Surfaces, Safety, Lounges and the Mandal commission type racing at BTC!!!!

The Invitation Cup just got over and I planned to write about everything at the gala event of Indian racing but what I saw got me thinking. Murioi stumbled and fell in the Invitation Cup, whatever the reasons may be for his fall, I’m not definitively saying it was the surface. Generally speaking its about time our horses got to run on well conditioned safe surfaces on a daily basis something that is not happening in our various racetracks all over India.

Not one of our tracks have a professional looking after our grass or exercise surfaces on which our horses run. I have been a regular race goer at Bangalore for well over 30 years now as such I have a fair idea of the problems trainers face over there. Lets start with the main turf track; this is supposed to slope inwards with water draining out towards the rail. Unfortunately BTC has gone on for years dumping tan on the track which has disintegrated over the years to completely ruin the surface. The grass track is almost a foot higher than the outer sand, the extra foot is all disintegrated tan bark, which has now become tan dust. Whenever it rains rather than become soft, the surface becomes very shifty and as a result very often racing ends up getting cancelled. Further to this no levelling has been done either as a result instead of sloping inwards, the track is higher on either side and low in the middle as a result of which it is shaped like a tea saucer and instead of water running off it stagnates on the track thus causing further unevenness in the surface.

A majority of horses in Bangalore do their exercise work on the outer sand track, the preparation of this surface too leaves a lot to be desired. Currently the system is that a cultivator behind a 35 or 45 HP Massey Ferguson tractor runs over the surface in order to prepare it. First of all the tractor is way underpowered, this causes the tractor to pull in an uneven manner as wherever the sand is heavier the tractor struggles. Secondly the cultivator’s prongs (in Punjabi we call them “Phallas”) are not symmetrical, this causes the surface to be uneven and creates ridges, which is dangerous as horses can take a misstep because of the unevenness of the surface. When it rains all the sand near the bend which is the high point of the track washes away. This has never been addressed, one wonders how many horses have damaged themselves during morning work. I’m sure the vets are kept much busier than they need to be with lameness issues. The solution is very simple use a more powerful tractor like a 75 HP John Deere with a proper implement attached. I have seen chain harrows being used to very good effect in America to prepare dirt surfaces. After every race three huge tractors working in a line go through the track before which water is sprinkled in order to keep dust to a minimum and the surface at just the right amount of moisture without making it slushy.

While I have first hand knowledge of Bangalore since I am closely involved with racing over there, other clubs too have problems with their racing surfaces. The Calcutta track looks very patchy and one doesn’t quite understand their system of trackwork either, I have heard from various professionals over there talking about the quality of the exercise surface and most of them do say that it is not up to the mark. Their racing track looks very worn out and considering the fact that they get plenty of rain in the City of Joy, I am pretty sure that the surface can be much sounder.

From the first race of Invitation weekend it was rather apparent that the track preparation left a lot to be desired. Divots were flying all over the place and jockeys too came back saying that conditions were not optimum. Its unfortunate that it rained which caused the postponement of the Invitation Cup, The Super Mile and Marty’s Million to the following Saturday. It rained in the ensuing days too and the Invitation day’s races were run on the Monsoon track which is made of a packed layer of sand with grass on it, honestly its the closest we have to the American dirt tracks in India. While one understands and empathises with HRC regarding the situation that they found themselves in one couldn’t help getting the feeling that the track wasn’t prepared quite well enough.

RWITC’s Mahalaxmi track is one of the flattest and fairest in Indian racing, here too the surface that is produced for their daily races is too firm. A couple of years back the track had been resurfaced in some sort of way, the trainers here were quite critical over how the track was playing. The problem all over the country is that we have people with no knowledge of turf maintenance and conditioning in charge of things. This has become a very well researched field in recent times, with a proper mix of different kinds of grasses for different times of the year and seasons as well as soil types. Whereas in Indian racing its treated as just grass. Golf courses have taken the lead in India over the conditioning of their surfaces for optimum playing conditions. A stone’s throw away from the BTC is the Bangalore Golf Club, I remember when I was a kid one saw more red soil than grass whenever one drove past here. In the last decade or so they have figured things out and now its lush green right through the year. Similarly there was a time when our cricket stadiums had patchy surfaces as a result of which Indians weren’t very well known for diving for the ball for fear of injury, in recent times a quantum improvement in the quality of the turf has seen top quality fielders like Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and the like emerge and they throw themselves all over the place. Proper watering systems need to be in place at all tracks so that safe, good going is available most of the time. Further to this I have noticed the safety railings that HRC first introduced in India, Calcutta has followed suit. These rails collapse on impact as a result of which they are safer for both horse and rider. The jockey’s association must demand that every track have these in place rather than the reinforced concrete railings in use at some tracks. These are an accident, simply waiting to happen. For the sake of safety of human and animal life we need these collapsible safety railings made compulsory, c’mon Jockeys Association of India and Animal Welfare Board lets see you take up this worthwhile cause.

Anyway enough of all that and lets look at whats been good in racing recently. Hyderabad hosted the Invitation Cup at Malakpet, with rain delays notwithstanding, one must give credit where credit is due. HRC has constructed three floors of top notch lounges, which were opened to the public (rather to delegates) for the first time. One hopes that HRC uses these on a regular basis and bring more people from Hyderabad to the races regularly. They should sell tickets at say ₹ 2,500 a pop for people to come racing and use these spaces by offering a day at the races with top notch food and beverage and hospitality services like the luxury boxes at Football stadiums in England. I must say these lounges are very well made and whoever has been involved in the process has really got into the details of things. The one thing that really stood out for me was the quality of sound coming from the speakers, for the first time in the history of Indian racing a good quality sound system has been used, unlike at every other club the sound was crystal clear and every word that the race-caller said was audible. Cyrus Madan’s call of the Stayers Cup was my favourite of the weekend. He has now been India’s only world class commentator for over three decades, the only other top notch commentators we have had have been Ali Khusro Jung and possibly the late SN Harish who at least tried to make his race calls exciting. I like Anit Casyab from Calcutta who is a work in progress but the rest of them are boring and mundane and really need to improve on their delivery. In my opinion sponsors need to insist on the use of Cyrus for their races and its about time he became the voice of the Invitation Weekend as well. Racing needs to have everything around it to become posh so that we attract a better quality of person to the races. Anyway full marks to Mr Surender Reddy and HRC on the hospitality we received on Invitation weekend, thank you sir. Next year the event is in Mumbai c’mon boys lets see if you can keep pace with Calcutta in 2013 and Hyderabad this year. In 2016 its Bangalore and the way things are I doubt I’ll get that coke after the fourth race.

The Bangalore Turf Club keeps heading further into the abyss of mundane and crap racing, check out the terms of this race and I quote Pearcey of indiarace.com, “… The last race of the afternoon. It was a unique event, in which, horses that had run twice this season but failed to win a race, were allowed to participate. Furthermore, these runners belonging to the lowest category were to be ridden by those who hadn’t won a race since the month of November.” C’mon BTC what next? How about a special race for horses with blown tendons, a race for horses that plant at the gate or for jockeys who have never sat on a horse ever or for fat breeders (I’d win that). Mr Shivaprasad its a shame that you continue on a rampant path of destruction. Its really sad that racing at this once prime centre has descended into the mediocrity of age group racing. BTC had 5 of their 8 races on Friday for horses aged 5 years and over and one of the open company races was the crapfest I just described WHY? I would love to see an argument in favour of this reservation style of racing, its a sport where the best should beat the rest. Its about time the system of age group races was scrapped as has been done at RCTC and let these older horses beat younger horses on pure MERIT.

Mysore Race Club has now been deemed to be an independent Turf Authority, many congratulations. Their Chhota seasons (Summer and Winter) need to improve their quality of racing. One wishes Mysore Race Club the very best and one hopes they clean up the sport in what has become a gambling den. Understandably Kanthraj Urs will be involved in lifting the sport in the princely city out of the morass it is in. He is a highly respected figure in Mysore and from the little bit that one has seen of him he comes across as a person who doesn’t take fools lightly.

In the meantime the much maligned breeders are now well in to the breeding season, missing from are ranks this year are; Mare Haven Stud, Track Supreme, Arabesque, Aikdeep and Doaba Stud. One hopes others too restrict the numbers to more manageable levels because overproduction is rogering every aspect of the sport.

The Invitation Weekend: What should and could be India’s Breeders’ Cup

The Invitation Weekend is upon us and 4 Group one races are up for grabs. It also signals the end of the year as far as our quality racing goes, Hyderabad has already ended their winter season and usually March racing only happens at Malakpet when the Invitation Carnival comes around. The terms and conditions of the Invitation Cup have been tweaked since the 2013 running to allow older horses to run. Timing wise too the Invitation Cup comes at a perfect time, exactly one month after the Indian Derby which gives the 4 year olds ample recovery time. The Turf Authorities get together over the weekend to have a tete a tete regarding all issues pertaining to the sport. Unfortunately the lack of a professional set up has rendered the Turf Authorities of India a pretty useless body which rarely achieves anything as the clubs prefer to follow a system where rule making is their own solo effort. The latest gift the TAI gave us has been that foreign jockeys can no longer ride freelance in India, as a result anybody who wants Jimmy Fortune to ride their horse must sell a benami share to his retainer, Manjri Stud. Thank you old men for making racing about everything else but racing!

