MANILA, December 30, 2003  (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - The racehorse "Manila," bred by San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco, nearly made it to the National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame as a finalist in the male category this year and should be a shoo-in for the next polls in Saratoga Springs, New York.

No other Filipino-bred horse has come close to achieving legendary status as "Manila," out of "Lyphard" and "Dona Ysidra." Only about 170 horses are enshrined in the prestigious Hall of Fame where jockeys and trainers are also honored yearly.

The Hall of Fame was established in 1955. Thoroughbreds become eligible after the lapse of five calendar years from their final racing year up to their nomination. Eligible thoroughbreds are classified as contemporary male or female if retired between five and 25 years. Horses retired for over 25 years are classified in the "yesteryear" category. New inductees are named during Kentucky Derby week in May and enshrined in August.

There are 125 members of the Hall of Fame voting panel headed by Edward Bowen. The nominating committee is made up mainly of writers, including William Nack of Sports Illustrated, Neil Milbert of the Chicago Sun Times and Russ Harris of the New York Daily News. The committee votes on the total ballot and the top three vote-getters in each category are then submitted to the 125 voting members. Only the top vote-getter in each category is inducted.

"Manila,""Ancient Title" and "Precisionist" were the finalists in the male category this year. The Florida-bred "Precisionist" was elected on the basis of his 20 wins in 46 races and earnings of $3,485,398. "Precisionist" was bred by the late Fred Hooper and won the Breeders Cup Sprint in 1985. A drawback was the horse’s inability to stud. He was found to be virtually sterile after retirement and returned to the races to win additional stakes. "Precisionist" was trained by Ross Fenstermaker then by John Russell and Bill Donovan in his comeback.

In contrast, "Manila" sired 25 stakes champions and winners of over 466 races. Among his offspring were "Time Star," "Bien Bien," "Great Palm,""Montjoy," "Manilaman," "Star of Manila," "Manila Magic," "Manilasterre," "Manila Lila," "Thrilla In Manila," "Thrillerfrommanila," and "Passay." This year, three "Manila"—sired stakes winners were "Angel’s Song," "Pimienta" and "Northerntontown" in France.

"Manila" collected $2,692,799 in earnings and won 12 races, including nine straight. He took the Breeders Cup Turf title at Santa Anita Park in 1986 with Jose Santos on board. The three-year-old colt won by a neck over "Theatrical" in a nerve-wracking down-to-the-wire finish witnessed by his breeder Cojuangco in the stands. History books note that the race is also remembered for the defeat of European champion "Dancing Brave" who had won the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Tripmphe at Longchamp in his previous outing. "Theatrical" went on to win the Breeders Cup the next year with Pat Day on top.

The Breeders Cup Turf is the top race on grass among the eight contests that comprise the Breeders Cup World Thoroughbred Championships held annually around the major tracks in North America. The Turf is run over a mile and a half and carries a purse of $2 million.

"Manila" was born in 1983 and brought to stud at Lane’s End in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1988. He has a royal bloodline in that "Northern Dancer," who sired "Lyphard," is a Hall of Famer. "Lyphard" is out of "Northern Dancer" and "Goofed" while "Dona Ysidra" is out of "Le Fabuleux" and "Matriarch."

Among the races that "Manila" won were the United Nations Handicap in Atlantic City, the Budweiser Arlington Million, the Turf Classic in Belmont Park and the Cinema Handicap in Hollywood Park.

After several years in Lexington, "Manila" was sold by Lane’s End to a group in Turkey.

In 1998, US-based Filipino artist Salvador Arellano immortalized "Manila" on canvas in a watercolor painting. Arellano produced only 350 prints of "Manila" which he dedicated to Cojuangco.

The San Miguel chairman sold "Manila" to Bradley Shannon of Kentucky in 1986 after he was forced into exile.

"The painful part of my experience with ‘Manila’ was selling him," related Cojuangco in an interview published in a Manila newspaper in 1988. "I used the money to support my family in America. I would never have sold ‘Manila’ if circumstances didn’t happen the way they did. It would’ve been the greatest thrill for me as a breeder and owner to see my horse beat the best from Europe and the US. No Filipino has ever been able to reach that stature. That would have been a proud moment for all Filipinos. In the thoroughbred world, if you can breed a champion once in a lifetime, you’re considered lucky."

Hall of Fame trainer LeRoy Jolley said "‘Manila’ was by far the best horse I ever trained." Jockey Angel Cordero said, "‘Manila’s’ the best grass horse I ever rode and he’s probably the best horse around going anywhere from a mile to two miles. If my life depended on riding two horses, I’d pick ‘Seattle Slew’ and him."

"Seattle Slew," incidentally, is in the Hall of Fame along with such legends as "Seabiscuit," "Affirmed," "Secretariat," and "Man O’War." "Manila" will likely join the elite cast in the near future–an added honor for his Filipino breeder.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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