Sport of Kings

The second biggest sport after football. Llamado, dehado. Winner take all.

www.highlife.com.ph

by Pola E. Del Monte


Inside the hippodrome, thundering hooves dispel all other noise. Horses shoot out of the gate and gallop with an intensity so bold, so regal, so robust that the crowd is riveted by the animals’ grounded flight. It is a unique performance that lasts all of two minutes.

After football, horse racing is the second biggest spectator sport in Britain with more than 5.5 million attendees in 2012. Outside of the UK, more than 50 countries hold races regularly, proving that its popularity hasn’t waned over the centuries.


Spanish Roots American influence

The Manila Jockey Club (MJC), one of the first of its kind in Asia, has been in existence since 1867. Atty. Alfonso “King” G. Reyno III, President and COO of MJC, emphasized the importance of providing a venue for owners to race their horses and for the general public to be able to witness an illustrious sport come to life every night.

MJC was founded by Spanish Governor- General José dela Gándara y Navarro as an informal club with an exclusive membership of Spanish-Filipino mestizos—families that are still considered as the Philippine elite: Ayala, Zobel, Prieto, Tuason, Elizalde, Torres, among others. Sharing a love for horses and racing, they met regularly to test the mettle of their steeds, originally locally bred ponies from Sulu, Indian and Chinese stock.

“What started as a social club slowly evolved into something similar to the other racing clubs in Asian regions like Hong Kong and Singapore,” said Reyno. The Hong Kong Jockey Club was established in 1884 and to this day holds the monopoly on taking bets in racing events in Hong Kong. The Singa- pore Turf Club started earlier, in 1842, as the Singapore Sporting Club and is now the only horse racing club in Singapore. It was not until 1903, after the Ameri- cans colonized the Philippines, that formal betting was introduced and opened to all classes of people. By 1912, MJC transferred to an oval racetrack and grandstand in Sta. Cruz, Manila, from the Hippodromo de Sta. Mesa in Sta. Mesa, Manila, a racing oval that was built in 1880. In 1937, the club was for- mally incorporated as a business entity.

the 1950s, the Club was publicly listed with the Manila Stock Exchange. On October 23, 1972, through Republic Act No. 6631, the Manila Jockey Club was granted a franchise to operate and maintain a racetrack and con- duct horse races.


Modernizing the Sport

After having been acquired by a group of investors led by Reyno’s father, Atty. Alfonso Reyno Jr., from the Prietos in 1995, the Manila Jockey Club invested millions towards making its property a modern facility. “It was my father’s vision to upgrade horse racing in the Philippines to the same level of horse racing in other countries,” said Reyno. “To implement that vision, we made a decision to build a modern and world-class racetrack outside of Manila. Because in Manila, the space is too tight,” he explained, adding that the available space in Sta. Cruz was only 16 hectares.

Atty. Reyno Jr. and his team found a 77-hectare property in Carmona, Cavite, now known as the San Lazaro Leisure and Business Park. The open-air facility, which includes an impressive twin-oval track, stands on a lush sprawl of manicured grass; when darkness falls, city lights show up like diamonds against a dark blue dome that is the night sky. Unlike casinos whose thick walls provide an artificial concept of time, MJC utilizes these natural wonders to add to the entire gaming experience. MJC regularly sends its architects to modern racetracks in other countries to pick out leading features, which will then be incorporated into future improvements (an exam- ple that has already been implemented: the installation of racetrack lights reminiscent of those found at F1 races.)


Horse Betting

A wide demographic participates in the spectacle of horse racing. From horseowners to the betting public, the sport encompasses an audience ranging from Class A to E and has been showing excellent performance, especially in recent times. “Years ago, sales were only about Php700 million a year. Now it has grown to more than Php4 billion a year,” said Reyno. What is interesting about horse betting is the unpredictability of winnings.


Because all bets are pooled together, a set percentage to be divided among the winners dictates how much a bettor can take home. In the event that the least-bet on horse (dehado as opposed to llamado, the odds-on favorite) wins, the pool will be divided among a smaller number of bettors, resulting in a larger take for the winners.

“We had a bettor who placed a bet of something like Php500 on Forecast. The choice was dehado, and though he invited other friends to bet on the same number because he strongly felt the combination would win, everyone else refused. The race started and to everyone’s surprise, his bet ended up winning. That Php500 bet won a Php165,000,” said Reyno. Another type of popular bet is Winner-Take- All, where you have to guess the winner for six consecutive races. The MJC president remembers one bettor who joined Winner- Take-All with a capital of around Php2,000 who went home with Php4.5 million.

“Sometimes, you may have to bet, say, Php4,000 to win Php4 million. But ask any- body, that’s a good return,” said Reyno. With such a high return from a meager bet, is there no limit to the purse? “The nice thing about betting in our racetracks is that since it is a legal event, there is no ceiling. Whatever prize you are entitled to really goes to you,” he explained.

Breeding, acquiring and racing horses on the MJC tracks is a hobby that demands a hefty sum and is enjoyed by the affluent. Depending on bloodline and breed, trained race horses can go from Php400,000 to Php2 million, while untrained race horses cost between Php200,000 and Php500,000. Though a large amount is needed to maintain a horse (around Php20,000 monthly), a percentage of the prize money goes to horse’s owner when it wins. With regard to the betting, it is the owner’s call if he bets on his horse or not. Often, owners do not risk their luck and opt not to bet on their own horses in a race.


Betting is an activity that is open to more people from all walks of life. However, the exclusivity of the sport is still maintained. “Most of the people just place their bets on the off-track betting stations because they prefer the convenience,” Reyno said. “By shifting the track to Carmona, fewer people are able to go to the track. But, the good thing is that the tracks are decongested and we just have a more select crowd there—horse own- ers, trainers, and some bettors who prefer to watch live. Beyond the race or the money, it is the local culture and its social character that adds color to the sport.”


Racing to the future

For such an illustrious sport with a long tra- dition, where is horse racing headed? “The question really is, in what form will it stay?” said Reyno. “It is going to be here, but in what form? What we want to see is for the sport and the industry not to be left behind by the times. I want the industry and the sport to grow and embrace the technological advanc- es that we have now,” he mused. The sport is brought closer to the public through more off- track betting stations and innovations such as SMS betting and online live streaming with chat. To further modernize the facility, there is now a casino on the top floor, a joint ven- ture between the company and the Philip- pine Amusement and Gaming Corporation. It includes more than 250 slot machines and six gaming tables, and has expanded its slot machine repertoire to include more progres- sive link type and interactive games such as the Bally “Hot shot” and the “F2 Grand Prix Derby” slot machines. The Chantilly Bar and Bistro, a gourmet restaurant that serves Mediterranean cuisine, offers a breathtaking view of the race course. While dining, guests may watch the races either through a closeup live feed on television or from a balcony just outside the establishment. “We have to adapt to the times,” said Reyno. “We’ve taken concrete steps and hopefully, these steps will bear fruit in time.”


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