Horse racing in India assumes the proportions of a gigantic industry

first_imgSkill, speed, variety, glamour, gambling, thrills, scandals and big money – horse racing has it all and in abundance. Last month’s Invitation Cup in Bombay, the most prestigious event in the Indian racing calendar, offered the perfect proof.Under a dazzling sky, close to 40,000 people milled around in close camaraderie,,Skill, speed, variety, glamour, gambling, thrills, scandals and big money – horse racing has it all and in abundance. Last month’s Invitation Cup in Bombay, the most prestigious event in the Indian racing calendar, offered the perfect proof.Under a dazzling sky, close to 40,000 people milled around in close camaraderie, joined together for one afternoon in arcane exclusiveness, a galaxy apart from the city that towered all around them. Tycoons and typists, movie stars and models, rogues and royalty rubbed shoulders uncaringly. In quiet corners, ancient Parsi women pored over form books, making mysterious markings with trembling fingers. Elsewhere, elegantly suited millionaires conferred closely with shady looking characters. Around the bookmakers’ cages hordes of people semaphored their bets with hand signals while assistants penned accounts on tiny slips of paper.Out on the course, a riot of colour ebbed and flowed and then settled as the runners cantered on to the lush green course. For the uninitiated, it is an unforgettable sight. The brightly-coloured silks of the jockeys, the gleaming coats of the horses, the flags fluttering in the breeze and the excited voice of the commentator over the PA system. And then the sudden sharp silence as the starting gates fly open and the real stars of the day take over.Jockeying for a win at Bombay’s Mahalaxmi Racecourse: Thrills, spills and high stakesNo athlete can hope to match the grace and glory of a thoroughbred in motion. That smooth, flowing rhythmic run as it gets into stride, sweat gleaming in the sun and then the taut thunder of hooves as they come around the bend to join the crescendo of sound from the stands. This day was horsemanship at its best: British jockey Sandy Barclay, specially flown down from the Middle East for this one race, in that rare communion with his mount Charon, which only the best riders and horses appear to achieve.While the favourites set the blistering pace, Barclay hung back, trailing the field till the final bend. Then, that indescribable moment as horse and rider merged into one compact unit and accelerated into top gear, finding a tiny gap in the bunched-up field to make their move along the rails. For even the hardened race goer, that moment of magic will never fade as Charon made his final bid, stride lengthening, saliva streaming as he literally flowed along the ground to thunder past the leaders at the winning post.advertisementBut that moment of supreme glory is a collective one. The owners, who had the foresight and horse sense to pick him out from hundreds of others as a two-year-old. The stud farm that bred him with such care and attention, the trainer who carefully channelised his strengths, the syce who selected his grooming, the jockey who rode him with such perfection and finally, the punter who ‘ backed the horse with such faith. Race addicts at Mahalaxmi: Hooked for lifeFor, in the end, this is what the racing world is all about. Behind the simple statistics and engraved trophies is an intricate interconnected and highly organised industry that is at a conservative estimate, worth well over Rs 300 crore in terms of investment and infrastructure. It is an industry that has also grown phenomenally in the last decade or so, far outstripping even its own wildest forecasts. In fact, nobody in racing, not even the clubs that organise the sport, refer to it as a sport. Everybody refers to it as “the industry” and no other description fits it better.Even though the racing industry is currently saddled with a host of problems – a light money market and abnormally high government tax leading the field – it is still riding high in every way. Since the late ’60s, racing turnover has registered an average growth rate of around 35 per cent a year. Last year, the five turf authorities at Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore and Hyderabad had a combined turnover of Rs 110.25 crore in just betting and gate money alone. Together, they paid out revenue to the Government to the tune of Rs 22.05 crore (20 per cent on an average).But even that is less than half the actual betting turnover. Racing circles estimate that at least 50 per cent of all betting is outside the course and illegally done with unlicensed bookies, mainly to evade tax. The actual betting turnover in the country, hence, could be safely estimated at well over Rs 200 crore a year. But even the genuine statistics give every indication of phenomenal growth. Ten years ago, the total annual stake money in racing was less than Rs 1 crore. That figure is now fast approaching the Rs 6 crore mark.advertisementActual racing days, including inter-venue (where one club relays its race to another) has grown over the same period from less than 100 to over 400 days a year. India now has racing virtually non-stop throughout the year.Punters crowd around a bookie before a race: Fine artThe biggest boom, however, has been in the closely-related breeding industry. Fifteen years ago, there were around 30 stud farms mainly clustered around Bangalore and Pune. Today, there are close to 100 registered farms with an incredible 900 horses for sale. In 1963, there were less than 300 horses parading around the auction ring.Even in terms of horseflesh alone, the financial investment is mind-boggling. There are 3,000 thoroughbreds in the country worth an average of Rs 1 lakh each. A highly pedigreed yearling from any of the top five stud farms in the country can command prices as high as Rs 10 lakh in private sales. At official auctions, where the tax factor is the prime consideration, the average price for a good horse is slightly over Rs 1 lakh. Two years ago, that figure was as high as between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 3 lakh.The real money, of course, is in stud fees. A champion stallion of proven pedigree can earn Rs 1 lakh for “covering” a mare (the official average stud fee is currently Rs 25,000). Stud farms collectively own a total of 2,156 stallions and mares, up from just over 1,500 in 1974.The result has been not just a boom in stud farms or stud fees but a discernible improvement in Indian bloodlines. With the Government’s recent relaxation of import of foreign horses for stud farms, the progeny of such international equine superstars as Northern Dancer and Buckpasser have started arriving in the country, widening the scope for further improvement.”Breeding has become more professional than earlier,” states stud farm and racehorse owner Madhavrao Scindia. “It’s no longer a hobby like it was in my father’s time. It is a serious commercial enterprise and you have to stay ahead to survive.”The breeding industry, in fact, has produced some of the biggest success stories in Indian racing. Major Pradeep Mehra, owner of Usha Stud Farm, is a classic example. Mehra, a top-ranked polo player during his days in the cavalry, started in 1965 with an investment of Rs 15,000, a wedding gift from his father-in-law. He bought two mares cheaply from Sri Lanka where racing had just been banned by the Government.As he now recalls: “It was a disastrous beginning. They both died.” Undeterred, he ploughed his savings into the purchase of a British stallion and four mares. Aided by a no-interest loan from an Italian banker and polo playing pal, he bought land in Gurgaon on the outskirts of New Delhi. The stallion he bought was called Grey Gaston and last month, when it died, the entire racing industry mourned its passing.Grey Gaston was a gold-mine, a prince who sired a dynasty. His very first crop produced Manitou, winner of the 1978 Indian Derby. In a seven-year span, Grey Gaston had sired no less than five individual Derby winners – an international breeding record. He was the only horse whose progeny won four Derbys in a row: Track Lightning (1981), Almanac (1982), Nelston (1983) and Enterprising who ran superbly to win the richest-ever Derby in Bombay last month (Rs 4.64 lakh).advertisementIndia’s number one owner Ramaswamy with trainer Aris DavidUsha Stud is currently the number one breeding centre in the country and Mehra’s horses command huge premiums. With around 175 horses currently stabled at his farm, one of the most sophisticated in the country Mehra casts a long and profitable shadow. He wears his success well.A flashy Mercedes and white jump suits apparently corroborate industry reports that his earnings are in the region of Rs 1 crore a year. “It was part luck and part timing,” he says. “I got in when the boom was just taking off and Grey Gaston did the rest.”In Madras, there is the Big Daddy of Indian racing, M.A.M. Ramaswamy or MAM as he is usually called. A legend in his lifetime, MAM straddles the Indian racing scene like no other before him. The only owner in history to have won 100 Classics, MAM has hand-picked for himself some of the best horseflesh to grace the Indian turf. His own particular favourite is Own Opinion, easily the best horse the country has produced.Own Opinion won over Rs 18 lakh in prize money, and his phenomenal run of wins includes the 1979 Invitation Cup in Bombay where he convincingly beat the seemingly invincible Royal Tern. Own Opinion’s class was internationally recognised when he became the only horse to be invited to race outside the country – in Tokyo for the prestigious Japan Cup.MAM’s string also includes such equine greats as Aristocrat, Birthday Girl, Nicolette, Red Chieftain, Blue Ice, Haifa Crown, Cupid and Star Haven, all of whom have made his racing colours of gold and brown the most familiar sight in the winner’s enclosure.MAM currently owns over 100 horses, making him the single biggest horse owner in the country. Already a millionaire by virtue of his Chettiar parentage, his investment in