December 02, 2020 at 08:15 pm
The local horse-racing industry has been in the doldrums for the past years now with sales decreasing every year.
But do not tell that to former Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos, one of the top racehorse breeders in the country, as he has produced some of the best horses local race fans have seen.
I was very fortunate that he agreed to a rare one-on-one interview the day after his super horse Heneral Kalentong fashioned an impressive come-from-behind victory over Winner Bidder, and with it, capped this year’s pandemic-hit racing season with a Triple Crown victory.
Earlier this year, Heneral Kalentong, named after a busy street in Mandaluyong, where the Abalos family has reigned in the local political scene for close to four decades anchored on good governance, also won the previous two legs. The victory earned for Benhur his second Triple Crown, with his horse Hagdang Bato doing it first in 2012.
Truth is, it should have been the third for Benhur, as another super horse of his, Ibarra, was poised to win after the ruling the first two legs in 2007. But with a minor chip bone injury prior to the final leg, Benhur, mindful of the future of his his prized entry, decided not to enter Ibarra to avoid a possible career-ending situation. And so it came to pass that after passing up that race, when Ibarra, an older sibling of Hagdang Bato returned to the race track, it won the prestigious Presidential Gold Cup the following year.
For those who have long been racing fans, it really does not come as a surprise at all as Benhur has already carved an impressive niche as a champion horse breeder since he went on to breed horses in 2004. I would say he has certainly set the bar high with what he has accomplished, attested to by the numerous awards he has received. And so the first question I tossed at him in our interview was what is the secret of his sustained success in breeding race horses. Of course, I had to ask him, too, why he even went into that, busy as he was with his political life that has seen him serve as Mandaluyong mayor for five terms and congressman for a term.
His reply was simple, the secret is no secret, but a complete package of practical things guided by science and computers. The number one he told me was to look at the pedigree of each horse and see the winning history of its parents with records from way back easily available. Then, he studies the conformation of a horse, the little things that indicate that once in action, it will be a harmony of motion in running. There is also what he calls nicking, which is trying to fit the best match of parents through genes. What comes next is the rearing part, which actually starts with the mother’s proper nutrition while it is pregnant and all throughout the growing years of the offspring.
The environment, particularly in the weaning stage, which may psychologically affect the horse, is also taken into serious consideration by Benhur. Next is the patience on the part of the breeder—that he would only enter his horse in a race at the proper time, not too early, not too late to build its confidence. It goes without saying that one has to have a good team composed of trainers, groomsmen and jockeys, and all of these, Benhur has in his horse ranch in Lipa City, where I will shoot a future episode of The SWAB, My Sports vlog on You Tube. I even kidded him that I would like to interview Hagdang Bato, now happily retired. Unfortunately, without any successor, unlike Ibarra, who has produced several winners already. I just learned though that Ibarra had passed away a few months back.
How he got into horses is a similar story with others, he rode his first horse up in Baguio and he was fascinated by these creatures ever since. But it was only after Dandansoy, the first race horse that he and his initial partners bought and was a surprise winner in a big race, that he got hooked into breeding horses. Ironically, he does not bet on his horses, but targets instead the purses offered. Just this year for his Triple Crown victory, he would pocket close to P6 million and says he has more than recovered his investments from all his winnings in the past.
He admitted that every year is a challenge for him as new entries emerge, but his first Triple Crown win in 2012 for him had the bigger impact. He described that achievement as different, unforgettable and euphoric, and the fact that he is the one who breeds these winners and not just owning them, gives him a bigger sense of fulfilment.
But then he admitted, too, that the local race industry is facing very big challenges and in 2019, its gross annual sales dipped by around 50%. This year it got a double whammy with the pandemic.
But the dreamer that this man is, he has accepted the challenge. In fact, together with a group of other horse owners, Benhur bought out the franchise of Metroturf owner Dr. Norberto Quisumbing, saying it was high time that horse owners themselves owned a race track. Well, not really own as they rent the facilities from Quisumbing, but the renewal of the franchise was handled by Benhur practically alone, representing his group in the Senate and Congress.
That does not end the problem though as he enumerated what ails the industry and on top of the list is the over taxation, hit particularly by the recent TRAIN Law. The continued operation of illegal bookies is hurting the industry, and the fact that racing fans are diminishing in number, affected by the co-relation of the sport with gambling, the younger generation, too, has not found horse racing an attraction. But if you think these problems discourage this guy, sorry. He says he is a dreamer and accepts the challenges.
Fact is, he has a plan already on what steps to make, but then that would be for a Part 2 as I also would be sitting down with another race horse owner Reli de Leon, who is now a commissioner of the Philippine Racing Commission.
Meanwhile, this Sunday, THE SWAB will have Ai Lebornio, the University of the East head coach of the women’s senior team and an assistant coach, too, of the national women’s squad. She will be our featured guest as we tackle the reasons why some athletes, who make it big in their heyday, still end up poor.