Saturday, October 20, 2007

Horse Racing at Sta. Ana Hippodrome

What do you do when you seem to have had enough, and getting bored at your usual TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) drinking sprees with officemates? I don’t know with you, but as for me, I observed around and asked my people what it is/was that they’re fond about outside of the office. And I discovered two of the boys enjoy and religiously monitor the horse races. Of course they’re not concerned about the horses per se; they are fond of betting on which number will come out so they can rake in some winnings!

Thus, one Friday evening we went to watch how this thing is done the Filipino way and where! Of course that was partly because, in there (as advised by our suddenly excited colleagues), we can still grab our “beer of preference” plus that fabled fried chicken cooked “Savory Style” – oh yes, your fathers will remember that famous restaurant.

Target venue: The Sta. Ana Racetrack in Makati!

Warning and reminder: If you think this is just another so-so place, jump to the last three paragraphs below and you’ll probably rush to go see the racetrack (even forgetting about the horses)! Anyway, as for the moment, let’s go back to our grand TGIF, okay?

Going there
Many of us would know that to go there will require anyone to patiently ford the Makati rush-hour traffic since races are held evenings. We learned it starts at about 6PM. During the “planning” for this TGIF, when one of our colleagues declared we have to drop everything at 5:30PM and start crawling to the venue, all protestations could be heard from these lovely souls who are used to going home at 10 or 11PM, as they surely will still have work to finish by such a time. And I unfortunately belong to this culture (already) hehe! In this office, anyone who sees you going home at 5:30PM gives you that (mimicked) worried look and asks: “half-day ka? Is there a problem?”

Well, I believed the planners. All I said was… “guys if we have to watch the horses tomorrow, then let’s follow the horses’ schedule, these are some of the things we don’t and can’t have control”! And my inner mind was debating on what I just said!!! Half of me was shouting at the other half of me… “Are you sure you will be done at 5:30PM? Are you joking?!” But a more authoritative voice within me told my inner mind with a final declaration, “it shall be done, no ifs no buts”!

I did ask during the planning if it was better to commute than drive going there (as if I drive hehehe) and the common response was “its okay”! Aaaaarrrgggh!

So, that most-awaited Friday evening came and two of our dear “advance party” folks set out at exactly 5:55PM to go to the racetrack! They were to secure a nice viewing deck for the whole pack and already order the pancit, beer, rice, ulam and of course savory chicken, etc., that everyone (including me) was all so prepared to voraciously gang on! Take note, they were the once who reminded everyone to drop everything at 5:30PM hehe! Work is just in the veins of all of us! Ehem!

People went out of the office in trickles and I finally had to call it a day by 7:05PM then commandeered a colleague to drop everything and drive our TGIF-weary asses off to the Sta. Ana Racetrack! Its not even 3 kilometers away, we did not get lost (I had a map) but it still took us until about 7:45PM. Oh alright, we missed the vehicle entrance and went to the main gate for pedestrians. But after quick instructions from the main-gate guard, we just made a u-turn and were parking the car in no time. And one of our “advance party” mates was there to fetch us at the expansive parking area of this facility! Yey!

The Building
Well, I already expected that this was some (previously) grand (but dilapidating) edifice that I would chance upon (which made me more excited) and I was not wrong! Camera was not readily on, as I was not sure what kind of crowd to expect in this place. The last that I want to happen is being robbed because some robbers spotted me sporting something interesting to grab. So, at the parking lot, we just took deep breaths and looked in awe what must have been a grand structure this building was in the past. It is still a building by the way but not for a grandiose crowd if you know what I mean! I did itch as I still do today, to be able to go back there on a daytime and take pictures of this place.

The walk going inside was brisk with less chit-chat. Our “advance party” knew better since my driver was one of the ladies in the office who commands a 2nd, 3rd, 4th look that eventually becomes a static gaze from the male populace. And this was a definitely predominantly male turf! We didn’t wanna catch any extra attention lest it ruined our full enjoyment of the races. But it did still allow us a cursory of how this building looks. My final assessment, this must have been a grand place in its heyday!

The stairs are wide like at old school buildings that many an architect today would consider extravagant. But for me, that’s what makes the place grand. The floors and the walls are hard solid concrete with that bit of pinky cream finish just like many of the olden buildings around the country such as schools, capitols and other government buildings. Whoa the ceilings are always high at about 12 feet or more! Very much unlike today’s buildings, right?! This one is really wide and has wide spaces everywhere. How wide? Imagine that the supposedly lobby or hallway or walking area now houses about 3 badminton courts. And when you go up the 2nd floor, it’s the same thing – 3 or is it 4 badminton courts! See?! It’s really big. But we went further on to the bleachers.