racing is well over Rs 1 crore and his knowledge of horseflesh second to none.The best Indian horse, Own OpinionIn Bombay, there is Ranjit Bhat whose success in recent years has been made more remarkable by the fact that he owns a relatively small string. His best horse, Squanderer, which he bought for Rs 60,000 in 1975 has won him nearly Rs 18 lakh in prize money.His horses have so far won him four Derbys and three Invitation Cups and include Manitou, Commanche and Mohawk. He now owns 13 racehorses and a 400-acre stud farm in Pune where future champions of the Indian turf are undoubtedly being bred.In Bangalore, there is the legendary Rashid Byramji, who trained both Squanderer and Commanche for Bhat and who has so far saddled 80 Classic winners. Byramji’s phenomenal success is best illustrated by the fact that when he left Bombay after a disagreement with the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) authorities, every single one of his Bombay-based owners sent their horses along with him to Bangalore. Byramji, in fact, is widely credited with elevating Bangalore to its current, if disputed, status as India’s premier racing centre. Byramji now has 100 horses in training and refuses to accept any more though the offers keep pouring in. “I can afford to be selective,” he shrugs.The list of success stories is long but so are the ones who didn’t make the grade. The racing boom, or more precisely, the breeding boom, has resulted in the sheep being separated from the goats. Today, racing is fiercely competitive and the monied big names who dominated Indian racing throughout the ’70s – the Khataus, the Goenkas and the film star types like Sanjay and Feroz Khan and Mehmood – are no longer heard that often when the results are announced. Instead, it is the professionals like Bhat who are hogging racing headlines along with a multitude of hitherto unknown names.Thoroughbreds exercisingOne of the biggest trends in Indian racing, partly fuelled by the high risk of the venture and the tight money market, is the number of joint owners who have appeared in the paddocks. Racing rules restrict more than four owners per horse and the in thing in Indian racing is to “own a leg” – in other words, one quarter of a racehorse.Even the big names in Indian racing have adopted the trend. Enterprising, for instance, is jointly owned by beer baron Noshir Irani, his two daughters, both prominent racing figures, and Pradeep Mehra. In the March 4 Invitation Cup meant for the best horses in the Indian circuit, only one out of the 19 runners, Queen of the Hills, had a single owner – MAM. However, it is also true that tax-dodging owners with large strings usually have quite a few of their horses in benami names.But that trend is also indicative of the fact that racing has finally come of age and investing in a horse is taken as seriously as investing in any other business venture. “It had to happen,” comments Anil Mukhi, India’s first official bloodstock agent. “I’m just surprised it didn’t happen earlier.” Mukhi himself is a living example of the long way Indian racing has come. Armed with a master; degree in nutrition and feed, Mukhi first joined Tata Oil but quit in 1978 to get into racing full-time as a bloodstock agent.He bought himself a computer and spent months researching pedigree and collecting all available breeding and performance statistics. Today, a majority of horse owners in the country, including the top ones, use Mukhi’s services as do more than half the registered breeders for a 5 per cent commission on every purchase.The country’s only licensed woman trainer Diane JoneEvery boom, however, has its limits and current indications are that Indian racing has reached saturation point in almost every sphere and its effects are already visible on the race-tracks and in the auction arena.Attendance at race-tracks has been showing a decline in the last couple of years and the obvious reason is the abnormal increase in the number of races. Ten years ago, racing was a colourful, social occasion confined to week-ends and holidays.In places like Calcutta, Bombay and Bangalore, it was an occasion for a fun afternoon, a fancy dress picnic where latest fashions were on display and hordes of amateurs thought nothing of having a flutter on a horse that had an appealing name or a jockey wearing a lucky colour. In Calcutta, a horse called Green Sari inspired a whole season of female race goers to buy up all the green saris in town in the hope that the move would prove lucky.It didn’t, but that kind of attitude and that type of punter has long vanished from the betting enclosures. Now, racing is conducted virtually year-round and often on weekdays, and the inevitable crunch has arrived. “There has to be a limit,” says Byramji, “after all it’s the same people patronising the tracks, and how much racing can they take or even afford?”The Indian Turf Authorities are also belatedly realising that too much of a good thing must eventually turn sour. At the annual meeting of the five turf authorities held in Bombay last