This article is the third in a series of research studies about Philippine communication environments. See Part 1 for an introduction to the topic of the communication environment and its relationship to culture. Read Part 2 to know more.
As part of the requirements for our Communication Environment PhD class, I took my professor and classmates to the horse races.
Santa Ana Park: A Day at the Races
January 6, 2009 was a monumental day for Philippine horseracing fans. It was the day the first races were held at the new Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite. While the new place is extensive and spacious, capable of holding the sport’s growing number of racehorses, many miss the old venue once located in Makati City, close to the boundary of Manila.
The old Santa Ana Park was built in 1937 in the Art Deco style popular at the time. Among its contemporaries in architecture were the Manila Jockey Club’s San Lazaro Hippodrome in Sta. Cruz, Manila, and the Jai Alai building along Taft Avenue, both torn down some years ago to make way for modern edifices; and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office building, formerly the Quezon Institute, which the Department of Public Works and Highways has ordered demolished due to structural unsoundness.
In the case of horseracing, the buildings go, but the sport stays. It is flourishing at the new site in Naic chosen by the Philippine Racing Club.
The new track at Naic covers around 70 hectares, nearly three times as large as the 25-hectare facility at Makati. The old venue was cramped, unable to accommodate the horses enthusiastic players were breeding and buying, resulting in stables being built nearly on top of one another, affecting the horses’ health. Today there are clean stables arranged behind the far turn and home turn (the red roofs in picture above), with hotwalking areas inside each stable and easy access to the track for morning workouts and races.
The grandstand is of modest size compared to the old ones at Makati, but then the number of visitors here is not expected to be as high as at the old place, where track attendance was booming especially during big racing festivals and stakes race days.
The place is tall and white, looking very clean against the blue sky. Painting the edifice white connotes not only cleanliness but also purity; on a semiotic level, it could be seen as an attempt to ‘whitewash’ the sport, which suffers a degree of stigma in mainstream Philippine society because of its wagering aspect.
With lots of open seating, there’s a feeling of airiness and freedom. Leeway is given to patrons to walk all the way up to the plants edging the rail of the parade ground, which is just several feet away from the track itself. During mile races, the starting gate is right in front of the finish line, in full view from the parade ground allowing close scrutiny of the warm-up, loading, and jump-out.
The rest of the building is nondescript, with VIP rooms on the third floor, huge green-tinted glass windows overlooking the track, while the fourth floor houses racing officials – race stewards, judges, and racecallers. The spatial orientation of the building forces everyone to face towards the track and observe the activity there, reinforcing the concept that it is the sport that is the reason for the facility’s existence and the racing community’s continued sustenance over time and in different places.
For visitors who know nothing about the sport, the track is a sensory overload. One can barely keep up with the barrage of information that, without a framework, is often difficult to interpret and may leave people overwhelmed, unless they have a friend in the know to explain things to them. Starting gate. Rails. Finish line. Racing programs. Jockeys. Betting matrix. And so on. The language – salitang karera - is also an artifact, one unique to this milieu.
Trophies deserve special mention here. As an artifact, for owners and trainers they symbolize more than a victory gained by one horse, one rider, in one race – they are also bragging rights and a reminder of the accomplishments of their stable. For the jockey, they commemorate personal triumphs along the timeline of his life. In other words, trophies orient achievements in spatial and temporal dimensions.
People travel all the way to Naic for one reason, and that is to watch races and bet on them. Thus their activities at the venue are in line with this purpose. They may be seen studying racing programs (Dividendazo, Silip sa Tiyempo, Winning Time), texting sources such as horseowners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, and tipsters for racing tips, and scribbling their ruta (betting combinations) on scraps of paper. From time to time they glance up at the many monitors that line the interior walls of the building to view the betting matrix ( a grid of numbers that show estimated dividends for betting combinations).
When the patrons are ready, they line up in front of the betting windows to place their bets, then watch the race from the viewing area beside the track or on the monitors.
The exchange of money through betting is a significant activity in this sport; economics, therefore, is very much a key concept in this context, to a greater degree than in other sports that have no formal betting element. Racegoers communicate to each other, in words and actions, their excitement and anticipation upon placing their bets, suspense while watching the race, and elation upon winning or disappointment upon loss.
Since horseracing is not a mere game of chance that relies on the turn of the card or roll of the die, as in casino gambling, but a sport that requires knowledge about a myriad factors, being able to apply analytical methods to come up with winners leads to a feeling of vindication and even smugness when one is proven right and goes to the betting window to collect dividends. Losing a bet is equated not only with the loss of money, but also with being wrong, with error. Then the tendency is to try, try again.
At the track, there is camaraderie among the patrons, of belonging to a special group – kami (us) – na taga-karera or karerista, who are not understood by sila (them) – but then that is one of the draws of the sport, the sense of the arcane and mysterious, a flavor of the forbidden.
Click on a picture, then click again to see a full-size image.