He discovered a caller ringtone on his cellphone when he had not subscribed to such a service.

The song was Jose Mari Chan’s “Christmas in My Heart.” The lyric, “may we never forget the love we have for Jesus,” struck him to the heart. Was someone playing a bad joke on him?

Globe Telecom’s president himself assured Benhur it was just a glitch in the system. The service was on for only five days, when it is usually activated for a month. Benhur realized it was a message from Ciara. It was then that his anger at God melted, and Benhur bowed to His will.

“This event taught me the purpose of life,” he says. “It is to love and take care of your family, share your blessings with others, and then fade away.

“All these things explain my character, bakit ako lagi nagmamadali, laging nakikipaglaban for what is right and just. Yet I do not impose my own opinions on others. I always consult and discuss.”

Benhur glances at his watch, ready to dash off to his next meeting. He takes the time, though to answer my last question – what are his wishes for racing this year? “For my personal goals, I hope we have the right nicking for my horses, and that Sailaway, the stallion I co-own with Kerby Chua, will nick with my mares and help me breed the best.”

And for the industry? “I hope we will have programs that are fair and just to everyone, relevant to what is needed, and that will really address the concerns we have now.

Everything is feasible. This could be a better world to live in.” ***

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Working Mode

With my co-host Andy Sevilla, who has been presenting the races on TV for about ten years now. He is also a racing and motoring columnist for the daily broadsheet Business Mirror.

andy_n_me.jpgI have very few pictures of me at work. This is one of them, taken 15 October 2006 during the Klub Don Juan de Manila Derby day at the San Lazaro Leisure Park during the broadcast.

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Boss Danding

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6 Nov 2006 was a very important and memorable occasion for the horseracing industry when former Ambassador and San Miguel Corporation (SMC) mogul Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. attended the launching of the 11th MARHO Breeders’ Cup at Wack Wack Golf and Country Club.

MARHO (Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners) is the oldest horseowners’ and breeders’ group in the country, having been founded by Boss Danding himself in 1974. At that time, he was very active in racing and initiated many reforms and innovations.

One of them was convincing the national government to establish the Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) under the Office of the President, the official body that governs racing conduct. (Betting is vetted by the Games and Amusements Board).

For his many invaluable contributions to the industry, Amb. Cojuangco was presented with a plaque of appreciation by the current MARHO Board of Directors. The plaque, designed by artist Ed Castrillo, has a raised sculpture that is said to be a faithful likeness of Cojuangco’s champion horse, Manila.

His presence at the event makes industry members hopeful that this might mean his renewed interest in and support of the sport, especially in terms of SMC corporate sponsorship which is badly needed.

Welcome back to Philippine racing, Boss Danding, and may we soon witness your colors in action again on local tracks!

Photo shows a visibly moved Amb. Cojuangco receiving his plaque from MARHO director Jake Maderazo.

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Kent Desormeaux

kent_d.jpgI was going through some old photos the other day, and I came across this snap from January 2002. It was taken at Santa Anita Park in California, with my friend Socorro Guce (wife of Jockey Ramon B. Guce), her kids Arbhiemon and Mary Monique, and famed American rider Kent Desormeaux.

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My Hero

secretariat.jpg

One of the heroes I admire most was very quiet and unassuming. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Whatever he did, he gave his all and more. His life was a classic sample of synergy, where things merge and create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. All his efforts were dedicated to achieving excellence in sport. Upon his death, he was hailed as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.

 Secretariat (Bold Ruler – Somethingroyal) was a chestnut colt whose career in racing lasted only 15 months. But the victories he notched enshrine him forever as one of racing’s greatest legends.

 Born in 1970 at Meadow Stud in Virginia, his debut race was at 2 years old. He came in fourth. It was the worst placing of his career.

 He won his next race by six furlongs (2400 meters) at Aqueduct in July 1972. After that it was one victory after another, only marred by a disqualification in the Champagne Stakes in October 1972 at Saratoga Park. He had come in first but was relegated to second for bearing in on Stop The Music, who was declared the official winner.

 In January 1973, his owner Penny Chenery accept the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year in behalf of Secretariat, who was also voted Champion Two-Year Old of 1972. Now a 3-year old, his handlers prepared him to compete in the prestigious Triple Crown.

 On 5 May 1973, Secretariat became the first horse to complete the 1 1/4-mile course for the 99th Kentucky Derby (first leg of the Triple Crown) in less than two minutes.

 He ran it in 1:59 2/5, which was 3/5 faster than Northern Dancer’s 1964 mark of 2:00, to set a track and stakes record that still holds. He ran each successive quarter-mile of the race faster than the previous one, with split times of : 25 1/5, :24, :23 4/5, :23 2/5 and :23.

 He won the second leg of the TC, the Preakness Stakes, on 19 May 1973, and entered the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, as the odds-on favorite.

 On 9 June 1973, Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths – the longest winning margin in the race’s history – while setting a track record of 2:24, which has not been surpassed. The time was 2 3/5 seconds faster than the mark set by Gallant Man in 1957.

 Secretariat’s victory made him the ninth Triple Crown winner and first since Citation had swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1948. Later he ran two races on turf and won them both. In November 1973, he was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.

 In 1989, he was euthanized at Claiborne after suffering from severe laminitis. He was 19.

In May 1999, Secretariat was honored as the 35th greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN’S SportsCentury, a series of shows profiling the top athletes of the past 100 years. Secretariat was the only non-human to make the top 50.

 His necropsy showed an oddity that may or may not have been a factor in his success – his heart was found to have been twice as large as that of an ordinary horse. This trait, called the “X-factor”, is now considered to be crucial for extraordinary success in thoroughbreds.

 While his physical heart was larger than normal, his spirit, courage, and passion gave him the edge that made him a true champion and racing legend.

 Secretariat – my hero.   ***

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This is My World

Okay, so I don’t really do camera. I’m usually on the opposite side. But production work is one of my joys, and I love everything to do with getting a show on air. Being a MassCom major, and with the work experience I’ve had after, I can do most stuff from scriptwriting to directing to performing. One of the things I can’t do (yet) is editing – and with editing software getting more user-friendly, it’s only a matter of time before I’m in there cutting and splicing. (more like cutting and pasting, since film isn’t used any more.)

But there’s no way I can make big bucks being a racing broadcaster, okay? No way. The choice is between making money, and having fun.

I’ve chosen to have fun with my life and do what makes my heart beat just a little bit faster.

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