month, it was unanimously decided to cut down the number of race days by at least 40 – or about 10 per cent – and concentrate more on week-end meetings.Colts at the Kunigal Stud FarmBut whether that will actually happen is directly related to the financial position of the various clubs, which is starting to reach precarious levels after a decade of ever-increasing profits. Inflation and spiralling costs have resulted in a situation where no club makes profits on its actual racing days.The profits are in the inter-venue racing days, when, say, Calcutta throws open its gates to punters betting on races being held in Bombay. Since Calcutta does not have to put up any stake money and needs to employ a bare minimum of staff, overheads are radically reduced and most of the takings are earnings. But precisely because of that situation, most clubs have increased inter-venue racing to abnormal levels with a corresponding reduction in their own actual racing. “Inter-venue races are the lifeline of any turf club today,” says Paul Jacob, secretary of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC).But the negative side of that is being conveniently ignored as is the real lifeline of the clubs – the punters. Last January, for instance, for the first time in its 137-year history as a turf club, RCTC had a ten-day gap between its actual races and that too at the height of the racing season.The reason: to accommodate more inter-venue racing. “It is a vicious circle,” says M.M. Reddy, secretary of the Hyderabad Race Club, “the less the profits, the more racing; the more the racing, the less the attendance.” Injured leading jockey Jagdish and top trainer Rashid Byramji: Survival of the fittestInter-venue racing, the Indian equivalent of the licensed off-course betting shops in countries like Britain, may succeed in keeping the clubs out of the red (Delhi is the only club with no inter-venue betting but hopes to start next year) but the root of the problem, as the Turf Authorities view it, is the high government taxation that is encouraging illegal betting and driving money underground.Racing is a state subject and state governmehts have been raising taxation rates I with monotonous regularity largely because of the high revenue (Rs 25 crore in 1979-80) and also because it is one revenue resource where not a paisa has to be spent on collection. Taxes are collected by the clubs – a punter laying a Rs 100 bet has to actually pay Rs 120 – and religiously handed over to the department concerned.Currently, the tax structure varies from centre to centre, but the average is 20 per cent plus a 34 per cent tax on all winnings over Rs 2,500. As a consequence, all heavy betting is done with illegal off-course bookies who operate in almost every city in India, and not without reason.A punter who won Rs 8 lakh in Bombay recently on the jackpot (nominating five winners in specified races on a single day’s racing) actually received less than Rs 5 lakh. Not surprisingly, fewer people are betting on the tote (the official betting receptacle at the course).”It is quite unreasonable,” says N.K. Padamjee, secretary of the RWITC, “not only are the clubs losing that revenue, but the governments as well. If taxes were at a reasonable level, more people would bet legally and the earnings would increase. We must have lost crores in the last five years.”One reason for the Government’s attitude is, of course, the stigma that racing continues to carry. Though the only legalised form of gambling in the country, it is still gambling and most state governments are reluctant to associate themselves with the sport. They are also aware that, even though it is partly a result of their own policies, the amount of black money in racing is phenomenal. All clubs have licensed bookmakers on the course during race days (there are 150 registered by Turf Authorities).But because of the tax factor, every bookie accepts what are commonly known as coded bets. Coded bets are generally described in the industry as “one plus 90”; in other words, if a punter making a coded bet lifts one finger denoting a bet of Rs 100, he actually means Rs 1,000.If he wins, the bookie pays out on the basis of a Rs 1,000 bet. If he loses, the punter does the same. But officially, the bookmaker’s books show a Rs 100 bet and consequently the winner – and the bookie – avoid paying tax.Predictably enough, the regular, heavy betters all deal in credit. Thanks to the tightly-closed fraternity, no bookie has ever welshed on a bet unless he was in desperate straits. If he did, he would be out of business the next day.Click here to EnlargeBut whether black or white, betting in India is big time. Racing insiders often speak of lakhs won or lost on a single race, and the biggest betters are usually the horse owners or trainers and even bookmakers who have access to “stable gossip” and inside information.In fact, the biggest scandals in racing all over the world relate predominantly to what is known as racing coups where a horse is deliberately prevented from winning any races by the owner