DUBAI – Even as he was preparing for back-to-back PBA Governors’ Cup games here, Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao allowed himself some indulgence with his other passion outside the motion offense and the pick ‘n roll defense.
Nope, not politics, although with the slightest prodding the congressman from the first district of Pampanga could launch an authoritative discourse on legislative matters and patiently explain to an ordinary taxpayer the complexities of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
On a bright Wednesday morning surrounded by his assistant coaches after breakfast at the Trader’s Hotel dining hall, Guiao talked about his original love – horses, specifically racehorses.
Discussion veered away from Paul Lee and Beau Belga toward stallions and mares after American Pharoah, a three-year-old bay colt, won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness last week to line himself up for the Triple Crown at Belmont, New York on June 6.
“I probably will watch again,” said Guiao, who last rooted for a Crown contender in 2004 when Smarty Jones was beaten at the wire by Birdstone, leaving the US horseracing industry without a Triple Crown champion since Affirmed won it all in 1978.
Not that he lost interest all of a sudden, Guiao said, he just got “too busy.”
That year was when he ran and won the vice gubernatorial post in his home province. It was also the season before he ended a two-year championship drought in the Philippine Basketball Association by winning his third title in the 2005 Fiesta Conference with Red Bull.
His remaining time after his family now equally divided between his constituents and his players, Guiao got off the saddle and only belatedly learned that three more thoroughbreds since Smarty Jones had gone on to claim the first two jewels of the Triple Crown only to come up short in the so-called Graveyard of Champions.
At the Dubai International Airport last Monday while waiting for his check-in luggage, Guiao nodded on recalling how Big Brown, the Derby and Preakness winner in 2008, pulled up lame in the final turn at Belmont, how double champion I’ll Have Another was scratched a day before the big race in New York with an injury, and how last year superhorse California Chrome was razed to the ground and finished in a dead heat at fourth place behind winner Tonalist.
“Maybe this time, there will be a Triple Crown champion…what’s his name again?” said Guiao, putting his hands to his head.
While his hectic schedule and the faraway location of the new racetracks had kept him from regularly dropping by the action, Guiao, who has three horses currently racing at the San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona, Cavite and four mares up for breeding in Batangas, makes sure he is constantly updated by his trainers on the animals’ condition.
He also takes stock of the state of the horse racing industry in the country and notes how other forms of leisure have sprung out and competed with the King of Spectator Sports.
The long-distance relationship might not stay that way for long, however.
“Sometime in the future, I see myself getting involved again,” Guiao said. “It’s really something I enjoy.”
Reigning over his Pampanga stable are big-time winners Game Changer, a 5-year-old chestnut, Nurture Nature, a 3-year-old dark bay, and Magalang, another dark bay now 5 years of age and named after his master’s hometown – all island-born fillies whose combined earnings, Guiao said, “are just enough to sustain the expenses needed to maintain them.”
Asked if part of his horses’ winnings actually go to covering a portion of the hundreds of thousands of fines he has accumulated all these years in the PBA, Guiao choked on his coffee.
“No, no, they just sustain themselves, their food, not my fines,” he said laughing.