Posts Tagged ‘horseracing’

krip yuson: lush life

Last year, through the social connectivity magic of Facebook, I had the privilege of “meeting” writer Krip Yuson and  adding him to my list of Friends. From time to time he’d comment on links I’d post on my Wall. One particular weekend, I found a handful of literary links that he was quite pleased with, enough to send me an autographed copy of his newest book Lush Life: Essays 2001-2010 (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011).

I received the package he sent via LBC the morning I had to leave for the racetrack to attend a horseracing event. Excited, and wanting to savor the treat, I took the parcel along with me.

“Lush Life” nestled in the base of the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners (MARHO) mother trophy, created by sculptor Ed Castrillo from brass. The event was held at Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite, from 15-20 November 2011.

Alfred “Krip” Yuson is a prolific, multi-awarded essayist and columnist who writes a column on literature and culture for the Philippine Star and teaches poetry and fiction at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Here’s an excerpt from “Getting Literary in Oz-Land”, first published in Philippines Graphic magazine, 29 May 2006. I love the Heinlein reference:

Walking through the Botanical Gardens [in Sydney] one early evening, I chanced in on a midsummer open-air concert featuring Tchaikovsky’s “1812″. The freebie audience I joined manifested the national character. Aussie couples, families, and large, motley groups were all lolling about in their comfort zones on the grass lawns and hillocks, romancing their beers. Some lay supine on mats, taking in the night sky as the musical strains led to the climactic crescendo-cum-cannonade – which was of course accomplished by real cannons by the bandstand.

Fireworks lit up that night sky to complement the cannonade, the mighty percussion, and ascending, spiraling strings. Oh what a scene to be in, to be part of – no stranger in a strange land, but one in the midst of casual if sublime revelry, all senses gratified, even one’s sense of marvelous environment.

Krip autographed the book’s flyleaf for me.

The collection of 75 essays is “proof, were further proof needed, that [Krip] has few equals in the field of non-fiction,” says UST Publishing House director and University of the Philippines creative writing professor emerita Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo.

The book, she adds, “demonstrates how a life fully lived – its dizzying heights scaled, its dark depths plumbed – combined with a large soul, an ironic vision, an unfailingly playful sense of humor, and the gift of bending the language to his every whim, are what lead to great writing.”

Not only did Krip send me a copy of his book, he also, with thoughtfulness and kindness, sent me a pack of Pei Pa Koa throat lozenges, which I shared with the racecallers at Santa Ana Park that cool November day.

Clutching the pack of Krip’s Pei Pa Koa, I pose with Philippine Racing Club’s Santa Ana Park racecallers – Vergel Caliwliw, Romy Cheng Tejada, and senior racecaller Ricardo de Zuñiga, whose father was racing writer and poet Oscar de Zuñiga. November 2011.

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communication environment series part 3: santa ana park in naic, cavite

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 Architecture

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.

The Artifacts

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.

The Racegoers

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.

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pop goes the world: waiting on jueteng

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 September 2010, Thursday

Waiting on jueteng

It’s been decades, yet the flap on illegal numbers games refuses to die. The games are known as jueteng in Luzon, masiao in some parts of the Visayas, and by some accounts generate an estimated P30 billion yearly in revenues for the operators, who do not pay taxes to the government or otherwise contribute to the public or the state.

The forms of gaming that are legal in the country include casino gambling, cockfighting, and horseracing. These are regulated in various ways by the government to ensure fairness and transparency and the payment of direct taxes to state and/or local government coffers.

In addition to these are games that include wagering, such as poker games, which have surged in popularity in recent years, so much that the game has sponsored big-money tourneys aired on sports cable television channels.

Meanwhile, the government, through the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, conducts lotteries, other types of number games, and the ‘small-town lottery’ which is supposed to be a substitute for jueteng and seeks to gain its market so that revenues generated from that activity may benefit its charitable projects.

The 2009 revenues from gambling as a legal international commercial activity were estimated at $335 billion worldwide. This amount surpasses the 2009 nominal Philippine GDP at $167 billion. Many countries regulate gambling rather than forbid it in order to tap into this lucrative market that provides jobs and economic opportunities. Consider Las Vegas and Macau. The former was nothing but vast empty desert but is now a booming entertainment town. Macau was a sleepy colonial enclave revitalized with the influx of investments in casinos.