and the jockey. The result is that the horse is demoted to a lower class and his handicap lowered (handicaps are extra weights added or subtracted to give every horse an equal chance of winning).Once that happens, the odds offered by the tote or the bookies on that particular horse will stretch as high as 20 to 1 or more with unlicensed bookies. That is when the racing coup takes place, and an unfancied horse that has not won a race in all its recent outings suddenly comes out of nowhere and wins against form. The people who have put big money behind the horse naturally recoup fortunes.Tragically, Indian policing at racetracks is not as strict as it could be and any number of coups have taken place without a murmur being raised. A recent example is that of Uchaishrava, a six-year-old – There is also a crying sixth year is considered the year of decline in a thoroughbred as far as racing is concerned.The horse ran seven times without a win in Pune and the following season had three races in a row without being placed anywhere. He was demoted and promptly went on to win his very next race. As Sportsweek commented: “The improvement the horse has shown since he last ran is so phenomenal that one would have strongly advocated an inquiry into the disparity.”But the temptation of making a killing is often too great to resist. In May 1983, jockey Aslam Kader, one of the most promising riders around, was suspended by the RWITC for associating with bookmakers, something that is strictly forbidden.The RWITC, suspecting Kader’s involvement with a well-known bookie, hired private detectives to have the jockey followed for two months. When the authorities had collected sufficient proof of what was a cosy little illegal operation, Kader and the bookmaker were suspended.But for every one that gets caught there are at least 10 who get away. It is easy for an owner or a bookmaker to get a jockey to lose a race, even on a favourite, for consideration of a percentage of the resultant coup or a flat sum that is large enough.As Cyrus Madan, editor of Turfite, the only racing periodical in the country, says: “There are a dozen ways to lose a race but only one way to win.” Admits India’s leading jockey, M. Jagdish: “Jockeys do not lose willingly but sometimes they are instructed to lose.”Stud farm advertisements: Big businessClick here to EnlargeIn fact, one of the blackest days in Indian racing was during the Republic Day races in Calcutta’ when the favourite was roundly beaten by a rank outsider and the crowds, suspecting unfair play, went on a rampage smashing everything in sight and setting fire to the stands. In fact, there have been at least two occasions in the last 10 months when state governments have stepped in to order inquiries into turf club activities or malpractices.In October 1983 the Tamil Nadu Government ordered an inquiry into the Madras Race Club after a court bailiff who had gone to issue a prevention order on an annual general meeting was abducted and dumped outside Madras city.The order had been obtained by G. Umapathy, a club member and horse owner, who charged the club Chairman R. Ramakrishnan, a Rajya Sabha MP, and M.A.M. Ramaswamy with conspiring to defraud the club for personal profit.In his appeal, Umapathy had claimed that Ramakrishnan and Ramaswamy were getting the club to purchase thoroughbreds, a normal practice with most clubs and then buying them up at auctions for ridiculously.-low prices, resulting in losses to the club.In his appeal, Umapathy asked the court to stop the meeting being held that same evening to elect new office-bearers. The court accordingly sent a bailiff with a stay order on the meeting and according to the bailiffs own testimony, he asked to meet Ramakrishnan. He was shown into a room and told to wait. Shortly after, three burly men came in and offered to take him to Ramakrishnan who, they said, was somewhere else. They bundled him into a car and drove him to the outskirts of Madras where he was unceremoniously dumped. By the time he returned it was close to midnight and the meeting had already been held.The case is still pending but it is one indication of the high stakes involved and the degree of influence that the big names in racing wield. Both MAM and Ramakrishnan dismiss Umapathy’s charges as the “delusions of a frustrated owner”, but there can be no denying that the big owners wield considerable influence over the Turf Authorities who, in many cases, pander to them. MAM, for instance, is widely referred to as the “Godfather of Guindy” (the area in Madras where the race club is situated) and much the same charges are levelled against Pradeep Mehra in Delhi and the nucleus of big owners in Bombay.One indication is that even if Turf Authorities have solid proof of a race being fixed, they can suspend a trainer or a jockey but no action can be taken against an owner. “Owners are the biggest menace to the future of the sport,” says a Turf Authority official who points out that they have made the most money but never put back anything into the sport by way of