One of the most burning issues that has been causing havoc among the trainers is the lack of a proper uniform medication policy. Most of the time its Russian roulette for the trainers as nobody has established proper lead times for therapeutic medications and trainers are left groping in the dark due to a lack of information provided. Unfortunately the majority of vets practising at the various clubs are truly mediocre men whose jobs are more about pen pushing and egos rather than enlightened men who may actually bring clarity into the system. The TAI has decided to follow the very sanitary sounding, “Zero Tolerance” policy which is utopian and impractical, in every way. Take an example of a horse that spikes a temperature, most docs would prescribe Novalgin to bring the fever down. Now, when you have a zero tolerance policy does it mean that you have to use only, “Thandi Pattis” and herbs to sort it out rather than use a prescription medication. There needs to be a proper study undertaken regarding lead times and the findings need to be made available in the public domain so that professionals can make educated calls regarding their use. One hopes some headway is made in this regard because it isn’t doing the image of racing any good.

The fact that Indian racing hasn’t kept up with the times is there for all to see, the fact that we still entertain the concept of bookmakers show how far up their arses Indian racing administrators heads are. I have written time and again regarding the scourge that is bookmaking and how a tote monopoly is the only way to go if we are to get our sport out of the rut that it is in. Why is it that we go to places like Hong Kong and Japan and get impressed with their set ups and yet not understand what sets them apart from our racing is the fact that they have vertical and horizontal control of every buck wagered on their sport. As a result they contribute heavily to their economies and are appreciated by their governments since they bring in sacks of dosh for the government to add to their budgets and welfare schemes. We on the other hand go to our governments like beggars rather than economic contributors because as yet our contribution isn’t large enough to turn their heads. In the 1980s men like PG Belliappa at BTC and RM “Madhu” Reddy at HRC saw that we needed to amp up our tote in order for racing to prosper, they were able to lobby with their state governments and get a better tax structure in place in order to spiral their totalisators upwards and increase the club’s as well as the governments’ take by driving the retail punter towards the tote machines rather than towards the satchel men. Its about time we bit the bullet and told bookies to F Off!

In the 80s the USA faced a problem whereby their racing didn’t have a properly defined end of season championship in place, this caused many of their forward thinking men in the sport to conceptualise the Breeders Cup http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breeders’_Cup People like John Gaines and DG Van Clief among others created the “Breeders Cup” whereby breeders nominated their stallions to the Breeders Cup and then nominated their foals for a set fee to create a big fat corpus fund which was then used to augment stakes races at various tracks all over the nation. The first Breeders Cup was run at Hollywood Park in 1984. They ended the year with high quality racing concentrated on one day where every division was represented and champions were crowned in these year end divisional championship races. The biggest and richest race was the all aged championship race the “Breeders Cup Classic” which was quite similar to our Indian Turf Invitation Cup. This still is the richest race in USA though the Breeders Cup has evolved over a period of time into a two day event and many additions have been made in the races, with more divisions being added to the original ones on both dirt and turf. The year long program where Breeders Cup money was added to specific stakes races was scrapped too. A big day to end the year would help us crown our year end champions too without having to work out some concocted formula.

Say we were to create a Breeders Cup type of program in India too where we distributed 10 Crores on one big huge race day, the biggest day of Indian racing. With races for Sprinters, Milers, Stayers, Juveniles and the jewel in the crown being the Invitation Cup. This would help greatly as older horses in every division would be able to target a big pot of cash towards the end of the year. Every club could have a programme that dove-tails into this one day of racing. A proper marketing company could be drafted in to market the race day on a national basis with a TV contract and nationwide coverage in the press as a result of which it would become worthwhile for a big sponsor. The Poonawalla Breeders Multi Million is already half way there, where breeders nominate yearlings to the race and then the owners who buy them have the option to continue paying forfeits and finally run in the big juvenile event. A proper funding mechanism will need to be worked out off course with a per foal subscription, a per stallion subscription as well as contributions from the turf clubs and from a long term sponsor. The Arc weekend in France and the QIPCO Campions day in England are similar to the Breeders Cup. Our sport needs visibility and exposure unfortunately our clubs have failed on that front as racing has been slowly losing its glamour quotient. There was a time when to own a racehorse was a cool thing to do, we need to work hard to make racing cool again.

Quotas, Mediocrity,Pattern Races and Other Musings

Indian racing has ceased to be national in nature and maybe its time that names carried a parenthesis with the centre name in it to signify where a horse is based. Racing Against Aged Junk [MYS], Age Group Sprint Champ [BLR], Quota King [HYD], etc. would give us a far better idea about a horse’s ability. Since racing was and hopefully still is about who is the fastest horse one fails to understand the system created by Hyderabad Race Club, the dreaded, “Quota System.” The reasoning behind this was that it would protect the local owners against better horses from other centres. At the same time the system would be used to allot their limited stable space for the fresh inflow of 2 year olds into HRC by giving quotas to owners. Over a period of time the system has become a way for the powers that be to flex their muscles and has become very arbitrary in nature. Added to this is the fact that these quotas are alloted to owners, rather than trainers and then there is a cap on the number of horses a trainer can bring into his stable as well. As a result of this benami ownership flourishes and it limits the growth of genuine owners who want to buy horses, since quota holding owners hold onto their slot for dear life, resulting in them buying or taking on contingency cheap horses of a lower standard. What this has managed to achieve is a false bearing on what the true merit of a horse is, since a large chunk of very mediocre horses find their way into the system, racing is supposed to be about straightforward unfettered competition where the fastest and best win, whenever or wherever there is straightforward competition, over a period of time everything including the system will find its own level. Protectionism is a very retrograde system which leads to negative results whereas competition brings about positive results a recent example of this is Calcutta.

When Calcutta boosted its prize money levels, many outstation trainers decided to take “B” licenses over there and set up shop with decent sized strings. Pesi Shroff, Imtiaz Sait, Darius Byramji and Arti Doctor all took horses to race at Hastings. Arti Doctor realised that she would be better suited to shift to Calcutta on a permanent basis, a move that in hindsight was a very good decision as she is regularly among the winners there. They all brought horses from other centres, ie Bombay and Bangalore. To start with things looked great for these outstation trainers and they won often but soon the local trainers figured this out and stepped out to replenish their stock with better quality horses from Bombay and Bangalore too. The local trainers got far more conscientious regarding the quality of babies that they were buying as well and soon the local boys started to regularly beat the out of towners. The result has been that Byramji, Shroff and Sait have shut shop and gone back to concentrate on their parent centres. Rather than protect mediocrity all that the authorities need to do is to make sure that what comes into their centres is stock that is superior to what is currently based over there rather than take pity on their own. Clubs need to license better professionals and to make sure there is enough stake money being paid out in order for professionals to earn a good living. Meritocracy has died in Indian racing and slowly but surely the sport is descending into being all about punting and less about quality competition as stake money vis a vis costs is not keeping pace. The quota system is detrimental for growth too as younger trainers who are starting their careers get a smaller quota, vis a vis established license holders who may or may not be competent. Its about time that clubs started to de-license non performers to make room for younger talent. There are trainers who haven’t won races for 5 years, who still get to keep their license. Non performers in any field get weeded out but in racing getting a license is akin to holding a government job, its held in perpetuity. There are trainers whose monthly commission earnings over the past 9 years are less than a syces wage, how are they making ends meet? These are questions that all clubs need to address and ask trainers. Hong Kong for one kicks out trainers if they aren’t cutting it, the main reason being space restrictions, we have a similar problem, we too need to take Hong Kong’s lead.

There was a time in the 60s, 70s and 80s when racing was a moving carnival, starting with Ooty in Spring/Summer, followed by Bangalore in the Summer then during the Monsoon; everybody split towards, Pune, Mysore, Hyderabad and Calcutta (for their lower end stock), in the winter racing took place in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. With the demise of proper racing in Madras; Bangalore and Hyderabad became full on winter destinations. Unfortunately when the sport grew there was no attempt to increase the number of tracks, as a result of a glut slowly space became an issue and racing became more and more localised and Indian racing lost its national character and became regional in nature. The only survivor has been the Bangalore Summer season which is India’s only national season. This too is not by design but more due to the fact that from May to July until the Monsoon hits the only place in Indian racing with temperate weather is the garden city. There was an attempt in the 80s led by Suresh Mahindra, RM Reddy, General Kumaramangalam, Mr Shivlal Daga, my father Sonny Brar and a few others to revive racing in Lucknow, they raced under rules for a few days but had to pack up due to a lack of capital. Its a different India now and with capital available more freely a proper attempt to expand racing would be very viable, considering its the only legal form of gambling on mainland India and our clubs have thoroughly wasted their incumbent advantage due to the lack of foresight, petty politics and general apathy. Our clubs are islands unto themselves and are run as little fiefdoms with little or no cooperation amongst themselves. The time is ripe for a national body to run the sport, akin to Japan Racing Association, France Galop, The Jockey Club and the like. The need of the hour is to give racing a corporate structure and have a national consensus on things like marketing the sport. We also need to lobby state governments as well as the central government regarding the good done by the racing and breeding industries. We provide in excess of 20,000 permanent jobs many of them rural, we provide revenue from betting taxes and also provide green spaces in congested cities. Breeding horses is an activity directly related to agriculture and animal husbandry but while the rest of theses fields get sops galore we fall in a blind spot. India has changed, unfortunately our sport has not. We are attempting to start racing in Punjab, so far talks have been very positive and we have our fingers crossed that soon we are able to give India its first tote only racing setup. The idea is to have a racetrack that is run along corporate lines and not by a club. Bookmakers have become the bane of racing wherever they are found in the world. Here in India we still allow them to take licenses and operate at our clubs by paying stall fees. They damage the integrity of the sport and cheat on revenue but we still allow them to exist. Here in our upside down system we are allowing them to be competition for our gambling rupee by licensing them ourselves! Imagine having a virtual monopoly on a product but allowing a parasite to not just feed off’ve us but to bleed us dry. Would this be allowed in a run for profit business? I think you all know that the answer is a vehement no.

An average horse racing in Hyderabad as a rule of thumb will earn a lot more than an average horse racing in Western India or at Bangalore, since racing is restricted only to horses based in that centre. In a catalogue style pedigree write up Hyderabad based horse always looks good, take my horse Cape Ferrat as an example, here is a horse that has run at the top of class one for the past three years of his career, his earnings are somewhere in the region of approximately 25 Lakhs, despite wins in Western India, Bangalore and place finishes in added money races in Hyderabad. On the flip side lets look at a Hyderabad horse called Young Soldier a horse that topped out at a rating of 102 in Hyderabad, this horse has cleared 48 Lakhs in Stake money earnings. All earnings have been accumulated in the Hyderabad structure. Run the two against each other and at level weights Cape Ferrat will beat Young Soldier, 10 times out of 10 but when one looks at the Catalogue who looks better? Unfortunately Indian Racing has made its own set of rules as we go along, most of them detrimental for the Indian breed and as a result racing as a whole.

Lets take a look at our pattern system, first of all in most racing jurisdictions there is supposed to be a pyramid structure, with Listed races at the bottom, followed by Grade 3, 2 and 1 all decreasing in number as we go higher up the scale with Grade 1s being the dearest as they are supposed to signify the pinnacle of our sport. The pattern system was created so that a yardstick could be provided for our cataloguing standards. The name of a pattern race winner gets to appear in a sales catalogue in bold font with capital letters, while the name of a second or third place finisher appears in bold font but in lower case characters. The idea being that we can objectively read the pedigree page of a horse with better horses having more black type on their page. The pattern race committee is supposed to upgrade and downgrade races every year depending on the quality of the races run. Unfortunately this is not being done in India in an efficient manner, certain norms must be followed, take the example of Hyderabad once again. The Darley Arabian Stakes, Byerly Turk, Godolphin Barb, Alcock Arabian Stakes and Golconda Juvenile Million have always carried graded status yet the quality of these races have been sub par for time immemorial. As a result these races are going to throw up 15 black type horses who aren’t quite up to the mark, therefore compromising the cataloguing standards. HRC doesn’t allow final entries, neither does the Poonawalla Breeders Million, yet the Deccan and Golconda Derby as well as the PBM get to be Grade 1 races. Did you know that Set Alight never ran the PBM because she wasn’t entered. Similarly entries for the Hyderabad Classics close at the end of November when 90% of the intended runners in those races are still unraced, entries are done more on hope rather than on known ability, now think about it are these necessarily being won by Group 1 horses? In my opinion for a race to be within the pattern, there must be a proper system of final entries so that these races truly reflect the very best rather than the best of what is entered. In India the various clubs decide which of their races should carry the graded monicker, this is wrong as it is against the tenets of why the system was created, the running of the pattern system needs to devolve upon the breeders rather than the racing administrators, since it was created for them and their stud values not for the clubs. Currently we have no Listed races in India and the grading of other events too is very haphazard.

Further to this we have another huge problem in that we have a critical shortage of races for our above average stock. Most conditions races fall in the domain of juveniles, as a result we are in a quirky situation where there are too many nondescript Million races carded for 2 and 3 year olds. Racing fans come to the races to back high quality racehorses whose form is well known, as a result of which our big race days attract more action at the betting windows. There is a far better connect among punters for high class older horses like Atlantus, Sprint Star, Dandified, Onassis, Optimus Prime etc. we need to card better quality terms or conditions races for these types of horses who give off their best on a more consistent level. Currently there are very few opportunities given for our 4 year old and over horses that perform well and find themselves unable to run races carded for horses 80 and above. If you win a maidens race a horse has to either step up into the top level races or get driven into the handicap system where manipulation is possible to a great extent, in fact its the norm rather than an exception. Opportunities in Bangalore for horses of the ilk of Rock With U, Chulbul Pandey, Cape Ferrat, Esteban are few and far between, the only option they have is to run at the very top against horses like Speed Six who are just that slight notch above them and most of the time will beat them. We need more terms races and more races over a trip, unfortunately Bangalore racing is all about sprinting as a result of which Winged Foot wins their Oaks off a rating of 43 and Applejack the Stayers’ Trial off a rating of 79. Both horses are very ordinary over 6 and 7 furlongs but put them over a mile and a half and they are top class. Its akin to asking Mo Farrah to run only in the 100, 200 and 400 metres at the Olympics! Since such few races are carded at a mile and a quarter and above, jockeys are forgetting the art of riding over a trip. Take the example of Arshad Alam, a bright young talent among the Bangalore jockey colony, when he rode Keturah in the Bangalore Oaks it was the first time he was riding a mile and a half race in his career. Consider the fact that he has ridden 40 winners in his career to go through his allowance claim without ever riding a long distance race, since our Derby is still run over 2400 metres shouldn’t our jockeys have had experience over that distance? Trainers are forgetting the art of training over a trip, even mile races are going void as trainers are chary about their ability to train over anything above 7 Furlongs. Stallions like Tejano, Brave Act, Ikhtyar, Carnival Dancer, Sedgefield and a host of others are better suited to race over longer trips. While in Hyderabad, RWITC and Calcutta there are opportunities to race your horses in Staying races, in Bangalore there is the odd race more often than not, over 9 furlongs. We should encourage longer races as the propensity for malpractice also reduces, think about it one bump in a sprint and its hard to recover, whereas in a longer race there is ample time to recover from any such mishaps. Further to this longer races are far more nuanced and cerebral from both a handicapping point of view, tactics as well as training it needs to be encouraged for the betterment of the sport, its the difference between test and one day cricket, ask Dravid or Sachin whats the pinnacle of their sport it will always be Test cricket.

So its on to Hyderabad for the Invitation weekend now, where we get the opportunity to see our best Stayers, Sprinters and Milers square off against each other at weight for age terms. The piece de resistance off course is the Invitation Cup where Our 4 year old crop will take on the best older horses over a mile and a half. HRC has carded a nice lot of Millions around the big races for the handicap variety but as is their wont they snuck in a clause which is against the rules of Invitation weekend where horses rated below 46 will not be permitted to race in these handicap events, I guess the reasoning behind this would be a fear of getting exposed against horses from Bangalore where the quality of stock is considered to be superior and a 45 rated horse from Bangalore would be about 5kg superior on the scale vis a vis a similarly rated Hyderabad horse. So its Chalta Hai for Indian racing as the carousel stops in Hyderabad for our annual get together. Boring dinners, meaningless meetings and a little nostalgia for times gone by. Invitation day at Hyderabad was the last day of racing I attended with my late father before he got seriously ill, we miss him greatly and maybe we get a proper racecourse going in Punjab to honour his memory. A good friend of mine said in the 19th century Calcutta was the centre of the Indian racing world, in the 20th Century it was Bombay maybe in the 21st Century it will be Punjab but then again a wise man once said, “Its a long way to Tipperary!”

Why Can’t I get a F*%#ing Coke after the 4th race in Bangalore?!!

Since racing is a lifestyle sport or rather its supposed to be, wining and dining is supposed to be part of it, I thought I’d cover catering services at the various facilities in India.

RWITC (Mumbai): This lovely piece of property is huge and when space is available its possible to do things the right way. A day spent racing at Mahalaxmi is undoubtedly one of the coolest things to do in a city that can be best described as an urban slum. One thing the administration and powers that be at the helm of affairs understand is that good food and drink should be available at the races. I have spent a couple of days racing at the WIRHOA lounge and I must say its very comfortable. In Shiven Surendranath the WIRHOA have a boss who understands what racing is about and what comfort is. The Coffee churned out by the Lavazza machine is easily the best hot drink available at any track in India. Lots of juice and cold drinks are available as are munchies like chips and stuff. The Air conditioning works well and the lounge is well located, close to the paddock as well as close to tote counters. One finds an eclectic mix of racing aficionados in the lounge and there is always something happening there and the conversation is quite stimulating. Alternatively there is the trainers, “Hamara Bajaj” lounge which though quite zany in its decor is very comfortable too.

The catering facilities at Bombay have always been quite good, whether its the chicken sandwiches upstairs in the cafeteria or the Sev Puri and Chaat guy. The cold drink stand is efficient and the cold coffee has always been very refreshing on a hot day. Recent additions to the food repertoire at RWITC has been a counter run by the quite popular mill area eatery Cafe Zoe and a hand churned Ice Cream counter. If one wants to sit down and eat there is always old Gallops where the food has always been quite good and their Chicken Liver Pate and Lobster Thermidor has been good for ages. Yours truly hasn’t been to Gallops the last couple of years as a matter of principle since they’re at war with the Club. Another nice eatery called “Neel” is just to one side of the main gate and it serves up pretty decent Indian grub. Overall people in Bombay take good food for granted and why not its the way it should be. Racing at Mahalaxmi is comfortable and good fun, one wishes the RWITC was earning money from it rather than some illegal bookie with whom the majority of the crowd at the races punt with over the phone even for small amounts.