It is inevitable that debate will arise on the societal impact of gambling. Some sectors of the church have declared war upon it, such as retired archbishop Oscar Cruz, whose anti-gambling crusade extends to exhorting his fellow men of the cloth to refuse donations sourced from gambling.

As a clergyman, he comes at the situation from the bastion of his religion, although the Bible does not specifically condemn lotteries, gambling, or betting. The Bible passages most commonly cited warn against the “love of money” (1 Tim. 6:10, Heb. 13:5) and from attempts to “get rich quick” (Prov. 13:11, 23:5, Ecc. 5:10).

The arguments commonly raised against gambling even by the clergy are presented from a sociological perspective – that it wastes money, is addictive, that the gambling industry is a parasite because it does not create nor produce anything, that legalized gambling makes government a promoter of a “get something for nothing” attitude that is counter-productive to the good of society, and so on.

The most popular catch-all remonstrance is that gambling destroys morals, character, and leads to a decadent society – value-laden statements that are seldom backed with hard demographic data. Taking that as a given, for the sake of argument, then one must also look at the myriad human activities that have the potential, if abused or misused, of “destroying morals and character”.

For ages, philosophers have argued in circles about this matter to no end, because an argument can always be made for either side. It all comes down to choice. It is a person’s right to choose to whether to gamble or not, to smoke or not, to drink alcohol or consume addictive drugs or overeat to obesity or stay up way past the usual bedtime or not.

In the case of jueteng, because it involves an immense and renewable fount of easy money for the operators (not necessarily the bettors), the situation becomes murkier, with allegations of government and military corruption. Archbishop Oscar Cruz contends payoffs were made to Interior and Local Governments undersecretary Rico Puno and former Philippine National Police chief Gen. Jesus Versoza. Versoza’s lawyer, Benjamin de los Santos, scoffed at the allegations, saying “It’s just a piece of paper and does not prove anything…where’s your proof?” It’s like watching a tennis match – your serve, Archbishop.

It is an insult to intelligence to deny the reality of payoffs. The questions the Senate seeks answers to are who, what, where, when, and how, since we can pretty much surmise why. But beyond the finger-pointing, what’s next?

That’s always been the case with issues of this magnitude. The recent release of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee report on the hostage-taking tragedy at Quirino Grandstand was practically anti-climactic – the people to blame are these members of the media, local government, and police, and so on. Yet was anything resolved? Was it pointed out anywhere that the botched rescue by police was due to their inadequate training and equipment, a result of the years of neglect and corruption in that area by the previous administration?

The situation is the same with jueteng. These and similar problems were inherited from the Arroyo regime, and the Estrada one before that, and so on. They did nothing about jueteng; why are former leaders not being held liable for their neglect at least?

It’s obvious there’s a problem there. The question is, what to do about it – ban it, substitute STL for it, or legalize it? Make up your minds, guys. Give your fingers a rest from pointing and let’s see some action once and for all. Pag gusto may paraan, pag ayaw, maraming dahilan. Stop with the dilly-dallying. We’re tired of waiting. When are you going to get things done? ***

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yes, i write like a girl

I had my first creative writing workshop experience a couple weeks ago in our non-fiction writing class taught by Dr Jing Hidalgo. I had no idea what she meant by choosing our “workshop slots” or what a session would entail. Before mine began she murmured, “Is this your first time? Try not to be sensitive. It’s a learning experience.” Since I was already herky-jerky nervous, not knowing what to expect, that got me even more anxious.

As it turned out she – and quite a few of my classmates (the women) – enjoyed my piece (about the old Santa Ana Park racetrack). They were swept up in the narrative, interested in the sprinkling of karera terms, curious about the lifestyle of a little-known sport (horseracing) and way of life. The men had much to say, mostly on technique – the introduction, scene transition, and so on.

Which showed me how differently the minds of men and women work. Is it a sex-based wired-in-the-brain thing? A male friend told me just last month, “Your ‘Pop Goes the World’ columns (opinion for the daily Manila Standard-Today) are getting better. As for the other stuff – try not to write like a girl.” I pondered upon that, long and dreary, till I was weak and weary, into the wee hours of the night. Mainly I wondered, has my friend not noticed that I am a girl? As the raven quoth, “Nevermore”, I suppose.

