Kings of the track

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Under their watch, wilderness becomes a world-class destination

“I saw this place when it was all just fields and mountains really. My aides had to clear the way for me to be able to walk through it.”

Alfonso “Boy” Reyno, Jr., chairman and CEO of the Manila Jockey Club (MJC), still seems somewhat incredulous that the San Lazaro Leisure and Business Park (SLLBP) in Carmona, Cavite—an impressive spread, combining a 25-metre-wide racetrack, FIFA-rated football pitch, 1,840-seat grandstand, air-conditioned cockfighting arena, stables for 1,542 horses, houses for gamecocks, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation-run casino operating 24/7, VIP lounges and event spaces among other facilities—had been so skillfully hewn out of the wilderness.

King Reyno

There’s also Canyon Ranch, a gallery of California-style townhouses, styled by Joey Antonio’s Century Properties, lacing the mountains that caught Reyno’s eye in the early 1990s when he and his partners were scouting for a new location for the old Manila Jockey Club in San Lazaro, newly bought by their company.

Greener pastures
A spacious holdout in the heart of Manila where property prices were soaring, Reyno Jr. and his colleagues were presented with a dazzling plate of opportunities that could not be passed up. His son, Alfonso Reyno 3rd, president and COO, continues the narrative, saying: “There was a real-estate boom sweeping the country, and we felt that the property values in Manila were already a bit too high to justify operating a racetrack in the area. The complex would be better maximized putting up a commercial or residential development instead of keeping the racetrack.”


Boy Reyno

It also didn’t help that the Asian financial crisis in 1997 spooked markets, but it however provided another impetus to hasten relocation. How to convert the Santa Cruz (Manila) property into a more dynamic proposition was the immediate concern that weighed on the new owners.

The answer arrived in the form of 77 hectares in Carmona, which Reyno Jr. spotted, and after several rekkie visits, eventually purchased from Kerry Properties of Hong Kong. He recalls a defining moment: “It was midnight and my planning architect called me up, saying: ‘Tumitindig ang balahibo ko [My hair is standing on end.] I was deciding how to design the place when I saw that it was in the shape of a horse!’”

Reyno Jr. quietly adds: “We also bought the Carmona property in 1995, the Year of the Horse in the Chinese calendar.”

There they go
Inaugurated in April 2003, the new San Lazaro Leisure and Business Park, 41 kilometers south of Metro Manila launched without a fuss, considering that majority of the facilities were still being rushed for completion. Recalls Reyno’’s son Alfonso — nicknamed “King” — with a chuckle: “The turf building just had a floor and ceiling, so our guests, including the caterer, La Tasca, had to contend with a lot of fresh air and dust.”

Scenes from Carmona: (clockwise), the Chairman dons a cap a la Trump, cockfighting arena, King with future footballers on the FIFA-endorsed pitch, the Reynos just before race night

But he likes to think those were similar conditions under which the first Manila Jockey Club in the arrabal (outskirts) of Quiapo held its inaugural race in 1867, amid a pastoral countryside enlivened by bracing breezes.

His father says: “The rugged environment didn’t stop me. I always knew that if there was a will, we could transform the place into a great destination. On a clear day, it’s really very scenic with Makiling and Laguna de Bay in the distance, and the air is so clean. One is never depressed here.”

Same wavelength
Boy and King Reyno epitomize the best example of a father-and-son business tandem that operates as passionately and single-mindedly as one of those thoroughbreds thundering down the 1,500-meter track on race days.

Reyno Jr. may be 74 going on 75, but he wears his years lightly and brims with good humor and stories of a colorful past that includes schooling at the long-gone Ateneo de Tuguegarao where he was an honor student, law studies at the University of the Philippines with classmates Franklin Drilon, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ronnie Zamora and Arturo “Toti” Corona, his close relationship with political honcho Juan Ponce Enrile, years as an assemblyman at the Batasang Pambansa (1984-1986), deputy minister of National Defense (1984-1986) and vice governor of Cagayan (1980-1984) among other activities.

He nicknamed the first of his three boys, “King,” at the suggestion of a close friend to match their surname, “Reyno,” which means “kingdom” in Spanish. “He’s the king, and I’m just the ‘boy,’” he cracks a joke, one of many during the free-wheeling conversation with Boardroom Watch.

