When I had my one-on-one interview with Philippine Racing Commission’s Reli de Leon, he was still one of its commissioners.
By the time this comes out, he is already the Philracom Chairman, which he intimated during our talk on the possibility. And so it has come to pass that a one-time vendor of dividendazos when he was young, became a horse race owner and now the commission chairman.
It was a long talk we had at The Elk’s Club in Makati. It was a long time, too, since we saw each other and he shared a lot of things, including the fact that his mother and grandmother were both race track tellers, while he was out selling race tips programs.
When we met a long time ago, he was already a marketing management guy with adidas, then with Accel, and later on, consultant with Converse and even with Manny Pacquiao at the time the boxer was still unknown. He got Manny his first endorsement money from No Fear at P50,000 and that the Filipino ring icon could not even encash it as he had no bank account yet.
But his employment could not allow him to buy race horses. What happened was that in the late 1990s, on March 20, 1999, to be exact, he made a P512 winner-take-all bet and won more than one million pesos, part of which he bought his first race horse.
Then, proving that lightning does strike twice, he repeated the feat eight years later, winning over P2 million from his P864 bet.
Ironically, when he accepted the job as a Philracom commissioner last year, he decided to sell all his seven horses to ensure his objectivity in doing his job with this government agency tasked to guide the horse racing industry, something that definitely needs a boost with sales decreasing every year.
If you remember earlier, I did a piece on former Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos, a very fine horse breeder and owner of super horses Ibarra, Hagdang, Bato, and Heneral Kalentong, and now with a group of other horse owners who took over the Metroturf franchise.
Benhur enumerated what ails the horse racing industry, topped by overtaxation, illegal bookies, the perception that horse racing is pure gambling and a diminishing base of bettors.
And so, it is good to know that his friend Reli, has been working and will still be working on solutions to these concerns.
On the overtaxation angle, Reli said the Philracom has been working on the exclusion of the industry from the TRAIN Law. He is confident that by next year, things will already change, even as he admitted the biggest hurdle will be convincing the government to amend the law. He mentioned some legislators, who are helping on the matter, including Rep. Mikey Arroyo.
Regarding the continued operations of illegal bookies, the commission is working through the Department of Interior and Local Government, on making barangay captains responsible for bookies in their respective areas, adding that they are also working with the Games and Amusement Board on related matters.
Reli also cited the imbalance in the sharing of revenues, with Off Track Betting operators. These people, he said, account for 70 % to 80% of bets, but get very little in return as commissions. What he mentioned as a possible solution is to meet both parties and work out a better deal for OTB operators.
Reli is one with Benhur in trying to change people’s perception on horse racing as a form of gambling. What he proposes is to develop it into sports tourism that can attract foreign bettors to come here, which in turn can help advertisers enter the picture as sponsors.
He realizes, too, that the younger generation has to be taught to appreciate horse racing, convincing them to look at it as an opportunity to win millions as he did in his winner-take-all bets. He also wants to develop the online betting segment of fans. A mall caravan tour, he added, is part of the marketing plan Philracom will develop and implement.
For all of these plans, the bottom line he says is for all stakeholders, led by Philracom, to stay focused on their plans, working out the nuts and bolts of each program, and in the end, for the agency to live up to its vision and mission.
Here, Benhur is on the same page and is looking at developing rivalries between super horses to make the events more exciting for both foreigners and local fans.