My ‘Pop Goes…” columns come primarily from the brain. They are analyses of cultural phenomena in Philippine society, rooted in social science and literary theory, social commentaries from my viewpoint as a communication practitioner and scholar.

The rest of my written work comes from the heart. I use the tools of my art, weaving words and ideas and emotion into nets of fragile gossamer beauty or fabrics of wild or subtle color and texture and dimension, to craft with much care works that are ephemeral, existing as they do on only as ink on paper or dancing electrons on a screen, but that will have their existence in your mind and remain there, alive, as long as you are, as long as you do not forget.

My heart is a girl’s heart of sixteen summers, warmed by the sunshine of love and tenderness, battered by the storms of rejection and adversity, strong and resilient enough to go on beating with hope and still more glowing hope.

It is from this heart that I offer the essays that get the most pageviews and comments and re-tweets – the “popcorn manifesto”, the column on my sisters and daughters.

It is when I write from my girl’s heart that I reach and touch more.

My male friend said, “Make them think.” Yet do I accomplish more that is humanly significant when I also make them feel?

My male friend said, “We are not teenagers anymore.”

In my heart I am, ever naïve and gullible, with a core of unshaken innocence that believes no matter how evil some people are, how they may hurt you and others, still good is out there, and life is a quest to look for it to preserve and protect our humanity, the condition in which we shall exist in the face of advancing technology and much of world culture’s seeming slide into barbarism and cruelty.

Good is out there and I keep searching. Sometimes I find it.

There will be other workshops in our creative writing class. I will hear Dr Hidalgo and my classmates critique my forthcoming essays, and I will hone my writing skills. Perhaps I will become more technically proficient, adept at the active opening, smooth transition, and insightful ending. My male friend might have more to say on why he prefers my cerebral pieces to the emotional.

But I will always write like a girl.

Do not be afraid of that. My heart is open, even if yours is not. Come then, into mine.

taste more:

back on air

After a hiatus of a year and four months, I’m back on air doing the live horseracing coverage for Viva-Prime Channel at the Philippine Racing Club’s Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite.

With sports writer Barry Pascua last 22 March 2009, on standby to do the opening of the day’s live coverage of the races half an hour before the parade for Race 1. This was my first weekend back. Barry and I are at the grandstand.


The last two horses cross the finish line after Race 1.


Racing fans pack the grandstand at Santa Ana Park on Sundays.

I started my broadcast career in racing in 2002, when I was tapped by PRC’s then-vice president of administration Fulton Su to be a panelist for PRC’s coverage, then handled by production outfit Creative Station for Pro-Ads Marketing, the actual contractor.

Boss Fulton took a leap of faith with me, as I had no experience at all doing live racing coverage. Despite being a jockey’s wife, I didn’t have much knowledge of betting or how to do race analysis.

I did have prior on-camera experience as a segment presenter and later co-host of “Karera 2000″, a horseracing show that aired over the government station, PTV (People’s Television) in 1997. For that show, I also wrote the script for my own segment, “Karera 101″, occasionally did the script for the entire show, and directed my own segment and others like the “Jockey’s Tips” presented by rider Dhunoy Raquel.

That’s where I learned to work under intense pressure – imagine showing up at on location at a ranch, only to be told by the scriptwriter/director that he had not written a script for that day’s shooting, and having to scribble the spiels for that episode right there and then while the hosts Jackie Castillejo andYeng Guiao (professional basketball coach and current vice governor of Pampanga province) waited.

But taped shows are easy because you can do over with takes. Live coverage is fast-paced with no room for errors.

Over time, and again under pressure, I learned to analyze races and and discuss the betting with the help of my fellow panelists during the early days at PRC – racecallers Ricardo “Carding” de Zuñiga, Ernie Enriquez (brother of GMA Network’s famed newscaster Mike Enriquez), Ira Herrera (racecaller and now a panelist for MJC’s new in-house production team, San Lazaro Broadcast Network), and former star jockey and current Philracom commissioner Eduardo “Boboc” Domingo Jr. (also now the anchor for SLBN).

I stayed with PRC from March 2002 to January 2005, then I hosted for Winner’s Circle Productions at the Manila Jockey Club’s San Lazaro Leisure Park from August 2005 until August 2007, when Makisig Network took over MJC’s production and I was dropped from the roster of talents as they had their own.

The break of almost a year and a half was a welcome development as I got to rest, return to graduate school, put up my website, become a fountain pen and ink collector, and do other things that interested me.