sponsorships.The joint-owner syndrome: New trendsMost owners are influential members of society and also carry a lot of clout in the clubs come election time. Which is why officially-appointed stewards, responsible for the fair running of races, are indebted to owners for the number of votes they can command for re-election.Unfortunately, stewards are generally picked for their standing in society and not necessarily for any great knowledge of racing or horseflesh. Subsequently, most inquiries into malpractices or blatant race fixing usually ends in a farce with the poor jockeys being penalised and the owner getting away with murder. Last fortnight, the chairman and stewards of the Madras Race Club resigned in protest against the way the club was being run.But what is clearly wrong in racing is the structure of the Turf Authorities. There are five authorities who operate autonomously and as a kind of loose federation. In England, it is the Jockey Club that is the ultimate deciding authority on racing regulations and any decision relating to the sport.In India, every centre is its own authority and there is very little cohesiveness or cooperation. Bombay, for instance, in an attempt to curb malpractices, has what is known as a “late declaration policy”. Instead of the runners and riders being announced a day before the race, it is announced one hour before the start of the races. This, say RWITC officials, is to prevent illegal operators from knowing which jockey is riding which horse.Though laudable in its objectives, the policy has been misused and caused tremendous controversy, specially among the serious punters. For one, it allows owners or’ trainers to pull their horses out at the last minute and for a punter who has spent hours working out combinations and odds, there can be nothing more frustrating. In the Fitz Call Cup this season, for instance, only two out of six runners competed and the following Sunday, only three out of 12 in one particular race.Modernisation, however, is finally catching up with the Indian racing industry and with it, a corresponding reduction in the scope for scandals. Closed-circuit television screens have now become standard fixtures at every racecourse and every race is replayed for the benefit of the punters. Similarly, computerisation is slowly being introduced on thetotalisator, as the tote is officially known, with the result that thewide disparity in odds betweeen the tote and the bookies is now sharplyreduced.Avid punters at a race course: Mainstay of the industry The tote registers any trends in the betting pattern. For instance, if a horse is being quoted at 5:1 odds and large amounts of money are suddenly placed on the horse, the tote should immediately register the fact. But since most clubs were using outdated equipment, any betting trends were being registered far too late for punters to change their minds and their bets.The bookies, who have their eyes and ears closer to the ground were registering trends much faster than the tote. In fact, in many countries, bookmakers have been abolished and only the tote functions, a development that most turf officials advocate but have been unable to implement so far.Clearly then, the pounding of hooves is also a drumbeat of warning. It is patently obvious that the authorities have been shortsighted in not foreseeing the shape of present things. While the boom was on, everybody made merry, the clubs, the owners, the breeders.All clubs offer low-interest loans repayable in easy instalments to owners and too many people wanting to make a fast buck have taken advantage of this. “I really feel the new crop of owners leave a lot to be desired,” says owner Ali Khushroo Jung, whose grandfather was the Nizam of Hyderabad’s commander-in-chief.Adds RCTC’s Jacob: “Loans have often been misused and it’s becoming counter-productive. People have been paying between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2 lakh for a horse and we know that they are never going to get their money back unless they indulge in malpractices.”GlossaryMare: female horse 5 years old and over.Filly: female horse 4 years old or under.Colt: a male horse 4 years old or under.Gelding: a castrated horse.Yearling: a one year old horse.Stallion: a colt horse who is taken to a stud farm for breeding purposes.Maiden: a horse that has never won a race.Trainer: A person who holds a license from the stewards of the club to train race horses.Handicapper: An official who classifies every horse intended to be raced according to his opinion of the horse’s racing capabilities beginning with the best in Class I and on a downward scale to Class V which is then further divided into V-A and V-B.Colours: Every owner has his own set of racing colours or racing silks which are donned by the jockey when riding a particular owner’s horse in a race.Weighing Out: Every jockey must be weighed along with his equipment for a specified horse by the clerk of the scales in the weighing room of the club. This is to ascertain that the handicap weight allotted for a said horse