RWITC (Pune): though the racing facilities at Pune aren’t a patch on Bombay, they are still fairly decent. During their Derby week they have the Oktoberfest which is great fun. The German guys serve up top class beer and some really tasty bratwurst and sausages. Even on regular race days while they lack the space that Mahalaxmi offers, they do have the basics in place. Whether its the Biryani place on one side of the bookie ring or the bare bones chai and cold drinks set up near the trainers room. Overall a day at the races in Pune is an enjoyable enough experience. The local sponsors lay it on and work quite hard, racing in Pune is fun whether one is a hardcore race goer or a casual atendee.

BTC: Bangalore Turf Club is my home centre and I’m sorry to say I’d be ashamed to invite a friend to the races there. I have an open invite to the members lunch room upstairs and the food they serve is quite decent as is the service but do keep in mind this place can cater to a maximum of about 100 people efficiently. Avoid this place on Derby day as there isn’t room to walk without shuffling and the floor shakes, god forbid they have a fire here as the place doesn’t look as if its safe. The “Frans” (Prawns) that are served up as snacks are quite tasty, always follow up your meal with a generous helping of curd rice or pardon the language for the lack of a better term but your arse will be on fire. Come down to the owners stand and hell the service and food here can only be described as SHIT, now don’t say that its not that bad since you can’t have good and bad shit; shit is shit. Their Cokes run out inevitably after the fourth race, the plastic seating at the cafeteria is uncomfortable, I’m not a fan of Bisibele Bhaath though some people say its not bad. The food, the setting, the crowd and eating habits of the majority around are terrible, I’m sorry for sounding snobbish but I was taught to eat rice with a spoon and fork and chew with my mouth closed. All in all Bangalore Turf Club and the KROA ought to be ashamed over how badly owners are treated at this centre. Racing is a lifestyle sport and us owners pay the bills and finance the chips (horses) in your casino. It wouldn’t be difficult to give the catering contract to a proper company rather than to some committee member’s lackey. I shudder to think how bad things must be in the nosebleed sections in the Second enclosure. The rougher crowd in Bangalore is a bit too close for comfort and its common to hear the, “Rowdies” hurling abuses at the professionals in the paddock. In my opinion a wrecking ball needs to be taken to BTC and we need to redesign every bloody thing over here.

RCTC: Calcutta is a city where people take great pride in their food and a general populace who know how to look after guests really well. Last year’s Invitation Cup was held over here and their hospitality was absolutely top class. We were hosted in their newly renovated Clubhouse, the food was top notch (Apparently catered by the best caterer in town) and the bar service was awesome too. There was plenty of space to sit and the committee are very hands on and as a result the officials are on their toes. I received an email from their Racing Department asking as to how many of my family would be there and whether we needed to have any bookings done or arrangements made. When we arrived at our hotel all the invites and passes were waiting for us at the hotel reception. On the other side of the fence the food served up is very tasty too especially their,”Puchkas.” Once again open spaces and lots of old trees are the norm in Cal and overall racing is a very comfortable experience. I haven’t been racing to Cal very often but that is something I intend to change over the years.

Mysore: if you are paid to go racing here, take my advice and don’t ever go. The hospitality here is abysmal, I doubt you can get a decent bite to eat over here. The crowd that comes racing over here is the dregs. They have an Ice Cream and cold drinks counter which is sort of ok but they serve,”Joy” Ice cream, a decent brand from the 80s. The grandstand is uncomfortable as hell and the creeps that are hanging around smell of hooch. I remember many years ago one of Indian racing’s biggest owners almost got assaulted because he complained that somebody had sat in his seat. There is no proper food available period. Thank god they’ve started to show their races on the internet because this is a really picturesque dump and is best avoided.

Delhi: However bad the quality of racing might be in Delhi the catering facilities at this dump of a toy racetrack bang splat in the middle of Lutyens Delhi are more than decent. Thanks to Shailendra “Chhota” Singh we have a pretty nice Coffee Shop called Craze at the track, which churns out a good cup of Cho and some pretty decent snacks but the really well organised catering services are behind the bookies ring. Ice Cold Drinks are freely available on demand at any time, the Cold Drinks seller has a minimum of 5 crates stacked up in his cooler and as one finishes its replaced with another and a proper cold drink is always available in Delhi. The Kababchi out back makes killer Chicken Tikka and Seekh Kabab Rolls, amongst the best in the Capital. Good Chaat and Pakoras are a given in Delhi and there is a good Dosa guy there too. If you want greasy Indian grub, there is good Chicken Curry and rice available as well. The real surprise over here is the Oriental Food guy who serves up a pretty decent Thai Green Chicken Curry and some Punjabi/Chinese style Chilli Chicken too. I’ll never forget how well organised things were once when Unitech sponsored a race at DRC, top class food, name it and it was there, Champagne, Single Malts and quality Scotch flowed, Cohiba Cigars were served on trays and it was swish. Even now when Racing manager, Kulwant Singh asks us to, “Come and Have A Tea” you can rest assured that you’ll be served good Samosas and Sandwiches. Moti Mahal sponsored their Derby this past Monday and they had a nice live band, hostesses, decent booze and since Moti Mahal was their sponsor, there were good kababs and food served up. While I wouldn’t say that Delhi’s swish set landed up, they had quite a good turnout of non racing people who were definitely enjoying themselves on a Monday afternoon. Its a pity that the capital doesn’t have a top notch track as I’m sure it would become a destination for the uber set of Delhi, unfortunately Polo scores over us and gets the top end sponsors and the fancy boys of Lutyens instead of racing.

Hyderabad Race Club: Hyderabad Race Club in Malakpet is one of the world’s only tracks where the approach is through a Gully. On their Derby Days, both Monsoon and Winter a huge lunch is served to all the invitees. The menu is pretty standard Biryani, Haleem and a Fish and Chicken dish apart from their veggie options. There was a time when my good friend Sanjay Reddy and myself would look forward to this bi-annual ritual but recently standards have dropped and the grub just isn’t that good. Further to this is how they’ve come up with a classless concept of giving out plates after one shows them a coupon. Just not done HRC, lots of big shots own horses and it doesn’t behove well for you to treat them like this, its just a wee bit shabby. As a facility for some reason despite having so much space available to them HRC has gone for a hardcore mortar and tar look. It has the look of an Orwellian concrete jungle where racing instead of being fun is this really serious, tedious and boring job. Somebody needs to tell them that the Pista green colour that they decided to paint the place looks awful. The only patch of grass seen is the racetrack and the paddock. Hyderabad could do a whole lot better, they seem to have the basics in place but overall lack imagination. A nice touch by them is to have reserved seats for owners who have runners in their big races such as the Derby. The Invitation Cup is in Hyderabad this year but in my opinion they will have a very hard act to follow after Calcutta’s stellar show last year.

All in all our racing administrators need to understand that when you have a captive audience as our clubs do on a race day, catering can and should be a solid revenue generator. Good facilities and a classy setting will attract more fans to the races, unfortunately there seems to be a disconnect among our Southern clubs as regards this. Food and Beverage is a very important part of the entire set up in racing, since people are going to spend a good three or four hours at the races, a comfortable and enjoyable experience will encourage people to return on a regular basis. While most of the time my blog talks more about the bare bones of racing one hopes our sport chokes up to the fact that this is the 21st Century and its about time that clubs realised that they are in the, “Entertainment business.” There was a time when Cinema Halls were seedy and basic, the recent boom in multiplexes at malls have changed the movie going experience from basic to enjoyable, its about time we took a page out of their book and change or else we will perish.

The Indian Derby: A Look at the contenders

All roads will lead to Mahalaxmi this coming Sunday for the Mcdowell Indian Derby. This year’s race will feature a keen contest among two main protagonists, the mercurial Murioi and the steady Jeremiah, both runners come into the race off strong campaigns this winter. While these two will be the main contenders, in the post Rashid Byramji era often times the Indian Derby will throw up a massive upset such as Noble Eagle or the defeats of runners considered past the post such as Mystical, Southern Empire and Set Alight. Lets review the prospects and pedigrees of the 15 expected runners in this year’s contest.