Team Reyno at home, from left, front row: twins Pipo and Leon, Peewee, Yoly with Daniela, Boy and Diego. Behind them are Vicky, King and Kathleen (Absent is Patrick)

He met King’s mother Yolanda Guevara, also a law student at the UP, or rather, “She was lucky to have met me!”—still another wisecrack from her irrepressible husband.

Family is life’s bedrock for Reyno Jr. He says that he “withdrew his wife’s license to practice”—no joking this time—to care for King and his two brothers Patrick, MJC’s vice president for special projects and an avid art collector, and Christopher, MJC’s director and vice president for special projects, whom his dad likes to refer to as “Peewee.” No matter how hectic his business and political schedule played out in the province, he would endure the long drive home to Manila to catch up with the wife and kids.

Reyno III remembers: “Mom was for slight infractions, and Dad was for major offenses.”

“I just had to give the boys one look,” says Reyno Jr., “when they were trying to outsmart each other, and they would stop immediately.” But on the whole, he was an indulgent parent, who exposed the trio to the best treats he could afford, whether overseas travel or top-notch cuisine. “We were the family that ate the most times at Dusit Hotel’s Benkay Japanese Restaurant,” he says.

Boy (leftmost) with his “brods” at the UP College  of Law; Boyish Boy holding up one-year-old King (below) FAMILY PHOTOS COURTESY OF KING REYNO

Time for fatherhood
While acknowledging that his eldest boy would lead the various businesses he built up, Reyno graciously bowed to the responsibilities of parenthood. The young Reyno and his wife, popular TV anchor Vicky Morales, have twin boys, Leon and Pipo, both 10 and a daughter, Daniela, 7. “I gave King time to be a good husband and father.”

Reyno III agrees saying: “While times have changed and it’s less common now to ask the wife to stop working, Vicky and I are fortunate that we are able to manage having careers and be there for our children as they go about their schoolwork and their lives. It’s during their early years that they really need their parents’ presence.”

During the Boardroom Watch conversation, he mentioned that Daniela would have enjoyed being interviewed as well. “She’s such an intelligent and outspoken girl. My children are growing up to be good kids, along with their older cousin Diego (son of Peewee).”

With Patrick and King gone from the family home in Makati City, and Peewee and his wife Kathleen Santarina and their son Diego the only ones left, the older Reynos have been experiencing the “empty nest” syndrome. Although it doesn’t happen for long as King and Vicky live nearby, and their brood often visits their grandparents, which accounts for the playground equipment in the garden. “We’d like our sons’ former rooms now to be filled by their children,” says their doting lolo (grandfather).

His own man
While his place in the Reyno enterprise was assured from the beginning, Reyno III chose to begin his professional life after passing the Bar in April 1997, not with his father’s Reyno Tiu Domingo & Santos Law Offices, but with Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices. He explains: “I did not work at first with the family’s companies. I went somewhere else to get another perspective and see what other successful companies were doing. I highly recommend the experience; it has had a positive impact on me.”

Reyno III went on to become a Master of Laws in Corporation Law from the New York University School of Law, New York in 2003.

Eventually, he joined his father’s firm where today he is a senior associate.

The dynamics between both men, related by blood and an affinity for the businesses they run—most prominent of which are the San Lazaro Leisure and Business Park in Carmona on the cusp of great expansion and the San Lazaro Tourism and Business Park in Santa Cruz, Manila, site of the old Manila Jockey Club now gleaming with tony developments such as the Manila Jockey Club-owned Winford Resort and Casino, SM City San Lazaro and a slew of Ayala developed residential blocks—is indeed unique.

Says Reyno III: “We wear two hats. While we are father and son, we are always conscious of the fact that we represent a publicly listed company. Fortunately, I’ve never been distracted by the pressure of having to prove myself because I’m his son.

“I just focused on the work.”

For the Reyno patriarch, the results of careful nurturing and training are poised to be realized. “I am now asking King to give me and our companies more of his time. He is competent to run the business, and his two brothers will support him as well as our partners and 800 employees.”

This father is truly seeing his son off at the starting gate.

PHOTOS BY HARVEY TAPAN

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