Now I’m back, refreshed, with new ideas, and ready to resume active broadcasting again.


View from my seat at the studio: on the table are racecards, pens, favorite purple Fino pencase from Leigh, Nokia Xpress Music mobile phone, Denman hairbrush, and Starbucks “Philippines” tumbler filled with coffee. (“No coffee, no workee!”) The larger monitor displays the actual cable TV broadcast feed; the smaller one, the pool totals and odds.


Coverage essentials: racecards (Winning Time for past performances, useful for race analysis, and Dividendazo for the schedule and for marking the horses on parade, winner, time, order of arrival, and other information that I relay to viewers) and pens (Preppy ED highlighter filled with Noodler’s Year of the Golden Pig, Waterman Hemisphere, Lamy Safari 1.1 italic, Taccia Ta-ke).

As a mass communication practitioner, I’m fortunate to have the opportunities I do, in that I am doing both broadcast and print (I write a Wednesday column on racing, “The Hoarse Whisperer” for Manila Standard-Today).

Broadcasting has always been a significant part of my life because of my father’s influence.

My father, Valentino Araneta Ortuoste, started his career as a disc jockey in the 1960s in Bacolod City, playing The Beatles and The Ventures. (He didn’t like pop music, though, preferring classical, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole).

Later he became a newscaster for ABS-CBN network in Manila; I was a toddler then, and he would sometimes take me with him to the studio. I don’t remember that, of course, but I have pictures, in black-and-white, me looking up at him almost adoringly, he with a smile and looking dapper in high-necked Vonnel shirts.

Pops also did commercials (a series for Palmolive shampoo with the characters “Sonia” and “Ana”) and bit parts in movies (in the 1990 film Anak ni Baby Ama, he played the wealthy businessman who gets ambushed in his car at the beginning of the film). He also performed voice-overs for radio commercials and even cut a spoken record in the late ’70s, “Happy Birthday, Love”.

I was ten or eleven when he encouraged my sister Aileen and I to do radio commercials. I remember one of them was an English cough syrup plug where I had to cough on cue. I got paid extra for doing the Cebuano version when the kid who was hired couldn’t do what the director wanted and wouldn’t stop crying. I don’t understand Cebuano very well, but was able to mimic a native speaker who read my lines to me. After that I was given more work doing dialects.

When I was in college, in the mid- to late-’80s, Pops was the anchor of “The UN Hour”, a television show broadcast on the government channel, PTV (People’s Television), during the administration of Pres. Corazon Aquino. He asked me and one of my friends from school to act as student interviewers. We met with the ambassador of Namibia; my friend was so nervous, he stuttered over his lines (“Nami-Nami-Namibia?”) but it turned out quite charming and was not edited out from the final version.

I owe my father for giving me the knowledge for this kind of work; it prepared me for when fate gave me the chance to do this. I never thought I would follow in his footsteps. But I look back now and feel grateful for the coaching he gave on how to modulate our voices and act in front of a camera, things we didn’t really understand back then, but proved useful when we needed it.

However, I’d say the most valuable lesson he taught me about broadcasting was this: “Be confident. You can do it. It seems hard at first, but it’s really not – it’s just like talking to a friend.” That’s become my broadcasting philosophy and overall approach to media work.

Another lesson is: information of any kind is welcome, because you’ll never know what might be useful to you later on. So I’m passing on the lessons learned to my daughters, knowing that they don’t appreciate or fully understand these things now, but which perhaps may serve them later on in life.

It’s important, though, to be prepared with data. Oh, and coffee helps too.

taste more:

demolition permit

After 72 years on this site, the Santa Ana Park of the Philippine Racing Club is being razed to make way for new developments on the prime property in Makati City, the country’s premier business and commercial district.

Racing operations were transferred to a new facility at Naic, Cavite, last January 6. Today, structures at the old track are coming down – grandstands, betting windows, paddocks, stables. Everything is being reduced to piles of rubble and stacks of wood.

The turnstiles at the pedestrian entrance (Gate 3).


The right-hand grandstand (facing the track). It used to have badminton courts and a Savory Restaurant. Before that, there were rows of betting windows and open-air canteens.



The bridgeway between the two grandstand buildings. The structure behind it had the weighing scale, viewing deck, racecaller’s booth, and stewards’ stand.


