Horse manure
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-01-10
From bovine ordure, let’s discuss horse manure — the kind that has long been victimizing horse race bettors.

Our younger brother Richard (Dicky, as we fondly call him) became a horse racing aficionado at such an early age of 12 years old. I have reason to believe that Dicky discovered the ins and outs of horse racing even before he experienced puberty.

In the Sta. Mesa Heights neighborhood where we grew up, Dicky and his friends had access to a dentist who also owned race horses, a few of them winners. Dicky’s fascination with horse racing started with a winning horse named Kingdom Belle — after he made a small bet on the filly and won handsomely.

From that time on, Kingdom Belle was the buzzword heard most from Dicky. Within the family, the joke reverberated that Dicky was so hooked on Kingdom Belle that when he prayed the Lord’s Prayer, he would mistakenly say ‘thy kingdom belle’ instead of ‘thy kingdom come’.

We couldn’t discourage Dicky from betting on horses simply because he kept winning and also because most of us in the family were into recreational gaming too. It’s also hard to dissuade Dicky when we, his elders, would beg to ride on some of his bets during those times when he had a hot tip.

It was from Dicky that I learned about the shenanigans that surrounded the horse racing industry. I used to wonder how come it was very important for bettors to know if a horse owner is determined to have his horse win a race or not. I thought then that a horse owner would naturally want to win every race because of the prestige winning brings and also to reap the cash reward that the winning horse owner earns.

As Dicky explained, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. An owner may intentionally make his horse lose so that it is relegated to a lower class, a class that the horse can dominate with ease. Having racked up a series of losses, less bets are generated (increasing the dividends that a less favored horse brings) and this allows the greedy owner to make a big killing. That is why the most asked question before betting on a horse is laban ba (is it out to win)?

Then too, according to Dicky, there is the collusion among the owners to pick the winner from among their entries — usually the one that pays the bigger dividend. Here is where it ceases to be a sport and becomes a racket.

Horse racing was such a passion — nay, a religion — for Dicky that he died with his racing boots on. On an April Wednesday in 2001, he was at the horse races betting on the sport of kings when a heart attack ended his life at age 48.

Thus, it was easy for me to empathize with the present pressures being heaped upon Retired General Flor Fianza, Philracom Chairman, who has lately earned the ire of the horse owners. The horse owners resent Fianza for taking his job seriously and attempting to initiate reforms.

The horse owners have been raising all sorts of issues against Fianza to force Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) to fire him. They even declared a horse racing holiday to up the ante.

In a counter manifesto last Tuesday, Fianza countered: “The problems in the horse racing industry have been there long before my appointment to Philracom. I did not create them. Apart from the need to amend certain provisions of the law governing horse racing, the problems that need urgent attention are the problems of drug use, race fixing, the intentional losing of races, handicap manipulation and breaking the illegal syndicates who control betting.”

Flor Fianza is simply attempting to address age-old problems of the industry. Now, if the horse owners are the most reluctant to allow reforms, then it must be true that they are a major source of the problem.

This is a big public issue that GMA cannot decide on simply the basis of numbers — a reformist Philracom Chairman versus several horse owners — or the fact that many of these horse owners also happen to be political players and influential persons who can cause her regime some inconvenience.

I suspect that these horse owners are capitalizing on the notion that GMA is undergoing crisis fatigue. They’re probably hoping that she will sacrifice Fianza instead of having to deal with another problem.

I don’t think the race bettors will want to stop the reforms that Fianza is introducing. They would certainly welcome these reforms that eliminate the X-factors in horse racing.

If GMA opts to only look at sheer numbers, then she should consider how many horse race bettors there are compared to the horse owners (who also happen to represent the elite of this country). This issue is very political and GMA will do well to study the possible repercussions of throwing reformist Flor Fianza to the wolves.

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