The bleachers, oh the bleachers! There are various kinds and levels. Our officemate led us past the badminton courts and the ticket counters towards the front or the trackside of the building. You will have to condition yourself and accept some icky-ness or eeriness on some portions as you walk by. This is an old edifice with an equally old activity of horse racing where majority of patrons are not your usual white collared executives or metrosexual yuppies, okay? So it will be common to pass by dark-than-usual and wet-than-usual and smelly-than-usual little corners as you negotiate the walk towards your chosen view area!

We then come through a hallway lined with doors to some little cubicles that all sported protruding back portions of air-conditioners! And indeed these are cubicles! They looked like karaoke rooms. We were assigned at cubicle number 41 – more officially called by the race track authorities as “aircon box 41” for indeed they are like boxes! This is our view deck, our very own private turf as we would watch the races and partake of the food (and beer) on the side! So let us describe our box…

Like all others in this row of “boxes”, our cubicle is an almost-square rectangular “room” probably 4 X 3 meters in floor area but I’m not sure as it could probably be 3 X 2 hehe! We needed to tone the thermostat down since the 1HP air conditioner was just too strong for such a small “box” even with 10 of us cheering and bantering in there! In this everything-plywood structure, the height of the ceiling is probably 7 feet or slightly lower since my 6’0” self could still stand erect inside! Oh, the front area is all glass and that is your window to the races. Also at the front ceiling corner was a TV where you view a closer look of the horse race plus the results and things related to the races.

I realized we were at a “prime” area in this facility. Our cubicle was not way down the ground level bleachers and we were not also up at the topmost viewing decks. We were just in the middle and in air-conditioned boxes! I recognized the “prime”-ness of our location as I noticed that we were in the middle of the long row of cubicles and there was some kind of stairway that we could use to descend about 3 steps down to the open-air tables and chairs just before the railings that separated this area from the lowermost bleachers. There are no tables nor chairs down there! Farther to our left was another bleacher or building that had nothing at ground level but on a high floor was a conglomeration of tech gadgets. Whoa! I learned that is the platform used by the management of this place to take videos of the races. And it is also where that singsong emcee is stationed! I could see the crews and cameramen all too busy in that platform. Farther still to the left was yet another bleacher, this time at ground level where people had tables and chairs but they would run to the front and nearer the tracks during a race! Ok, now let’s go to the races!

But before the races, may I just add this, the view to the right is the interesting Makati skyline of buildings and more buildings while further front beyond the tracks are also buildings and several more buildings. I started to think this race track is the only open field remaining in the city of Makati! Okay, now the races and the bets!

The Races and Us!
There are a number of races the whole night. You choose when to bet and in what kind of “game”. There would usually be some kind of a guide where you read the horse numbers and names to help decide on which one to bet on. I initially thought those guides were free and asked that we be given more, but was told we had to buy it – usually outside of this building. Hmm, now I remember that those little guides are sold on sidewalks. These guides are called “dividendazo”, they look like thin booklets or pamphlets – actually size A3 paper folded booklet-style. Only the outside pages bear numbers and names for the day’s races. The inside area of the booklet details results of previous dates as easy reference for those who want to see trends. If you’re a first-timer, you’ll need someone to guide you on how to read the entries on these guides. They contain a whole gamut of race information! And our colleagues had a hard time explaining them to us!

You can bet on a different set of horses per race. You can also bet on a set of numbers that will be applied to several races – or all the races of the day. Your numbers can come strict in the correct order as picked, or you can jumble (rumble) them so that if they come in any order you still win. There are a dizzying lot more of combinations on how to win and how to win big, bigger or biggest!

Before each race, management gives time for people to walk to the betting booths to place their bets. This while the horses are being prepared and while the whole place is lulled or rocked to whatever kind of music they wish to play on the public address system. And a final call is announced to signal the last few minutes or seconds for placing bets. It will be tedious for you to be going back and forth from your viewing area to the betting booths. So for convenience, there are a lot of old manongs who are on hand to do the actual betting for you. Win or lose, you are supposed to tip them for running to and from the booths just to place your bet. Your bets are recorded on some kind of a receipt (thermal paper) similar to what you get after placing bets on lotto outlets. Keep those sheets as those will be your proof when claiming the winnings. Oh, the manong that made that bet for you can also do the claiming – if ever you were lucky enough to win!

Now the races. As you would imagine, the horses with their jockeys already in position are caged in a starting bar (whatever it’s called). When the go signal is given, the doors spring open and out them animals come zooming! Almost immediately, a near-pandemonium ensues at all the bleachers with people cheering and shouting and rooting for their choice horses. And we were not an exception here. As we watched the numbered horses sprint, we were of course mindful of our numbers and wished and shouted and cheered and jumped and whatever else we thought we could do – if only (and as if) our chosen numbers could win! Like all the people in any of those bleachers, no one of us could be seen sitting down as any race progressed – even if we did not bet on a horse! And I assure you, this will also happen to you should you go there and watch it live. Everything is just roused when those horses start running! Many a times during the jumping and banging and shouting, we would worry a bit that our little “box” of a cubicle might crumble to pieces or the glass pane might break because of all the commotion!