to carry is correct.Handicap Weight: Every horse in a particular race is allotted a weight that he must carry so as to create a case where every horse’s chances are equal. Such weight shall be comprised of the jockey’s individual weight, plus his saddle weight and lead weight which is put into a “lead bag” should the combined weights of the first two not tilt the scales at the allotted weight.Weighing In: Every jockey must after a race, dismount and unsaddle his horse himself and present himself to be weighed.Bit: The metal piece inserted horizontally into the horse’s mouth to which the reins are attached. The horse is thus kept in control by the rider by use of the reins.Green: A term used to describe the run of a horse making his debut in racing. Due to his having run just once or infrequently, he runs erratically and is said to have run “green”.Classics: 5 races namely the Derby, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St. LegerTriple crown: A winner of the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger at a particular racing centre is said to be a triple crown winner.Photo: In a close finish between two or more horses, the judge can call for a photo available to him from the photo finish camera installed opposite the winning post.Mudlarker: A horse who revels in soft and slushy underfoot conditions.Sprinter: A very fast horse who performs best over short sprint distances between 1,000 metres and 1,400 metres.Stayer: A horse who performs best over long distance races of 2,000 metres or more.Sire: The father of a new born foal.Dam: The mother of a new born foal.                                               – Cyrus MadanClubs have also been dishing out lavish subsidies to trainers andowners for the upkeep of their horses in return for the horses racing at that particular centre.Subsidies range from Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,500 a month per horse and now add up to astronomical figures. The MadrasRace Club, for instance, paid out Rs 4.32 lakh in subsidies in 1974-75.By 1982-83, that figure had climbed to Rs 42 lakh. Turf Authoritiesinsist that without incentives very few owners will stable their horsesat a particular centre.But for all its inherent ills, racing isstill the most organised sport in the country and with strictersupervision and a more professional approach by the authorities, has abright future.A study conducted by the Bangalore-based Institute for Social and Economic Change on the “socio-economic impact ofhorse-racing in Karnataka” in 1976, came to the conclusion that”horse-racing has become more of a commercial activity than anentertainment… there is no need for banning it as it yields revenue tothe Government and also provides employment to a large number ofpeople… it has also encouraged horse breeding”. The studysummarised by stating that “most people who bet belong to middle or high income groups and it does not involve any untoward socio-economicimpact on poor people”.There are undoubtedly problems that needto be tackled urgently and a dire need for long term perspectiveplanning. The most prominent example of short-sightedness and lack offuture planning is in the breeding industry. When the boom wason, stud farms mushroomed haphazardly, especially in Punjab wherebackyard operations’ flourished. Many so-called stud farms are nothingmore than a garage converted into a stable housing one mare. “TheGovernment should have been more selective in issuing licenses,” saysMadhavrao Scindia.The eventual result was thatproduction far outstripped demand and since last year, prices havecrashed and suddenly it’s a buyers’ market. “There is now no bottom ormiddle market,” says Rajiv Bajaj, a Delhi-based owner who has recentlyimported a progeny of Northern Dancer, “people now want only top classhorses and those are still fetching premium prices.” Adds garment exporter-turned-breeder B.P. Singh: “Selective breeding has still tocome into its own in this country.” Yet, it is the breeding industrythat has been responsible for the huge improvement in Indian bloodlines. “We’re still short of international standards,” says Mehra, “but thegap is narrowing fast.”The one area where neglect has beencriminal are the persons without whom there would be no racing – thepunters. Clubs have spent lavishly on other areas and only now when theshoe has started to pinch has the realisation dawned that fallingattendance figures spell danger and facilities for the average punter -neglected all these years – need urgent improvement.There is also a crying need for an all-India turf body to bring in some sort ofcohesion and formulate overall policy and long-term strategies.Currently, there are eight racing centres haphazardly clubbed under thefive turf authorities. Delhi, for instance, is affiliated to the RWITC,Bombay. Of the five turf authorities, four are registered as limitedcompanies while one, Calcutta, is registered as an association.Ramaswamy also strongly urges improvement in jockey conditions and heavier insurance paid by the clubs. This season, for instance, all