MURIOI (Dubawi-Zacheta’s Girl by Fantastic Light) Owned by Dr MAM Ramaswamy, trained by S Ganapathy. Murioi will be the likely favourite for this year’s Derby. He made his debut with blinkers on at Bangalore, he ran a very forward race, knuckling under in the closing stages to run second that day behind the highly touted Perfect Soul, it was apparent that this was a good horse in the making. His sire Dubawi is possibly the best non Northern Dancer Male line descendant standing in Europe today. Murioi has a high cruising speed and quickens on demand on his day. In his second start in a terms event he caused a riot at Bangalore Turf Club; he swept past the leaders in the straight but in the process he hung sharply looking for the rails and slaughtered pretty much the entire field in the process, he was disqualified for his transgressions and that led to mob violence with plastic tables and chairs flung into the paddock, the rest of that day’s races were called off. For reasons best known to the connections they decided to run him back in a terms race a week later where he ran a flat fourth. The next port of call was the richly endowed Poonawalla BREEDERS Million at Bombay a race conceived many years ago where, breeders enter their yearlings and as such the purse balloons up to a massive figure since entries close so early. Murioi finally broke his duck and won by a neck from Starry Eyes but once again showed a wayward trait when he ducked sharply towards the rails but this time around the objection against him was overuled. Put away for India’s only national season, the Bangalore Summer, Murioi went into the summer as India’s champion juvenile. He reappeared giving weight all around in the lead up million (a devalued term in my opinion in Indian racing today) his rider B Sreekanth sat comfortably at the back and with a furlong to go he pulled him wide and pressed the button, Murioi zipped past his opponents as if they were standing and won under wraps that day despite giving away weight. One would have thought that the approaching Group 1s the Colts’ Championship and the Derby were at his mercy but then again the racing gods will remind you time and again that there is a reason why the sport is called “RACING.” Alaindair hit the front out of the gates and when Sreekanth pulled Murioi wide there was none of that spark when he asked him to go, Murioi ran unplaced as Alaindair retired home a very impressive winner. He threw in an absolute clunker in the Bangalore Derby as Sandesh went to the front on Alaindair and held off a gritty Turf Striker in the closing stages to usurp Murioi’s crown as the best 3 year old in the land. Murioi was wisely put away for the winter, so what happened? One thing that was different this Bangalore Summer season was the rain and boy did it pour for the duration of the entire season every day, yours truly was there for a majority of the season and it was as if the gods decided that monsoon would never end. Apart from all of this was the fact that Murioi has a mind of his own and this possibly played a huge part. Thats where the unsung hero in Murioi’s story comes into the picture, Franco Da Silva the Brazilian jockey brought to India by Marty Mahindra. Trainer S Ganapathy drafted in Franco to start sitting on Murioi in the mornings and what a job Franco has done. The immature kid Murioi started behaving like a grown man who had come of age. We first saw him appear in a mock race at Bangalore sans blinkers, where he came clear of a decent set by 15 Lengths under wraps. With a better behaved horse Ganapathy headed to Bombay ready with his colt to take back his crown. He had his Guineas lead up in yet another nameless million (a term thats lost its relevance in Indian racing), here he beat Pune Derby runner up Circle Of Life by a length and three quarters giving her 6 Kg. Circle Of Life was a little bit unlucky that day in that she met with interference but Murioi’s superiority over the Pesi Shroff trained filly was very clear. This set Murioi up for a grudge match with his Bangalore Summer nemesis Alaindair in the Indian 2000 Guineas. Alaindair sat handy behind the pacemaker and did hit the front but once Murioi was asked for his effort he put the race to bed within a couple of strides and won under wraps by a facile three and a half lengths, Alaindair was a brave runner up and 1000 Guineas winner Mariinsky was a well beaten third. The mile and a quarter RR Ruia Cup a traditional lead up to the Derby a bit like England’s Dante Stakes was Murio’s next start and only two opposed him (one was his stablemate Mars) in what was supposed to be nothing but a racetrack workout and it was just that as Murioi took up the running and cruised home without really being asked by eight and a half lengths, he ran within half a second of Set Alight’s track record for the mile and a quarter trip. So a smashing winter campaign so far sends Murioi into the Derby as a very likely favourite but will he stay the mile and a half trip?

I opine that he should have no problem whatsoever in getting the trip. His sire Dubawi has been infusing class into his get and he is proving to be a very versatile sire with his progeny excelling over a myriad of trips, Dubawi is a son of the superstar Dubai Millennium who never quite saw out a mile and a half but was one of the best the world has ever seen over a mile and a quarter over which he dominated when he raced. Dubawi himself was a cracking miler but has plenty of stamina influences in his pedigree, starting with his broodmare sire Deploy a son of 1978 Derby winner Shirley Heights and 1997 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year Slightly Dangerous; dam of Epsom Derby winner Commander in Chief, crack miler Warning, Derby runner up and Chile’s leading sire Dushyantor, the aforementioned Deploy and Group 1 winner and Irish Oaks runner up Yashmak. Further up one finds strong stamina influences, Dancing Brave and High Line in Dubawi’s pedigree. On his dam’s side Murioi has plenty of stamina influences too starting with his broodmare sire; Fantastic Light a son of the Blushing Groom horse Rahy out of a mare by English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II. Fantastic Light won the Breeders Cup Turf in a course record time of 2:24 and change for the mile and a half among other top races at this trip. The next broodmare sire Polish Precedent though a top level miler himself has been a decent influence for stamina, further up one finds Darshaan, the son of Shirley Heights has been a good source of modern stamina. His dam Zacheta’s Girl was an € 18,000 bargain at Goffs considering she was in foal to Dubawi, her dam Zacheta is a half sister to Marienbard who won Europe’s biggest mile and a half race the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe as well as a couple of mile and a half Group 1s in Germany. Murioi’s dam line is decent enough and this handsome colt has no doubt added to it with his performances. Now the one thing with this horse that has cost him in the past has been his temperament he appears to be the type who could just boil over on any given day, one hopes to see him behave like a gentleman and give his true running on Derby day. The latest news is that Irish jockey Chris Hayes who had a great season in Ireland in 2013 with 2 Group 1 winners is coming to ride him.

JEREMIAH (Jeremy-Acciacatura by Stravinsky) When Jeremiah made his debut in Mumbai over 6 Furlongs with I Pasha astride, nobody would have thought that this grey colt would be one of this year’s Indian Derby favourites. He ran a nice enough race without being banged about too much making up decent ground in the straight to end a pretty distant fourth behind Silver Streak. He was stepped up to 9 Furlongs for his next start he went off as the 90 paise favourite, he ran a cracking race and was distinctly unlucky to lose that day to Mars (coincidentally Murioi’s workmate), he ran very green and got stuck in traffic at the back, once he got clear he ran on purposefully to get within a length and a half of the winner. It appears that he had some breathing issues and he was operated for the same, the procedure seems to have worked as Jeremiah has gone unbeaten since. His Monsoon campaign started with a very easy victory over 9 Furlongs in a maidens event at Pune, after this Jeremiah went a very good mock race which was good enough for him to be targeted at the Deccan Derby at Malakpet. His owner Harish Mehta sold shares in his star colt to Jayadev Modi and the relatively new entrant to the sport, stock market guru Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. His performance at Hyderabad was stellar as Jeremiah was a handy winner over Bangalore Derby third place finisher, Charlatan who since then has gone on to win the Calcutta 2000 Guineas. A quick turnaround for Jeremiah took him to Pune for the Derby where he was a very easy Five and a Half length winner over the smart filly Circle Of Life. A hard Monsoon campaign and with his long term target being the Indian Derby probably caused his trainer Pesi Shroff to chalk out a relatively easier campaign for the grey colt in the winter. He appeared at Mahalaxmi for two mile and a quarter races in class one, he beat stablemate Master Shifu while receiving 6 Kg, though not visually very impressive nor by form, subsequent events made this a good race as Master Shifu came back to win the AC Ardeshir Trophy Gr.3 in his next start. Next time out he got stuck at the back with a furlong to go but once he got clear he closed impressively to give a Kg and a length odd beating to last year’s Pune Derby winner Commander who franked the form by winning next time out as well.

Will Jeremiah stay the mile and a half Derby trip? On a basic look at his pedigree one couldn’t answer in the affirmative, with confidence. The way he races though is like a nice staying type of horse, he is very relaxed and he switches off well in a race which is just how one would want it to be. Temperamentally he is the antithesis of his main rival Murioi and this will stand him in good stead with all the hullaballoo on Derby day. His sire Jeremy is a son of Coolmore stalwart, Danehill Dancer, Jeremy who stood at the Irish National stud could at best be described as a high class miler. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute he won the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot when racing for Betty Moran’s Brushwood Stables as Three year old. Remaining in training as a Four Year old he won the Betfred Mile Gr.2 and was nosed out by Ramonti on a return to Royal Ascot in the Queen Anne Stakes over a mile. Retired to Irish National Stud he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations at stud, his progeny it appears are more suited to longer trips and now he is making his presence felt as a good National Hunt stallion and has since been shifted to Garryrichard Stud. He himself descends from The Queen’s Blue Hen mare Highclere who has also given us stalwarts such as Deep Impact, Nashwan, Unfuwain and Nayef among many others this could be from where his stamina genes are coming through. Jeremiah’s dam Acciacatura was a Listed placed winner over shorter trips as a Two year old, she went on to run a creditable 6th in the Moyglare Stud Stakes Gr. 1 beaten Three and a Half lengths by Necklace. She is a half sister to a decent American horse called Kid Grindstone, a Group 3 winner. Her grandam was the great American racemare Princess Rooney, who won the inaugural Breeders Cup Distaff in 1984. A winner of 17 races and an Eclipse Award winner as leading older mare in 1984 one would have to say that Princess Rooney was a highly disappointing broodmare. Jeremiah’s broodmare sire Stravinsky was a crack Group one winning sprinter by Nureyev, Stravinsky has had his moments as a stallion but hasn’t been the most consistent of sires. Stravinsky though, has been a very good broodmare sire, young Coolmore stallion and Group one winner Rip Van Winkle being the standout product. Jeremiah has a very calm demeanour about himself and runs like a horse that will get the trip, though close up in his pedigree one finds likely sprinting influences, further back in his sire and dam’s pedigrees there appears to be plenty of stamina which the grey Shroff trainee has inherited. Pesi Shroff’s stable jockey S Zervan his regular pilot will be on board the main local hope in the Derby. The last got abroads to win the Indian Derby Velvet Rope (by Turtle Island) and Jacqueline (by King Charlemagne) are both by dud stallions as is this son of Jeremy.

AGOSTINI (Burden Of Proof-Glorious Beauty by Razeen), A final entrant and dominant winner of the Bangalore Derby Agostini will be the mount of Barbadian Loius Beuzelin in the Derby. Trained by Jaggy Dhariwal this handsome Burden Of Proof colt has made giant strides this winter after dropping his rider in the Golconda 2000 Guineas. Agostini took three starts to break his maiden, after a third on debut over 6 furlongs he ran a creditable second behind Czar Of Romance over a sprint. Next time out he was put over seven furlongs to notch up an easy 4 length win. He ended his winter campaign with a 6th place finish in the 7 furlong million at the end of the Bangalore Winter season. In the summer he went straight into the Colts’ Championship to run a very creditable fifth. He ran the Bangalore Derby next where he ran a forward race to finish sixth. He reappeared in the winter to win his lead up race under 61.5 Kg over a mile and headed to Malakpet for the Golconda 2000 Guineas. In the Guineas he clipped heels and dropped his rider. Luckily he escaped more or less unhurt and made his reappearance in the mile and a quarter Chief Ministers Trophy to defeat the previous year’s Indian Derby runner up Wind Stream by a length albeit in receipt of 8 Kg. He ran out a very emphatic winner of the Bangalore Derby last Sunday under a superb tactical ride by Louis Beuzelin, his jockey felt that he had more in hand and his connections chose to supplement him into the Indian Derby by paying a fee of 9 Lakhs. His experienced trainer has trained two Indian Derby winners in his accomplished career and has come back strong this year after overcoming some serious health issues during the Bangalore Summer season. This strapping colt is very unlike the progeny of his sire Burden Of Proof, a look at his 500 Kg plus frame gives the impression that he has taken many good points from his sire and his broodmare sire, the late Razeen. Burden Of Proof has had yet another solid year as a sire with Indian 1000 Guineas winner Mariinsky becoming his second winner of that Indian Classic. The dam line of Agostini is an old Usha Stud family responsible for standouts like Kir Royale, Archimedes, The smart stayer Capture The Moment and more recently the Invitation Cup winner Autonomy whose dam is a half sister to Agostini’s dam. He deserves to take his place in this field and provided he takes the travel well he should be right there. Do keep in mind that last year’s victor Super Storm came into the Indian Derby after a runner up finish in Bangalore.

ISN’T SHE SPECIAL (Ace-Rain Splasher by Placerville) Isn’t She Special sprung a minor surprise when she bagged the Indian Oaks a couple of weeks back. This filly is well held on all known form and her Oaks win is truly testament to the talent of her trainer S “Paddy” Padmanabhan. He trained her to win the Mysore 1000 Guineas earlier in the year on bottomless ground and a well executed strategy between Paddy and jockey David Allan saw her out fox Circle Of Life and Richard Hughes in a thrilling Indian Oaks. Everything aside, the Indian Oaks was the first time the Ace Filly was traversing the mile and a half trip. Now the problem in Bangalore is that the handicapper who frames the prospectus has decided that racing is only about getting 8 runners per race and as a result he cards no staying races for horses based there. As such one doesn’t really know for sure what horses are about until they run a mile and a half classic, for all we know, Isn’t She Special might be a good miler but a very good staying filly over a mile and a half. Will she stay? Most definitely as Richard Hughes found out when he let her get too far ahead of his mount, Circle Of Life in the Indian Oaks. She is superbly bred on the dam’s side being yet another Poonawalla classic winner descending from Schiaparelli. Her dam Rain Splasher, won the Golconda Oaks for the same owner trainer combination of team In The Spotlight; Captain Jamshed Appoo and Padmanabhan a few years back. For her sporting owner her Oaks win was a big boost as the affable “Jammy” had not been keeping the best of health. Her grandam Rasant threw Thunder Blitz, a Group 3 winner who finished a very creditable Fourth in the Kentucky Derby behind Monarchos and ahead of Champion Point Given. Her sire Ace has been a huge disappointment though he does get the rare good horse and often gets useful handicappers. Coincidentally both of Ace’s classic winners, the other being Equine Lover are trained by Paddy. Its dangerous to write off a Paddy trained horse though she has been squarely beaten by Jeremiah in the Deccan Derby and has a bit to find on form if one were to take a line through Circle of Life who ran behind Murioi after receiving 6 Kg from the Ganapathy trainee.

ALAINDAIR (Multidimensional-God’s Grace by Razeen) This son of Multidimensional ended the summer season as the best 3 year old in India, by virtue of his Bangalore Summer Derby victory. His career started on a very odd note, not the sort that would have given us any sort of idea as regards his future classic performances. Ridden by unheralded jockey I Shaikh this Altamash Ahmed trainee looked as if he was out for an airing. He got slammed down from double digit odds that day to go off as favourite, the old saying goes, man proposes and god disposes, Alaindair dwelt at the starting gates and ended up last. Next time out he was professional as he came off a fairly impressive winner. He wrapped up his winter campaign by running third in a million over 7 furlongs in the Bombay heat of end April. He was sent to Bangalore for a summer campaign he went a bit unnoticed when impressive in a mock race and ran the Colts’ Championship as a relative outsider as Murioi was all the rage in the betting. He went start to finish and coming into the straight he was well clear of the rest who were under the pump and making no impression. Alaindair retired a facile Five and a half length winner as Murioi just never fired. He went into the Derby as one of the leading contenders, his jockey A Sandesh for the second year in succession took the summer plum by the scruff of the neck as he repeated the pillar to post tactics that he had on Borsalino the previous year. Alaindair was clear into the final furlong and nothing was making an impression, in the closing stages it appeared that his early exertions took their toll as Turf Striker found a second wind to get within half a length of Alaindair but the post came to Alaindair’s rescue and he took the summer plum. While he was stopping, there was no doubt in the fact that Alaindair was the best horse in the race and a very deserving winner. After this he was put away with a winter campaign in mind. He won his lead up for the 2000 Guineas easily enough in the highest class in 1:23 and change and was well fancied in the first leg of the triple crown. He ran a very forward race as he cut pace with Silver Streak and when Murioi came alongside, Alaindair had no answer and the latter went past with ease to win very easily. It appeared that Sandesh’s tactics on Alaindair were overly agressive, Since then Alaindair has appeared on the main track as he thrashed a stablemate in a mile and a quarter mock race. He will be up against it somewhat as he is a free running type but then again he leads the rubber match against the likely favourite Murioi by two to one. A son of Multidimensional and God’s Grace another example of Multidimensional crossing well with Razeen who is the sire of God’s Grace. Alaindair is by some way the best horse this family has produced. Alaindair’s Fourth dam Miss Goolagong was imported to India way back in the Seventies. Srinath replaces A Sandesh in the saddle. His young trainer Altamash Ahmed has had a very good year as have his enthusiastic owners Nevill “The Devil” Devlaliwala, Gaurav Sethi and the mistress of Usha Stud Ameeta Mehra.

CIRCLE OF LIFE (Singspiel-Dubai Spirit by Mt Livermore) This daughter of Singspiel has earned the monicker of being the eternal bridesmaid with runner up efforts in the Pune Derby, Indian 1000 Guineas and the Indian Oaks. It would be prudent to note that this was the only filly to place in any of the 3 Year old Derbies; Bangalore Summer, Deccan, Calcutta Monsoon, Mysore or Pune. Her runner up effort behind Jeremiah at Pune was the best performance by a filly of this age group against colts. Her big moment was supposed to be the Indian Oaks but a judgment error by her pilot English champion jockey Richard Hughes and inversely a great tactical ride by David Allan on Isn’t She Special cost her dear. This filly too has had the same wind operation that Jeremiah had. She belongs to a family that has done very well in India and was responsible for last year’s 2000 Guineas winner Machiavellianism. Her sire Singspiel has been a very good sire of Stayers in England and the son of In The Wings has numerous top level horses to his credit. Though her female side of the family screams miler her sire has given her plenty of classy stamina and she will stay the trip as she did in the Oaks.

SOUTHERN EMPEROR (Placerville-Mystic Dancer by Alnasr Alwasheek). This awesomely bred son of a full sister to Mystical will be the Dr Ramaswamy camp’s second arrow in their quiver. When the Monsoon season ended this horse looked to be the natural contender for the Indian Derby on the back of his Mysore Derby romp. This gelding went through the Bangalore Winter and Summer as a maiden, since once again my favourite conditions book writer the Bangalore Handicapper feels that maiden youngsters shouldn’t run beyond 7 furlongs one would expect a proper stayer like Southern Emperor to be compromised (interesting to point out that Jeremiah got two shots at 9 Furlong maiden races). He ran decently in good company without breaking his duck, finally getting to run over a mile in the Mysore Million, he threw something of a surprise when getting up close home to win. He followed it up with a victory in the Mysore 2000 Guineas and then a dominating win in the Mysore Derby. After a good Monsoon campaign he first appeared in the Bangalore 2000 Guineas as a well backed favourite but was thrashed by Summer Derby runner up Turf Striker. He then went to Malakpet as an odds on favourite in the Golconda Derby, here his jockey B Sreekanth got stuck behind a couple of slow horses who were falling back along the rails and as a result he got shuffled back and had to swing wide into the straight and he was unable to get up despite quickening from the rear to miss by a mere length and a half.