The main grandstand, with the ballroom with the painted horses on the wall and the VIP boxes for horseowners and well-heeled patrons.


You can still see the green staircase to the upper floor, now choked with rocks and leading to nowhere.

My children and I live just behind this former racetrack, on my father-in-law’s property, most of it given over to a twelve-stall stable, now empty, as the horses have all been moved to Naic.

The once-vibrant and noisy neighborhood is quieter. Yes, that’s a good thing, but we were used to the racket – the chatter of grooms and their families, the neighing and snorting of horses, the clatter of hooves on the street in the morning, the faintly-heard voice of the racecaller over the PA system during race meetings.

All gone from here, now.

PRC management says that part of the property, around four hectares, has been purchased by taipan Lucio Tan’s group, perhaps for an Allied Bank data center, or some other  purpose. The rest of the property, maybe 21 hectares, will also be developed in time, into a mixed-use residential and commercial area much like the Rockwell area, also in Makati.

It’s hard to imagine a Rockwell here, but if it does happen, it’ll be good for the ‘hood. Property prices will rise. There’ll be jobs and other economic benefits.

Call me a sentimental fool, but I’ll miss the old track. It’s where I trained every morning for two months back in 1990 as the country’s first female apprentice jockey. It’s where my husband asked me on our very first date, to marry five months later. It’s where I sunned my babies; it’s where they learned to walk, on the strip of grass beside the rail, while their father exercised horses in the mornings, all of us coming home smelling of sun and dust and the sweat of horses. It’s where I picked up my career when I had to go back to work after my marriage faltered.


Murals still on the wall, barely glimpsed.


Murals of  Gypsy Grey and Little Morning, champions my father-in-law trained.


The jockeys’ quarters, once so noisy and alive, now silent, yawning, empty.

When a mall or condo is built here, right on the track, will the ghosts of gone horses still race, silently, where they used to run free? Shall phantasms of riders and horses, or their manifestations of psychic energy remaining in the rocks, in the soil, and carried on the breeze, still run races until entropy consumes the sun and time runs backward?

Now my eldest, Alex, is nearly 18, and in college; she took these pictures. Erika is 10. Where did time go?

And the racetrack, that stood here for many generations, and that some thought would never be torn down in our lifetime, is no more. You know what they say about change. And in fact, it’s for the better – the new Santa Ana Park in Naic is modern, roomy, and with an excellent cushiony track.

But I never thought, when I married a jockey almost twenty years ago, that the time would ever come that I would be a historian of this track’s demise.


The far end of the main building.


The white stripe divides the part that the Lucio Tan group bought (the right) from the Prime Channel and PRC corporate offices, and the rest of the property. The line extends to where the outer rail of the track used to be.


PRC corporate offices; on the left, what used to be the PRC Motorpool.


Lush vegetation frames a view of the bridgeway.


The side of the main grandstand. Here used to be carinderias (eateries) with tables, chairs, and cases of San Miguel beer.


The side of the grandstands facing the track. People used to stand and watch races from here.


The tote board gapes with holes. Well, it hadn’t been working properly for years, anyway. The rails beside the track have been removed and taken to Naic. This grassy area, where my children learned to walk, is now overgrown and unkempt.


The saddling paddock, with the jockeys’ quarters at the end.


Right across the saddling paddock was this viewing area where horses were walked for warmup/cool down. People came right up to the fence, where the stacks of wood are now.


This is what it looks like from the other side of the fence.


Open-air grandstand and private boxes being stripped of anything usable.

Photo credit: All photos taken by Alex Alcasid with a Nikon D60.

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jock rock

Jockeys rocked the house last December 30 during the annual Christmas party of the New Philippine Jockeys’ Association held at the Philippine Racing Club Social Hall, Makati City, with singing, dancing, and feasting for riders and their families and guests.

What people know of horseracing jockeys is, in general, only what they see on cable television’s Karera Channel. Short muscular men dressed in colorful eye-popping silks swing a leg atop thoroughbreds taller than themselves and ride them at top speed around an elliptical track. Their faces are barely discernible under their helmets and the straps criss-crossing their cheeks. You get to know them by their eyes and their smiles.

A race at Santa Ana Park (2006).

Theirs is a physically demanding and very stressful job. So every once in a while, to ease the pressure, they like to do karaoke, dance, drink light beer from cans, and wear weird clothing.

