[PHOTO AT LEFT - The racing holiday at the Sta. Ana Race Park will continue unless Philippine Racing Commission Chairman Florencio Fianza resigns, according to groups of race horse owners protesting policies implemented by the governing body.]                                               

MANILA, JANUARY 8, 2008 (STAR) By Michael Punongbayan - Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos wants the head of Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) Chairman Florencio Fianza before he and other members of the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners (MARHO) allow their horses to race again at the Sta. Ana Race Park in Makati.

The Philippine Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Organization (Philtobo) and Klub Don Juan de Manila (KDJM) have also joined the call for the resignation of Fianza and other members of the Philracom board.

Abalos, MARHO president, told The STAR his group and other associations of horse owners stopped racing at Sta. Ana on Saturday and Sunday.

In response to the allegations, Fianza said he and other Philracom board members serve at the pleasure of the President.

“But for as long as we are in these positions, we will continue to perform our functions as mandated by law,” he said in a statement.

Fianza said he did not create the problems in the horse racing industry, which “had been there” before his appointment as Philracom chairman.

“Apart from the need to amend certain provisions of the law governing horse racing, the problems that need urgent attention are the problems of drug use, race fixing, the intentional losing of races, handicap manipulation and breaking the illegal syndicates who control betting,” read the statement.

“Yet this group of horse owners choose to bring up other issues and cannot be even honest to the public on what their real agenda is. What they want is to be able to appoint someone in my place whom they can control so that they can on with their merry ways. They have been doing this with my immediate predecessors.”

Fianza said the whole matter is “all about control,” and has nothing to do with the issues being raised by the protesting horse owners.

“The bone of contention is actually all about the handicapping system,” read the statement.

“Why so? Because the handicapping system they want is to be able maintain the current system whereby horses can go up and down in the handicap. This means for example that a horse that has gone up to say level five is allowed to go down to level one or two.

“So what is wrong with this? It is easily subjected to manipulation. In order to go down, the horse will have to lose a race. Some horse owners do this by injecting their horses with so-called downers, or instructing their jockeys to intentionally lose the race.”

Fianza said Philracom wants to reform the handicapping system to be fair to the betting public and other sectors in the horse racing industry.

“It is not only the interest of the horse owners that the Philracom must address, but also the other sectors that are equally important then try to evaluate all the facts to be able to come out with actions for the common good,” read the statement.

“If the intention of a horse owner is gambling, maybe he should go to the casino because horse racing is not the place for him. Horse racing is all about passion for the sport and not business or gambling.”

Abalos insisted that their protest is anchored on legitimate issues.

He said the Philracom under Fianza had posted only a one percent increase in income last year, and the very “low increase rate” was supposedly due to mismanagement.

Abalos said sales and other profits register an average increase of 13 to 14 percent annually and can even go as high as 25 percent.

Fianza also did not act on the problem of illegal bookies, he said.

Eric Tagle, MARHO vice president, called on Fianza yesterday to stick to the issues and refrain from using “squid tactics.”

“We want to set the record straight,” he said.

“We are doing this not for ourselves, but for all the players in the industry who have been affected by the haphazard implementation of the new handicapping system formulated by the Philracom without consulting horse owners.”

Tagle said the racing holiday declared by the three groups of horse owners has been met with approval by even the smallest players in the industry.

“Except for a few, all the industry players, even the grooms and trainers, have cooperated with us. All we want is to be heard by the regulator of the sport,” he said.

Tagle debunked a report quoting Fianza that the protesting groups of horse owners have committed “misdeeds.”

“Majority of the horse owners in our group are businessmen of high integrity who are into horse racing because of their love for the sport,” he said.

“This is not our bread and butter,” he added.

Meanwhile, Abalos denied rumors of game fixing at the Sta. Ana Race Park involving a member of the First Family.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved