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Jockeys run for charity sans horses

Tap a person on the street and ask him or her if he or she has heard about horseracing. More often than not, you’ll get a clueless stare.

The sport has been around since colonial times, and was formally organized in 1867 with the founding of the Manila Jockey Club. Other racing clubs were established since then, and today, two more in addition to MJC are still operating – the Philippine Racing Club (founded 1937) and the Metro Manila Turf Club (opened in 2013).

The sport is conducted by individuals with highly-specialized skills, among them jockeys, trainers, equine veterinarians, grooms, farriers, and many others. Over the sport’s nearly 150-year history, these sectors of industry workers have formed tight-knit communities to sustain and support each other and their chosen industry.

Most people would find the jockeys the most interesting group; certainly they are the most visible, the stars of the show along with the horses they race.

 In the entire country, there are only 130 active jockeys, licensed by the Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) and all are members of the New Philippine Jockeys Association, presently headed by veteran rider Gilbert L. Francisco.

Theirs is a high-risk activity, and unlike other extreme sports enthusiasts, this is not a mere hobby for them; this is their livelihood, that they engage in everyday.

 In the speed and rush of the race, it happens that jockeys become unseated or thrown, and fall. Some pick themselves up and brush off the sand, and get on another mount in the next race. Others suffer disabling injuries, and can no longer work.

 There are 12 riders on the disabled list. Five are totally disabled after racing accidents: Erwin J. Tijam in 1991, impaired vision; Jesus C. “El Maestro” Guce in 2005, paralyzed, in a wheelchair; Constantino H. Bernabe Jr. in 1993, paralyzed after a severe spinal injury, in a wheelchair; Ramil V. Leona in 2013, partially paralyzed; and Leonardo T. Cuadra Jr. in 2014, severe head injury.

 Seven are partially disabled: Emerito F. Daquis suffered leg injuries in a workout accident in 2000; leg injuries as well in racing accidents for John Gregory G. Rodriguez (2009), Juan P. Manalo Jr. (2007), and Ludovico M. Salvador Jr. (2006); slight spinal injuries during a race for Ernesto A. Ventura (2000) and Lennon V. Cannaoay (2012); and a slight head injury in a racing accident for Randy L. Lagrata (2013).

 “Slight injury” is a misnomer here; it just means “suffered an injury less grievous than Cuadra’s.”  The young man’s case is harrowing: he fell on the track head first, and his life hung in the balance. An excellent team of surgeons pulled him through, but the top part of his skull is still kept in his abdominal cavity and cannot yet be replaced because of brain swelling. He is only 25.

The industry and the jockeys protect their own; a certain percentage of horse prizes goes to the Disabled Jockeys Fund, and the riders themselves constantly seek ways to augment it with charity races and other endeavors.

Their annual Jockeys Day racing festival is now on its twelfth edition, and is set for this weekend (May 30  and  31) at Metro Turf in Malvar, Batangas. Among the charity race sponsors are Philracom, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, and various individuals.    

The jockeys came up with a special event that will be held in the country for the first time ever  on Sunday  – a jockey footrace,  patterned after those in the United States. Jockeys, for a donation, will emerge from the starting gate like racehorses and run on the racetrack to the finish line for about 100 meters.

When this was proposed to the Philracom, agency Chairman Andrew Sanchez and Commissioners Bienvenido C. Niles Jr., former jockey Lyndon Guce, and lawyers Ramon S. Bagatsing Jr., Willy de Ungria, Jose Santillan, and Victor Tantoco approved the plan at once.

The footrace will feature 22 riders and will be run between two regular races.

The jockeys have other activities planned for the weekend, including fans’ meet-and-greet with the jockeys, fun bets on the footrace, and others.

For perhaps the first time ever also, all three racing clubs – MJC through Racing Manager Ding Magboo, PRC through Executive Vice-President Allan Abesamis, and Metroturf through Chairman Norberto Quisumbing Jr. – are actively helping promote and support an event that will be held on only one of the tracks.

To help the disabled riders, they put aside competition and contributed heavily by providing incentives to participants in addition to sponsoring races and jockeys in the footrace, as did members of the three horseowners’ organizations – Marho, Philtobo, and Klub Don Juan de Manila – and plain racing fans.

This is an example of one community taking active measures for its welfare, care, and protection. There is no whining or blaming, no pointing fingers or ducking responsibility, only buckling down together as a community and an industry to find solutions and get things done.

Please visit the New Philippine Jockeys Association page as well as my racing page, Gogirl Racing, on Facebook, for more information.

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Facebook: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, Blog:  http://jennyo.net

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