Yet another rep of the fine Schiaparelli branch of the Barley Corn family at Poonawalla Stud, a family responsible for Divine Light, Mystical, Smart Chieftain, Southern Empire, Isn’t She Special, Classical Act and a host of other top horses over the years. His sire Placerville will go down in the Annals of Indian breeding as one of our greatest ever stallions, a horse that got them with early on speed who would then kick on and get even better as the longer races started. This animal though isn’t the greatest looker as he usually carries a poor coat and not necessarily the best condition wise either, but he has an engine and after all it isn’t a beauty contest its a race.

ACE BUCEPHALUS (Rebuttal-Shantay by Libor) A son of Rebuttal who sired last year’s winner Super Storm, Ace Bucephalus comes into the Derby without a run since finishing a well beaten Fifth in the Mysore Derby. He appears to have gone a very good Mock Race finishing half a length behind Toroloco. Recently he shifted from his Mysore based trainer Bipin Salvi to Irfan Ghatala. He has crossed swords with the best of them over the winter, summer and monsoon seasons always being there or thereabouts at the business end without winning, a third place in the Colts and a Fourth place effort in the Bangalore Derby were good efforts.His owner, mining baron Anil Lad will hope that he can make it a memorable maiden attempt in the Derby for him. A rank bad ride by Martin Dwyer cost Irfan last year as his Wind Stream came an unlucky second behind Super Storm last year.

ARCHIE (Muhtathir-Elouana by Kalanisi). This son of top French stallion Muhtathir comes from a solid staying line of HH The Aga Khan. He is a winner of his last start over a mile and a quarter and has 3 wins from 7 starts. He appears to have a lot to find on form against the main protagonists. He is one of Four Pesi Shroff trained starters in the Derby. On pedigree he’ll stay alright but on all known form he mayn’t be good enough here.

FALCON (Razeen-Tarnished Lady by Lord Avie). This Razeen Gelding has 3 wins from 10 starts and was a faraway fourth place finish in the 2000 Guineas. A dual Group winner of the Mile Colts’ million last winter at Bombay and a win in the SA Poonawalla Million in Pune, he has a lot to find on his recent form to figure over here finishing a well beaten sixth last time out in handicap company. His stakes winning dam was second behind Jilbab in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park for leading trainer Todd Pletcher.

WENTWORTH (Multidimensional-Star Supremacy by Razeen) This son of first season sire phenom Multidimensional took a few starts to break his maiden which he finally did as late as November at Bombay. What has earned him a berth in the Derby is his last victory over the Derby Mile and a Half in a smart 2:31 and change in a 60-86 set. Though he will have to take on the big guns of his generation here watch for this improving type to run a good race in the Derby considering he will be one of those that has run over the Derby distance. Owned by third generation horse owner Dilip Thomas who has been in the news lately due to the exploits of Bangalore Oaks winner Winged Foot, defending Sprinters Cup champ Nefyn and Super Mile contender Ridgeway, this colt is trained by veteran Bezan Chenoy who knows what it takes to win the big one. This is yet another nice type produced on the Multidimensional- Razeen mare cross, his grandam Gourgandine has done very well in India and this horse has shown already that he will see out the trip with no problem at all. Now he has to step up to the plate against the big boys, its one thing to beat Antonius Maximus and another thing to run the Indian Derby.

AMAZING GRACE (Hurricane Run- Efrinha by Woodman) This daughter of erstwhile Coolmore stallion Hurricane Run who has been relocated to Germany, made a belated debut when she won a mile and a quarter race fluently. She stepped up steeply in class when she ran 7th in the Oaks albeit only about 6 lengths behind the winner. She was kicked on her hock when the fillies were pulled out and restalled for the Oaks. She goes into the race more on hope than on form and she has to learn fast, she seems the sort who still isn’t a finished product and will improve over the course of the year. She has ability and will stay but this looks a tough ask for her.

HIGHRAZ (Razeen-Altitude by Steinbeck) A maiden winner over a mile on debut at Bombay last winter, this filly hasn’t won since. She had a poor Bangalore Summer, connections look like they’re taking a chance on her fair Oaks run where she was 6th, some 6 lengths from the winner. On all known form she is well held by most of the field here.

KEUKENHOF (Multidimensional-Secret Garden by Razeen) Keukenhof is a filly with lots of ability but on all known form a bit below the very best, she has always run well in good company with third place finishes behind Isn’t She Special in the Indian Oaks and Mysore 1000 Guineas her best efforts. She broke her maiden in Bangalore during the summer season and has been campaigned quite creatively by her connections. Her owner is the current chairman of RWITC Vivek Jain along with his family and Atul Amersey who owns shares in three separate runners in this race. Her Oaks run was very good and she deserves to take a chance in the Derby on the basis of that. Her grandam the Habitat mare, Hablitzia has done very well in India producing the Calcutta Triple Crown winner King’s Academy, Golconda Derby winner Star Hopeful and the useful Amber Regent who won the Bangalore Winter Derby. Keukenhof’s Oaks run showed us that she stays well whether she is good enough is the big question.

STARRY EYES (Multidimensional-Pricewise by Razeen) How much difference a year makes, Starry Eyes was widely considered the best Filly in the country and rightly so after some great performances in the winter season including an unlucky runner up effort in the PBM and culminating in a dominant score in the mile fillies million in March. After a miserable Bangalore Summer season where she ran off board in both the Fillies’ Championship and Derby. She was rested through the monsoon with an eye on the winter classics and reappeared in a three runner Maharaja Of Morvi Trophy which she won very easily but in a very slow timing. She was a well beaten third behind Mariinsky in the 1000 Guineas and was Fifth in the Oaks. On all known form she has quite a bit to find to win this. Owned by Pharma baron Dr YK Hamied and Atul Amersey she hopes to turn back the clock to last winter if she does so she could surprise everybody.

Here come the Sales (if thats what you want to call them)

The nicely named misnomer, “The Annual Auction Sales” are upon us as breeders have started arriving in Pune for the annual ritual that follows the Indian Derby on the First Sunday of February. One would think its a time for breeders to cash in somewhat at what can best be described as a Pashu Mandi or Animal Market. All the breeders pay ₹ 12,000 per animal for the privilege of coming to the annual gathering conducted by the RWITC. You’d expect any sales company to at least vaguely promote their sale but RWITC couldn’t be bothered. They’ve got the breeders by the nuts and they know it, over and above this you can factor in another ₹ 3,000 for various tests and vaccinations, truck freight of another Rs. 10,000 per animal from North India and a cost of another ₹ 5,000 per animal for the groom’s expenses, so all in all to arrive in Pune costs a straight up ₹ 30,000 per horse without factoring any extra fodder costs. Breeders this year are fearing the worst as overall demand has been very sluggish over the course of the year. The Indian Breeding industry is caught in the middle of the perfect storm.

Rampant overproduction is the root cause of the problem but there are multiple causes for this unfortunate situation. To start with the Indian Economy is very sluggish and there seems to be a severe shortage of capital in an overall situation as India tries very hard to balance inflation at the risk of stagnation. Excessive welfare schemes need to be funded and the government is looking for newer ways to collect funds and as such are coming hard after what is perceived to be a high end luxury industry. This perception hurts us and we have done fiddle all to change this erroneous perception. The horse racing and breeding industry provides no less than 20,000 direct jobs over and above this a large number of secondary industries such as transporters, hotels, equipment manufacturers, feed suppliers, medicine manufacturers etc. benefit greatly from the industry. A highly misinformed tax official sitting behind a desk somewhere in South India decided it would be prudent to hit stake money with 30% TDS or Tax Deductible at Source. I have been involved as an owner in this sport for a few decades now and one thing is very apparent, in a good year one breaks even on the cost of keeping a horse in training and this is without factoring in the capital cost incurred when buying a horse. Does an IPL franchise pay any TDS on the prize money earned by them? Similarly it would be interesting to find out whether golf pros like Jeev Milkha Singh, or tennis players like Leander Paes get a chunk taken out of their purse earnings like this. This has led to a lot of uneasiness in the market as the government which has never helped the sport in any way whatsoever in the history of Indian racing is trying very hard to destroy us, whether it is evacuation threats vis a vis leased properties our clubs run on, custom duties on horse imports, insane tax regimes such as in Maharashtra where bookies pay a lower tax than the tote. All of us are to blame for this but most of all its the Turf Authorities of India, the body which is a conglomeration of all clubs in India which has failed on every front when it comes to the marketing of our sport. In a business where Forty year olds are considered young one can well imagine the average age of the wise old men that are at the helm of affairs in racing it would be safe to say that it would be 60+; in other words a majority of our racing committee members could travel on Indian Railways getting a 50% discount on their tickets by virtue of being senior citizens. Its time a large number of our administrators (and you know who you are) gracefully called it a day. Its about time our sport professionalised itself we need competent people who are paid proper CEO salaries to work for the sport, whether its government liaison, marketing, finance etc. in Indian racing we have club secretaries playing this role, something they’re clearly unqualified to handle.

