TOP-NOTCH RACING SET AT SAN LAZARO; POP COLA PULLS THE PLUG

MANILA, OCTOBER 13, 2003 (STAR) Manila Jockey Club Inc. (MJCI) ushers in the start of championship racing season this week at the San Lazaro Leisure Park (SLLP) as it hosts the second annual staging of the coveted "Don Juan Derby" racefest and the sixth and final leg of the Philracom "Imported Stakes Series" this Sunday in Carmona, Cavite.

Sundayís "Don Juan Derby" racing extravaganza caps MJCIís week-long schedule, which includes four night racing cards of nine races each from Tuesday through Friday and a complement of 14 and 13 races each on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

"Racing fans can look forward to another week of top-notch racing action at the San Lazaro Park as we unveil our action-packed Octoberfest calendar with the staging of the blue-ribbon Don Juan Derby," said MJCI vice president for marketing and corporate affairs Henri Kahn.

Spearheaded by Klub Don Juan de Manila, an emerging force in local racing, the second Don Juan Derby racefest will showcase two featured championships races Ė the P1-million KDJM Derby and the P500,000 KDJM Golden Girl Stakes.

Expected to draw equal attention is the running of the sixth and final leg of the Philracom "Imported Stakes Series," a P450,000 race which has lured seven crack imports vying for a slot at the "All-Import Grand Championship" Nov. 23.

The KDJM Derby is an all-comers stakes race for three-year-old gallopers set over a classic distance of 2,000 meters. Four classy chargers are officially declared to compete in the Philracom-backed race, including crack local bets Security Master and High Octane, as well as, import group standoutsí Absolute Charmer and Midnight Lady.

Pop pulls the plug The Game of My Life By Bill Velasco

Limbo.

Thatís where 20 players suddenly found themselves after Pop Cola management reportedly pulled the plug on the plans to participate in the Philippine Basketball Leagueís 2003-2004 season.

Head coach Nash Racela (an assistant with the Coca-Cola Tigers), who was coaching the LBC Blades until the offer came along, cancelled practice at Ateneo Universityís Moro Lorenzo Sports Center Wednesday as the report came out. The teamís budget had apparently been shot down at a top-level meeting the day before.

You may recall that San Miguel Corporation, which had earlier acquired Coca-Cola, acquired the Pop Cola corporation and its accompanying PBA franchise two years ago. This marked the first time that Coca-Cola would have a professional sports team carrying its name anywhere in the world. It would also mark the end of two decades of RFM Corporationís continuous participation in a major basketball league, beginning with Joey Concepcionís assembly of the Philippine Amateur Basketball League (now the PBL).

The Pop Cola team, which entered the PBA alongside Pepsi-Cola in 1990, was known as the Panthers. Their species was changed to the Coca-Cola Tigers.

Unfortunately, 20 players (mostly from NCAA teams) had stuck it out with the tryouts, and were part of Popís final pool. Among them were UAAP Mythical Team member Rhey Mendoza of National University, Philippine team center Ranidel de Ocampo, College of St. Benilde center Ron Capati, NCAA MVP contenders Arjun Cordero, Jerome Paterno, Ronnie Bughao and four teammates from the San Beda Red Lions, and Mapua center Raymond Dula. Former MBA MVP Alex Compton, back from an extended vacation in the United States and Europe (where he also played with the Champions for Christ), is also part of the deal. The players, along with Popís draftees from two weeks ago, are now looking for a new employer. The PBL itself is looking for a new sponsor to complete the planned six-team line-up.

Forward Al Magpayo of CSB, who was traded from the remaining LBC players who were transferring to Pop with Racela, ended up the only one with a secure deal. Racela, meanwhile, is in the final stages of negotiations with San Beda College to coach the Red Lions, who lost six straight games in the second round of the NCAA tournament under former Aquinas high school coach Jonathan Reyes.

How did Pop Cola convince the PBL Board that they were intent on seeing through their commitment to join the league when there was no final decision from their management? And what happens to the players now? What kind of protection did they have?

This looks eerily similar to the unravelled mess left behind by the defunct MBA, which left teams and players and consultants unpaid when it went under. Nothing on paper was given a chance to be upheld: contracts, memoranda, deals and promises. At the end of it all, everyone just went on with their lives, sore, bitter and chastened.

Perhaps it is time that leagues review their procedures for accepting new members. Perhaps new members should be made to pay a bond to secure their tenure, whether it be for just bone conference, one season, or however long. Now the PBL, which had a dispersal draft for players left without teams alongside other rookie candidates, needs to fill in a void less than a month before its scheduled opening. Also, leagues should be provided with the internal agreements of a member corporation guaranteeing that it will stay, for whatever prescribed period.

Now would be a good opportunity for middle-sized corporations to consider stepping into the PBL. The goodwill generated by "saving" the tournament and the players involved would be enticing. Aside from that, on paper the Pop Cola squad would be no pushover. With De Ocampo, Dula and Capati in the slot; Mendoza, Cordero and Paterno at forward, Compton and Bughao at guard, Racela would have a solid eight-man rotation. That would be unless a competitior of SMC gets the rights to the team.

This is all an illustration of how enthusiasm and excitement, a staple of college basketball, runs smack into the reality that pesos and centavos still dictate the game. On paper, Pop Cola would have been a powerhouse. But the game isnít played on paper, but in the boardroom. And the paper that counts is the color of money.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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