four of the top jockeys in the country have been sidelined because of serious injuries.Jagdish, Vasant Shinde, N. Reuben and Robin Corner are either in hospital or recuperating from nasty falls. Jagdish has broken every bone in his body and says he “stopped counting after the first 15”. Now, he says, the hardest part is the confinement and the boredom.Not surprising, considering the hectic pace of his life. At 53, he is still as lean and taut as ever and has ridden 1,900 winners – 800 more than any other jockey and an all-time record – and can earn anything up to Rs 30,000 for winning a Derby. He has been voted leading jockey for seven years and has made enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life.But at the urging of Ramaswamy, for whom he rides, he is determined to get the magic figure of 2,000 winners and 100 Classics – he has won nearly 90 Classic wins so far. But it is not an easy life. In a three-month period, Jagdish spent a total of 48 days travelling from one centre to another. Corner is another example of the tough life the top jockeys lead.In November 1983 he rode nine winners in less than a week. On a Saturday afternoon, he rode four winners in Bangalore, flew to Pune where he won three more races on Sunday and then booted home two more winners on Wednesday afternoon at Calcutta.Yet, for all that, jockeys who are injured are paid their hospital bills by the clubs and a measly Rs 250 a week as allowance. For a jockey out of racing for four months, the sudden financial hardship is difficult to bear.To add to that is the fact that most owners still prefer to bring in European jockeys at retainers ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh plus commissions on every win. “Indian owners still have a bias about foreign jockeys. Our Indian jockeys are as good as they are,” says Jagdish.Indian racing has, however, attracted some of the top jockeys in the world, a tribute to its standing. Lester Piggott the world’s best-known jockey, has ridden in India on more than one occasion and Willy Carson, another top-ranked jockey, still rides in India regularly. Fortuitously, the Indian racing season is held when it is offseason for racing in Europe and more and more foreign jockeys are finding India an ideal place to combine business and pleasure.Another major shot in the arm for Indian racing has been the recent entry of the private sector as sponsors of major races. One of the leaders in this field has been Vazir Sultan Tobacco (VST), sponsors of the Invitation Cup. VST, as B.P. Singh, chairman, Tobacco Division, explains, were looking for a new image for their Charminar cigarettes and found Indian racing the ideal arena. A year ago, they got together with Hyderabad Race Club Secretary M.M. Reddy and made an on-the-spot decision to sponsor the Invitation Cup for a period of five years: the Invitation Cup is a race where each of the five centres invites the top horses racing at each of their clubs to participate and it is held at a different centre each year. “It was all decided in one afternoon,” says Singh.In addition, VST also offered to sponsor all the races held on Invitation Cup day. This year, sponsorship cost them Rs 13 lakh on Invitation Cup day, but VST seems pleased with the investment. As Singh says: “We’ve got people talking about Charminar Challenge now and racing offers us as diverse a cross-section of people as you’re likely to get.”But clearly there is scope for increased sponsorship in racing if it is to survive the present crisis. Opinions on its future are divided but evidently the pessimists in the industry have only themselves to blame for the present situation – and, of course, the Government. “It is time the Government adopted a more pragmatic approach to racing,” says Scindia who points out that it costs around Rs 80,000 to bring up a foal till it is sold as a three-year-old. With prices currently pegged at Rs 1 lakh the profit margin for breeders has been trimmed drastically.People like MAM, however, insist that racing still has a rosy future. “It’s still the greatest sport in the world,” he exults with the true racing buffs unbridled enthusiasm for anything to do with horses. But the trite but true observation that “money makes the mare go” applies with more than mere symbolism to Indian racing.Ironically enough, the crunch in the end may prove to be racing’s saviour. It has, for one, been an eye-opener to everyone in the industry; it has ushered in much-needed professionalism and tougher competition; it has resulted in the punter being finally viewed as he rightly should, the mainstay of racing; and, above all, it has led to the belated realisation that there has been too much fat in Indian racing that desperately needs trimming.The next two years will prove the most crucial the industry has ever faced. If it can weather the storm, Indian racing is poised for another winning streak. But till then, and for everybody connected with the industry, it continues to be a high stakes gamble.last_img

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