Horse racing’s new home
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - April 27, 2013 - 12:00am

Asia’s newest and the country’s third world-class racing facilities opened its doors to the public in Malvar, Batangas in February, and the response has been nothing short of phenomenal. The Metro Manila Turf Club or Metro Turf sits on a peaceful 45-hectare property on the boundary between Malvar and Tanauan, Batangas, and twice a week, provides heart-pounding thrills in the sport of kings.

This writer visited Metro Turf, roughly an hour’s drive from Makati, to observe the track’s operations. Despite the oppressive heat in Metro Manila, I hardly worked up a sweat in the track, which faces four majestic peaks, including Makiling and Malarayat, and is bounded by a river on one end. The stands were filled with about three thousand spectators cheering on their favorite steeds. But what surprised me the most was how packed the parking lot was with expensive cars. These were not your average horse racing fans and bettors.

“We have a big market here in Calabarzon which is not being served by the two tracks in Manila,” declares Metro Turf founder and chairman Dr. Norberto Quisumbing Jr., who raised roughly P1 billion to construct the track. “We have a potential of 15 million spectators and they have a stronger buying power than the average person in Metro Manila.”

Metro Turf’s construction was spearheaded by internationally renowned Singaporean racetrack consultant and builder K. K. Kumar, who stayed in the country throughout most of the building last year to personally supervise the whole operation.

“This new racing facility can be compared to the best in the world today. This is also one of the best that I created so far and I am very thankful to the owner for his all-out support throughout the entire construction of the racetrack’” Kumar said. “The local horsemen would surely be happy with it as it conforms to the international standards.”

Since late February, Metro Turf has been operating by holding races twice a week. Quisumbing is building stables for 1,000 horses to allow him to bid for big international races and give an incentive for horse owners to house their racehorses on the site. The 1200-meter track is maintained very well, and all the possible amenities for owners and horses are being added. In the next few months, Metro Turf will also build a 70-room hostel for tourists. The hostel will also have a viewing deck where they will be able to watch races up close.

A horse owner and breeder, Quisumbing made a career marketing motorcycle for close to half a century.  He sees the emergence of the Philippines as a major racing center in this part of the world.

“Our rich history in horseracing and our great racing facilities today are the main reasons why we are nearing the level of some great racing countries here in Asia,” he says. “It’s about time that we should aspire in catching up with our Asian racing neighbors such as Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.”

Quisumbing has surrounded the track with 39 floodlights around the oval and another seven attached to the grandstand. The lights feature the latest General Electric technology, providing outstanding illumination during night races. The whole racetrack can be flooded with light in a mere five minutes. The clubhouse is for private viewing of invited guests and dignitaries that is right beside the officials’ booth. The adjoining grandstand is open to the public. Metro Turf Club also has 24 cubicles for horseowners, trainers and guests and also for the private use of paying visitors who want to enjoy the fresh, clean air from the mountains and a clear view of the racetrack below.

In the near future, Quisumbing plans to build a world-class cycling velodrome inside the track fronting the grandstand. Plans have already been drafted.

“We want to support other sports and make this a family sports destination, so everyone can enjoy being here,” he says.

Those who work there, like the jockeys, trainers and support staff, also have their own quarters. Every morning, at least two hundred horses train in the peace and quiet of this rustic setting. The atmosphere becomes electric on race days. And all the races are broadcast live on cable via Cignal and also seen at over 300 off-track betting stations.

The development of Metro Turf will not only stimulate horse racing in Calabarzon, but provide a new venue for families to find something mutually fun to do on weekends. But the big event is the start of the first leg of the Triple Crown on May 18.

Metro Turf is home to the sport of kings, but in itself is fit for a king.

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