Hey, don’t we all?


The “Singing Jockey” Budoy Novera croons an ’80s hit while Noriel Cannaoay rocks a kilt and Jeff Zarate gets with it. Pasaway, dudes.

An average Filipino party consists of several traditional elements. There will always be food – the ever-present rice and ulam – meat, fish, seafood, and vegetable dishes. There will always be drink – the host serves beer, usually San Miguel Light in cans and/or Pale Pilsen in bottles; he may also supply liquor such as brandy or rum, while guests may bring bottles too. There will always be entertainment, usually song and dance numbers and/or karaoke.

Corporate or group/organization parties during the holidays will also have prize raffles and speeches by management or special guests and officers of the organization.

Junior members of the group are expected to entertain the senior members with some sort of presentation.


The San Lazaro Leisure Park, Cavite-based apprentice jockeys of the Philippine Jockeys Academy dance to an old pop tune, clad in matching shirts. Let’s hope they are more coordinated on top of horses than they are on a dance floor. :P

The holiday season is always a time to let off steam. Jocks know how to party hearty. They rock on and off the track. Woot! *rock horns*

taste more:

pens and horses

It was the 13th running of the MARHO (Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners) at the Philippine Racing Club’s Santa Ana Park racecourse last November 23. A historic occasion, since PRC is all set to move to its new facilities in Trece Martirez, Cavite, in January 2009, this year’s MBC is all the more special for the interesting racecards formed for the raceweek-long event.

I thought it would be a good time to invite fellow Fountain Pen Network-Philippines members to watch the races and enjoy a penmeet.

I’m standing with my kids Alex and Ik, sharing racing tips with fellow FPN-P members Chito, Caloy, Butch P, Butch D., his wife Beng, and Chito’s son Max. It was around 2 pm; there weren’t all that many people around yet.


A view of the left-side grandstand and the track.


A tarp to mark our box. Photo by Butch Dalisay.


By the time Leigh, Pep, Pep’s niece, and Raphael arrived at around 330pm, the place was packed.


Pep, doodling. Photo by Leigh Reyes.


Good thing the weather cooperated – it was a fine day for racing, not too hot. Here’s a view of the stage, and beyond, the left-side grandstand, with the FPN-P box on the level left of the glassed-in VIP Lounge.

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bedside reading

Whenever I’m asked, “What are you reading now?”, I’m sometimes hard pressed to answer. I do read one book at time, but there’s always a stack or two of volumes beside my bed,  some of which I’ve read, the others newly acquired and next in line for reading.

My tastes are eclectic. There are marketing and business books, holdovers from my MBA days – Marketing Gurus, all the Franklin Covey books. Lately I’m into memoirs – Matthew Polly’s hilarious American Shaolin, A. J. Jacob’s tongue-in-cheek The Year of Living Biblically, Laura Shaine Cunningham’s poignant and brave A Place in the Country.

Near the top, where I can easily reach them, are the latest thoroughbred catalogues from Australia’s Magic Millions and Keeneland in Kentucky. Keeneland’s November 2008 sale catalogues are the more interesting. It is a set of eight thick books, the information on weanlings and other bloodstock printed on thin paper. I open to the Index to Sires and roll their names in my mouth like candy – Cryptoclearance, Langfuhr, Star de Naskra.

Somewhere in those stacks are the latest edition of Strunk and White, my style manual ever since it was introduced to me in my freshman English class at the University of the Philippines; a Dummies guide to Adobe InDesign for print publication layouting; and three volumes of the Plaridel journal, the academic publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.

And at the bottom of the shorter pile is Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside-Out – probably not the best place for it to be, if I want it to be of any help.

Any house I live in will be filled with books. It’s almost a psychological given; a house is not a home for me unless there are many books in it, spilling from shelves, stacked against the wall, piled on the coffee table.

My love for books stems from childhood. My mother raised me on science fiction and fantasy. This is a woman who kept her Lord of the Rings trilogy on the shelf below the TV set in her room, while all the other books were kept in the living room. This was back in the early ’80s, before fantasy became fashionable and when all of Tolkien’s books were out of print. Her copies, which she bought as a teenager at Lopue’s and China Rose in Bacolod City, were printed in the ’60s, before “acid-free” was heard of, and the pages were yellowed and crumbled at a touch. The spines were battered and mended many times with tape, which had also discolored to a color like weak tea.