When horses reach the photo-finish line, all noise and vibration suddenly ebbs with only a few more that can be overheard – perhaps because they won in that race! Then it’s back to the food and the beer and the betting for the next race. That’s the cycle that keeps repeating until the final race is over!

Some observations
On this evening that we watched the races live, there were “sightings” of some personalities I never expected to see. Most prominent probably was the son of the president, yes the Congressman from Pampanga out in the bleachers who calmly watched a race with his binoculars. He and some men that looked like bodyguards were on a table with bottles of beer on the open-air bleacher just below and a few feet from our box. We learned he is a race-horse owner and an avid patron of these races. No one could tell us if he places big bets and as to how much usually! We did learn that his horse was a number 4 and came out winner in the race that it ran in. Hmm, am not sure if it was Race 1, 3 or 4.

We further learned that his wife would sometimes accompany him to this place but not to watch the races but play badminton at the many courts. I think I saw some signs that these courts are managed by Shuttle Master.

A prominent businessman was silently alone with his balding head at a top non-airconditioned bleacher above our box! We learned he is a serious horse race watcher and places big bets. Hmm, his winnings probably help him in growing his businesses hehe!

Don’t expect the viewers here to be your yuppies for in fact it is almost the opposite. While you can see in the crowds those who obviously look like office workers, the majority of people in the crowds would be in shorts and slippers – some even taking off their shirts during the races.

Smoking is of course the side-event as it comes fine with drinking beer while watching the races. It is only 'not allowed' inside the air-conditioned boxes and the badminton areas.

That rambling/mumbling sing-song kind of English from the announcer as the race progresses is actually practiced for it to be so! This we were told by the people who hang around often. They told us that if you are applying to become such an announcer, you must be able to do exactly that kind of announcement as the horses race to the finish line. He is hard to understand but thankfully no one bothers to listen to him anyway!

The pancit (we had two kinds) taste really good! The “savory chicken” is to die for!

So is that it?
No not yet! On arriving home, I was so engrossed to learn more about this horse racing thing and did some little more digging for infos that my little mind can find. And here we go:

This all started as the Sta. Ana Turf Club back in 1937 and their first activities were racing imported thoroughbred horses from Australia. But that did not stay long as they found it hard and expensive importing horses from Australia with little support or following. In short it started as a losing venture. However, the era on racing horses in this country already started! So any kind of horse was then allowed.

The 26 hectare property in Sta. Ana soon had a following of horse racing fans and lovers that started trooping to the facility during weekends and holidays. This “sport” became too popular and profitable to the operators that for a time it supported three charities – the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes, Philippine Tuberculosis Society and White Cross, Inc. Ownership of this club was passed on to the Reyes Family – steered by the late Dr. Aurelio P. Reyes, president of the PRCI for 24 years from 1947 until his death in 1971, who built up the club into the multi-million peso business that it is now! Since then it has been managed by his widow, Mrs. Antonia H. Reyes. In 1972 it became known as the Philippine Racing Club, Inc. until today.

But there are issues!

In 1995, the franchise for PRCI to operate has been extended for another 25 years via RA7953. Following year (1996) the PRCI bought a 147 hectare property in Cavite for future relocation of the race track. This is where those issues started to crop up…

Enter the Malaysians and others… To summarize, this consortium has been wont to transfer the races to Cavite so that they could develop and sell the prime Sta. Ana area into just what has happened to San Lazaro – where there now stands an SM Mall and condominiums!

The issues are actually glaring as far as businessmen and investors are concerned and you can read up on the following links (I hope they don’t disappear from the web soon):
Another from businessmirror

There are many others on the net and you can easily search for them.

Anyway, for us the mere simple mortals looking for uncommon pleasures, you better head to the Sta. Ana racetrack soonest to have a glimpse of how those races happen – before it fizzles and transfers to Cavite. That would be unless you are a mall addict! If that is the case, just wait a few more nights and you’ll probably have another behemoth of a mall in that very place!

At least I have seen and learned about horse racing in the Philippines... have you?!


  1. Thanks for link to Mabuhay ka!

  2. where exactly is sta. ana hippodrome? is there an entrance fee or do I have to bet to be able to get in? I wanna watch a horse race again, the last I watched was in san lazaro way back college days.

  3. its in Makati. try google maps or wikimapia though will give you a more straightforward direction.

    once in there, you are not obliged to bet. you can just wallow around or watch the races or roam the whole place :)

  4. I must visit this place. I really enjoy watching horse racing philippines. Thank you for writing a blog about this!