Jockey Guce finds ‘brother’ in US horse racing | Inquirer Sports

Jockey Guce finds ‘brother’ in US horse racing

/ 11:12 AM December 05, 2011

SACRAMENTO, California—Ramon Guce, the prolific Filipino jockey on the West Coast, sprang a pleasant surprise when he phoned me yesterday.
“Sir, good news,” he said in Pilipino. “It turns out I am not the only Philippine-born rider on the American horse racing circuit. There’s Dana Whitney at Penn National Racecourse in Pennsylvania.”
If Ramon’s announcement gave me a jolt, wait till the flaming infomaniacs among us and the United States-based Bayang Karerista hear about it. Chances are Filipino railbirds in the Mid-Atlantic region know of Whitney’s racial lineage. Elsewhere in the US, Pinoy bettors and partisans haven’t got a clue if he is their kind.
Instinct spurred me to launch a phone search for Dana right away, an effort that yielded nothing. I called the publicity office at Penn National, Pennsylvania’s biggest horse racing track. No cigar there, either.
Penn’s pitch people are like their cousins at the Philippine Racing Commission who have not been responsive to e-mails. They have ignored media inquiries, a costly and oftentimes fatal flaw for flaks.
I cruised cyberspace next and found nuggets of info, including a picture of Dana on a horse racing website. Despite a name that’s as American as apple pie, Whitney’s Malay visage is unmistakeable.
A fan blog reported Dana—Penn National’s leading rider—as saying he was born in Angeles City, Pampanga. The blog said he was adopted by an Air Force family at Clark Field who brought him to America when he was a tot.
Newspaper and wire-service accounts describe the 40-something Whitney as a “Philippine-born” jockey, who is still as intrepid as ever, his share of spills, notwithstanding. In horse racing you can never be too safe, Dana told a racing writer. “Broke my back twice. My neck once. Crushed my arm, broke my hand.”
As the No. 1 rider at Penn, Dana’s mounts have earned over $3 million (about P130 million) in purses so far this year. As of the end of November, he has notched 103 wins, 79 places and 64 shows. Before Penn National, he was also the leading rider in another Pennsylvania race course, Presque Isle Downs.
I will pursue the Dana Whitney story in another column.
Now back to Guce, the perennial riding champion at the Los Angeles-area Los Alamitos Racecourse—California’s mecca for night horse racing.
Filipino fanatics and railbirds of all stripes have come to expect Ramon’s winner’s circle ritual: a gaze heavenward followed by the sign of the cross. It’s as predictable as Ted Failon’s routine of inserting a pen to his pocket at the end of an ABS-CBN newscast.
This year, Ramon who looks up to Dana as a “brother,” has ridden 103 winners, 79 place horses and 64 shows for almost $700,000 in purse money. Winning has become second nature to Guce at Los Al; he itches for a change of scenery.
He would like to race more often across town, at two of the most famous prestigious horse tracks on Earth—Hollywood Park and Santa Anita Park.
On the rarest of occasions, Guce gets to ride at these prime time tracks. He rode a long shot to victory at Hollywood several years ago. Aboard the favorite his mount edged at the wire was the great Laffit Pincay.
Don’t get Ramon wrong. His percentage of purses and the mount fees at Los Al and the bullrings (state fair races) have been a windfall, making life comfortable for him and his family, since they arrived from Manila at the start of the new millennium. But there is certain hollowness to his success.
“Sometimes I wish I were in Dana’s shoes, riding in the big time for big purses,” Ramon confided.
“I am partly to blame for Ramon’s drawbacks,” his agent Neal Bricks told me. “The hard, cold fact is I also get mounts for three other jockeys at Los Al. I regret that I can’t be at three places at the same time.”
Guce on a thoroughbred at Hollywood and Santa Anita is a marketing gold mine readily missed, since his countrymen are among the most active of bettors.
He is aware of the monumental challenge he faces in trying to break into the close-knit jockey community in those tracks.
“It is a tough nut that I will eventually crack,” Ramon promised.

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TAGS: Horse Racing, Philippines, Ramon Guce, Sports

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