In the tall wicker bookshelves in the sala she kept cookbooks. One of them was a ’50s hardbound Betty Crocker cookbook from her nanny who migrated to the United States. I have it now, and treat it as an heirloom. Others were cookbooks from the ’70s; those were filled with recipes for fondue, which seemed to me to be highly impractical since you needed a fondue burner.

That didn’t faze my mother. She improvised with a miniature saucepan on the stove. We gathered in the kitchen, dipping cubes of Kraft cheddar cheese in beaten egg, then breadcrumbs, then plunging them in hot oil till toasty brown.

Also on the shelves were my stepfather’s encyclopedias and his mother’s collection of children’s “two-in-one” hardbound classics. For instance, one side was Grimm’s Fairy Tales; flip the book and you got Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. My mother also had a good collection of adult classics – Aldous Huxley, Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, the Brontes. I wore out Bullfinch’s Mythology, though I later lost that particular copy.

My mother also possessed nearly all the Edgar Rice Burroughs books – my favorites being the Tarzan series (no, there wasn’t a “Cheeta” in the books) and the Mars series. The latter starred skimpily-clad Martian princess Dejah Thoris, who was constantly being saved by her husband, the manly Earthling John Carter, from predatory villains and robots controlled by evil scientists.


Fanart depiction of Barsoom (Mars); in the center, Dejah Thoris and John Carter face a myriad perils

Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories were also well-represented. H. Rider Haggard and his endless yarns of hunter Allan Quatermain’s adventures in lost cities in Africa? Check. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells classics? Yes, there too, as well as L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books, many of them with the original John R. Neill art nouveau illustrations.

Neill’s drawings of Ozma’s hair – confined at the forehead by a thin diadem, tresses curling in whiplash tendrils – and her gauzy draperies, floating cloudlike around her slim body – captured my young imagination, representing an aesthetic that was otherworldly and unreachable. To this day, it is one of my favorite genres of art.


A Neill watercolor of Dorothy, Glinda, and Ozma of Oz.

Knowing of my insatiable – and indiscriminate – appetite for books, my mother kept those she felt inappropriate for my age in her closet, which we children never opened. When I was in college, she brought the books down, the ban lifted. One of them was Stephen King’s Dark Forces, a collection of horror and SF works by various writers. My mother probably didn’t object to the storylines but rather to King’s salty language.

In any case, it was just more grist for my mill, along with her more spinechilling H. P. Lovecraft books. The cover of one was horrifying - a worm snaked through the empty eye-socket of a half-decayed skull which bore clumps of matted hair and rodent-like teeth. I averted my eyes from that awful artwork whenever I opened that book to read about the Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep.

At the mere thought of that macabre painting, an involuntary shudder shakes my frame as chills riff up and down my spine. Uncannily, this is my exact same reaction when my eyes or fingers travel over the few old college mathematics and physics textbooks unexpurgated from my shelves. Cthulhu ftaghn!

My father was yet another heavy reader, but his tastes ran more to W. Somerset Maugham, John O’ Hara, Norman Mailer, Sholom Aleichem, Truman Capote, biographies. Pops lived in California for five years in the ’80s, and while there wrote me excitedly when he began Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,  Dee Brown’s novel on native American history. He wasn’t into science fiction; the most that he got into that genre was Ray Bradbury – I Sing the Body Electric, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I usually finish what I start. The exception is one book that I bought at a secondhand bookstall in Morayta in the late ’80s, set aside because its dense language put me to sleep although its ideas were interesting; a paradox in its rules of engagement. It was Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 work Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. This groundbreaking book had a profound impact on mass communication and media studies. As a mass comm major, I felt duty bound to read it. It’s one of the books by my bed. Sometimes I feel I keep it around not so much because I plan to finish reading it, but as a talisman to keep me focused on the particular discipline that is my life’s work.

Let me see – it’s in the taller stack, under the used copy of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast that I found a couple of years ago at Booksale for P45. It’s the second in the “Titus Groan” trilogy. I got the first book in the late ’80s, also at Morayta, deep in the University Belt in the heart of Manila. I’m still looking to complete the set. Perhaps twenty years from now, in another serendipitous moment, I’ll stumble upon a copy of Titus Alone and I will add it, yet another block in the tower of books by my bed.

