Champion breeder dreams of elevating Sport of Kings

To the general public Benhur Abalos is known as the mayor of Mandaluyong City. But to serious horse racing devotees he is known as a champion race horse breeder.

His track record as a champion breeder speaks for itself with the duo of champion race horses Ibarra and Hagdang Bato bringing him recognition that is the envy of other breeders and owners.

Hagdang Bato thunders down the track en route to victory in the 40th edition of the 2012 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Presidential Gold Cup held at the Santa Ana Park race track in Naic, Cavite.

Hagdang Bato thunders down the track en route to victory in the 40th edition of the 2012 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Presidential Gold Cup held at the Santa Ana Park race track in Naic, Cavite.

The two Horse of the Year racers have won five Triple Crown legs between the two of them. Hagdang Bato swept last year’s Triple Crown series while earlier, Ibarra had won two legs but was rested by Mayor Abalos because of injury. Otherwise, Ibarra would have achieved the grand slam ahead of Hagdang Bato.

In 2012, Abalos swept Philtobo’s awards, emerging as Best Owner, his rider JB Hernandez was Best Jockey, his trainer Ruben Tupas  was Best Trainer, and Hagdang Bato was Horse of the Year, with a Philippine Sportswriters’ Association (PSA) award to boot.

Winnings of the the two horses (Ibarra  is now retired from racing  but provides stud service) have reached over P20 million with Abalos paying tribute to his team.

“I am very lucky that I have been able to get  people who like me, love horses. In the case of Tupas, I do not meddle with  his training program, except for race strategy which we discuss as a team. My people cry when we lose horses and  we  bury them instead of selling them as horse meat as others do,” said Abalos.

Presently he keeps a stable of 12 horses , eight of which are active in racing, including newcomer Bumpy Ride (which is already a winner), Never Cease, Cat’s Silver, and El Libertador.

“I go for quality and not quantity and so far my horses have delivered for me. The biggest high for me  comes with getting it right in decisions about  our horses,” he said.

But his dream in this Sports of Kings has yet to be realized.

“I want the horse racing industry to be elevated  to a respectful level truly fit  to be called the Sports of Kings. In other countries, even royalty watches races. I was given several tapes on horse racing and I realized the difference. In our country, we have not reached  the point yet  that we allow children to  go to races, all because of the gambling aspect. I think the focus should be more on prestigious races and not on the number of races,” he said.

He also believes that there is plenty of room for local horse breeding.

“We  should be bringing in imported horses, but more  to improve our breed  and not for these horses to dominate the local races. I am happy that there are a few other horse owners who share  my dream for this sport,” said Abalos.

The biggest irony of it all is that Abalos does not gamble at all. When he bought Fire Down Under, the dam of Ibarra and Hagdang Bato, it was to help out a boyhood  friend in need and not to get into serious horse breeding.

His interest in horses started when he was  about three years old when his father Benjamin Abalos used to bring him and his siblings to Baguio. A trip to this summer capital  is not complete for kids without a trip to Wright Park for a horse riding adventure.

Abalos shows off his pride and joy in 2008 Horse of the Year winner Ibarra. The stallion narrowly missed winning the Triple Crown that year. It is now retired but continues to earn by his stud duties.

Abalos shows off his pride and joy in 2008 Horse of the Year winner Ibarra. The stallion narrowly missed winning the Triple Crown that year. It is now retired but continues to earn by his stud duties.

Little did he know then that his affair with horses will go way beyond that initial encounter in Baguio with the animals.

“When you ride  a horse, it is not just the thrill of  riding , you  realize that you are with one of God’s magnificent creations. I really fell in love with these creatures,” he said.

Abalos started dreaming of having his own horse but the dream came true only when he could afford to buy one. The first riding horse he had was Roxanne which he brought to his chicken farm in Baras, Tanay.

“In my work as a Mayor and in the various positions I have held related to politics, I have a very hectic schedule and  I need an outlet where I can release stress. I found it in riding horses. But early on I did not know much  about horses which I thought were all the same,” said Abalos who is also into practical shooting, swimming, and scuba diving.

Dandansoy was the very first race horse  that he bought in partnership with Joseph Dy. This was when he was a Mayor already and a full pledged lawyer. The horse was previously owned by Sandy Javier. That was the time Abalos learned the fundamentals of horse breeding.

“I bought a lot of books and even a computer software that can track the bloodline of horses. I realized the importance of nutrition and understanding  these animals. Every horse has a unique personality and you have to learn to recognize it. For  race horses, there are those who do not want  to have  any other horse in front, while there are some that would content themselves with staying at the back and making  their move late in the race,” he said.

Dandansoy was a respectable race horse but not a big time winner. He decided to rest the horse for about six months and formed a new team to help in improving its performance. Dandansoy then started  winning regularly and Abalos was hooked into horse racing though he maintained his non-betting philosophy.

“I just wanted to have horses. I bought more horses including Tiger Song and Cat’s Gold. Then I decided that even though it would take me four years before I could produce my own horse I became a horse breeder,” said Abalos.

This was the time that an old boyhood friend needed help and Abalos found himself the owner of Fire Down Under which was sold to him by Mark Tirona. Fire Down Under just happens to be the the dam of Ibarra and Hagdang Bato.

The rest of course is race horse history.


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Article source: http://manilastandardtoday.com/2013/03/10/champion-breeder-dreams-of-elevating-sport-of-kings/

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