People come into my house, find piles of books stacked chest-high against the walls and two- or three-deep in bookcases, and ask, “Have you read all those?” The answer is, yes, except for that darn McLuhan.

And often, “Why do you like reading so much?” and at that I am rendered inarticulate. It is difficult to explain to people who do not read, who do not relish the sensation of eyes tracking words across a page to be immersed in a story, momentarily losing touch of reality.

My own habit of reading is a result of childhood influence and a desire to escape. I lose myself in forests of words and in thickets of concepts, drown in rivers of language, wander through time and space. The volumes by my bed embody different worlds where I may go freely, through the simple expedient of cracking open a book and reading.

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my manila: santa ana park

Santa Ana Park is the racetrack facility of the Philippine Racing Club and was built in 1937. PRC was founded by American and Filipino horsemen and entrepreneurs in the late 1920s as a counterpart to the Manila Jockey Club, enclave of Spanish and Filipino aristocrats at its foundation in 1867 until its heyday in the ’50s.

There are three main structures on the twenty-five hectare property, all in a simple Art Deco style – two grandstands and an office building. There is a single dirt (sand) track surrounded by many stables that, over time, have mushroomed to far more than the area can comfortably hold. Stalls are built right up against the cinder-block walls that line the track.

The facade of Santa Ana Park on AP Reyes Avenue on an early morning last April

Races have been held continuously at Santa Ana Park since it was built, with a brief hiatus during the war. It is named for St. Anne, patron saint of nearby Sta. Ana town, Manila, although the racetrack itself is part of Makati. It has been the scene of countless challenging races and has seen the rise – and fall – of champion racehorses and horsemen.


View of AP Reyes Avenue on the other side

It is also “home” to me and my children. We have lived on my father-in-law’s compound behind the track since my marriage to a jockey in 1991. A racehorse trainer and veterinarian, my father-in-law maintains his property as a racing stable with stalls for twelve. We live with the sounds of soft neighing and hoofbeats as the horses are hotwalked in the mornings after ensayo (workout), the clanking of the tin labangans as feeding time approaches. The muted thudding of horses’ hooves on the sawdust is like the hammering of my own heart.


The parking lot is used by the community for group calisthenics


That’s the office building on the left



The Art Deco main building. The second level houses the parquet-floored ballroom and murals of champion horses from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as the broadcast studio, owners’ boxes, and VIP lounges



The parade ring with the finish line in the background


The home turn is on the far left


The first bend; Makati office buildings in the background were built many years after the track was


View of the left-side grandstand


The Stewards’ Stand. The Board of Stewards watch the track with eagle eyes (aided by binoculars) from the top floor; below that is the racecallers’ perch; a viewing area; and on the ground level, the jockeys’ weighing scales


View of the grandstand from the parade ring


A horse trots past the finish line during morning workout


Exercise rider Kiko Dilema asks, “Kinukunan mo na naman kami, Tita Jen?”


A groom leans against the rail, waiting for his horse and its ensayador to finish. One trot, two canter, perhaps?


Alex and Ik, tunay na batang karera – apo ni Doc Alcasid at anak ni jockey Oyet at ni Ms. Jen sa TV

As a young mother, I took my babies here nearly every day to catch the morning sun. When they were older, they learned to walk on the grass beside their track as their father rode by, smiling indulgently.

As a beginning broadcaster in this industry, this is where we shot many episodes of various incarnations of horseracing shows. As a former employee of PRC and of a horseowner who had two racing stables here, I know nearly every inch of this place, from the air-conditioned executive offices to the dusty stables that hug the track walls to the cockpit at the corner where the sabungeros were more vociferous in cheering than kareristas.

And all this will be gone next year, to make way for malls, condominiums, and other towers of glass and steel. The racetrack will be moved to a new, and bigger, seventy-hectare facility in Trece Martirez City, Cavite. There it can accomodate the growing number of horses in a sport that is gaining in popularity among players. It’s for the best, really.

Yet a rich part of history will disappear. Have enough photographs been taken? Videos? Interviews of old-timers who remember the place when it was still “Sampiro”, San Pedro de Makati, when the air was cool and you could faintly see blue shadows of the mountains of Rizal in the distance, before the high-rises rose up to obscure them?

But it is the way of things, that the old make way for the new, for old memories to be remembered and cherished even as new ones are created.

Read more about Philippine horseracing at

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