Breeders as a whole are partially to blame for the situation but do keep in mind that when the cycle corrects itself its the breeders who bear the brunt of it too. Rampant overproduction due to multiple causes has hit the sport hard, better breeding techniques due to advances in technology have led to higher fertility rates as a whole. Many established farms have been very irresponsible too whereby they have taken their mare numbers to well over 150, it seems greed has made these breeders into imbeciles as they have clearly failed to see the writing on the wall. One could blame imports for this but it wouldn’t be fair as that has contributed to this but not in a big way. Too many inferior mares from racecourses with poor pedigrees as well as poor performance have found their way into the Indian thoroughbred gene pool. The cataloguing standards people came up with a system which is the Pattern Race system or black type races, breeders need to know their pedigrees and racing class much better and be more discerning when choosing their mares. Trainers have been dumping crap on many of the newbies in the business who in their eagerness to develop relationships for the future take anything to stud that trainers offer up on terms. In fact there are a large number of trainers who have made stud farms into their surrogate operations dumping shitty mares on to them. Its about time breeders take a stand on not breeding these inferior mares just because you want to do a favour to somebody you hope becomes a future client. Do the trainers buy your unsound stock? Hell no they don’t so when a shit mare is offered to you, “JUST SAY NO!”

Another very important reason for this situation is the inability of race clubs to cull out inferior stock. Mysore Race Club is a case in point, here stake money levels are equivalent to Bangalore but the quality of horses running are somewhere between shit and garbage. Aged horses which are discarded from all over India find their way to Mysore, where racing is never about excellence its only about the punt. A Derby gamble or a “B” class gamble pay out the same amount; while its tough to prepare a Derby winner any fool with a license can produce a low end winner. When poor horses aren’t cleared out of our tracks fewer stables are available for babies to come in. There is a very simple solution to all this we need to scrap age group handicap races, if an 8 year old can compete and beat a four year old in open company then so be it. One never has a problem when a horse like Coral Gables wins a Category one race at the age of 11 but when Admiranda at the age of 8 wins a 0-25, 6 years old and over race at Mysore at 4-1 odds there is a huge problem. Our sport needs to be a lot more about performance, we need a larger programme for our better horses which unfortunately is not forthcoming. We have too much racing for bad horses and not enough racing for say the top 20% of stock that we produce. In essence what happens is that there is very little incentive to get rid of lowly rated aged horses from our tracks since the majority of our races are written for them.

In tough times hard decisions must be taken, in the breeders case its culling mares and when I say cull it means that these mares need to go out of circulation, they shouldn’t relocate from Pune to Punjab. My Surdy brethren are very quick to take back mares from Pune post sales on terms, in fact they take back more numbers than they bring to the sales in the shape of yearlings. Buyers need to be more discerning too, they need to insist on scope and vet reports from breeders or else take their business elsewhere. When they visit farms they should always ask to see the broodmares as well as next year’s stock, they should also go around farms and see the amount of paddock space provided as well as things like fodder stock. Rather than be polite, buyers should ask questions and do more research as to what they are buying into, you wouldn’t buy a new car or TV on a lark, the same holds good whenever one is buying livestock too. So best of luck for the sales to all the breeders, we’re going to get tanned in the blazing Pune sun, lets hope our rears don’t get tanned as well!

Happy New Year?

2013 is history and now we look forward to 2014, the real classics ie the Derbies, Oaks and St Legers are going to come thick and fast over the next two months culminating in the Invitation Weekend at Hyderabad. One of the best things to happen in Indian Racing recently was the opening of the Invitation Cup to older horses in 2013. We finally get to crown a true champion who can beat all ages and all comers over the mile and a half trip. Though I’m sure the Bangalore handicapper would love to see us run the Invitation cup over 6 Furlongs!

Its been a harsh year for the racing and breeding industry in India, while our racing slides towards mediocrity under the outdated club system, breeders and others connected with the sport too suffer. One of the worst things to ever happen in our breeding industry was the utter neglect of horses at Doaba Stud which got nationwide coverage on news channels and social media. It was truly pathetic to see how cruelly these poor animals were treated. Its a really bad situation at the erstwhile stud farm that stood a breed shaping stallion like Everyday II. The previous generation of masters at this historic nursery were the brothers Kr Ramkishen Singh and Kr Rajendra Singh, both men whom I knew ever since I was a little kid. Both these gentlemen conducted themselves with honour in the breeding industry and were well known the world over. Kr Rajendra Singh, the younger of the two brothers and father of the current owner was very well known internationally as a highly respected horseman, he was once requested by no less than Coolmore Stud to sort out Last Tycoon with whom they were having problems in the breeding shed, something that he did so successfully. Its really sad to see things come to this. While one doesn’t condone in any way the actions of the current owner, what happened there is an amalgamation of how things are getting from bad to worse for the breeding industry. A current glut due to overproduction caused mainly by certain farms which have ballooned up all over the country in the past decade, added to this are many farms who have increased their mare numbers to well over 150. I myself have decreased my mares at Dashmesh from a peak of 110 to 65 and might even consider reducing further in order to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. The worldwide breeding industry has rebounded after a slump when the world economy went into recession, fuelled to a large extent by the royal family of Qatar where the young princes have been bitten by the racing bug. Unfortunately India still remains far from the world’s vision when it comes to racing and breeding. Despite our horses excelling whenever they have got the rare chance to race abroad, India rarely gets a mention on the world stage.

What is the solution to all this? Its actually very simple but it takes guts to bell the cat which nobody is willing to do so. We must see to the business of how our sport is run today, since it is a state subject we need to petition the state governments to lower betting taxes on the tote and to go ahead and ban the archaic institution of bookmaking. All over the world wherever racing is successful and prize money levels high we find one thing in common, a totalizator monopoly, places that come to mind are Japan, USA, France, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. On the flip side is the United Kingdom with a glut of racing, bookmakers and abysmal prize money levels. Another thing lacking is the presence of a via media by which our Racing Authorities can liaise with their respective State Governments. Not one of the states which conduct racing and earn solid revenues from it have a state Horse Racing Board, on which members of the government, bureaucracy as well as stakeholders in the sport sit. Considering racing is deemed a sport, by the esteemed Supreme Court and the fact that our current minister for Sport and Youth Affairs Jitendra Singh is from a very successful horse breeding family which ran the Alwar Stud I don’t think any of the Turf Clubs have ever bothered to speak with him and discuss the problems that our sport faces. We are an industry that provides no less than 20,000 permanent jobs and many more ancillary jobs but we must get our heads out of our butts and understand the same. The previous generations were ashamed of our sport since it is linked with gambling which is considered a vice by our pseudo socialist attitudes. Gambling is something that is a fact of life in India and it is intertwined in our belief systems too, one forgets that in the Mahabharata, Yudhishtra lost his kingdom while gambling. Its about time we produced a product on which a person can bet confidently and legally rather than drive it underground to illegal bookies. Everybody loses when an illegal bet is placed, the government, the sport, the professionals and even the punter since bookies often shave points off what should be the true odds.

Anyway lets talk about the positives in our sport. Recently the Punjab Government has passed a law to allow racing and gambling on racing in the agrarian state. A superb piece of land has been identified by the government for the project, it lies on the banks of the Sutlej river only 8 Km from the municipal limits of Punjab’s industrial hub and largest city Ludhiana. A Punjab Horse Racing Board is to be formed and the intention is to have a tote monopoly as well as a statewide license to operate betting shops. The intended track will be operated by a Company and talks with a professional outfit with requisite experience are at a pretty advanced stage. The Punjab Infrastructural Development Board (PIDB) is the nodal agency for the project, things are looking very positive at the present moment and we hope to conduct our first race meeting, God willing by 2015 end. Since we feed the nation from our little hardworking state maybe we can teach India how a real racing business is run as well. So on that happy note as hope springs eternal in the new year a very happy 2014 to all of you and may God bless the horses!

Racing & Breeding in India Part 3: Are we racing for excellence?

Last week’s races at Bangalore threw up a couple of startling facts, Indian racing today is set up to cater to inferior horses.  I went through the card for Last Friday’s races and found that the way the prospectus (conditions book) is being written is way off the mark.  Indian racing as a whole caters to mediocrity, there is very little done by the turf clubs to reward excellence.  Bangalore Turf Club is a micro-chasm of how something that is good and successful can be destroyed by myopic men with myopic policies.  8 races were carded on Friday; there is a very nice conditions race for 3 year olds which ought to be interesting and might even throw up an unexposed classic contender for the winter season ahead.  There are two races for horses rated 0-25, 4 year olds and over, two races for horses rated 20-45, another race for horses rated 20-45, 5 year olds and over a race for horses rated 40-65 and another race for horses rated 60 and above (a relatively new innovation at Bangalore).  In other words there are three races which are reserved for horses rated below 45 who are above the age of 4 and are confirmed to be runners of inferior quality.  You can pluck out any race day at Bangalore through the year and the racecard will look very similar to this.  Now look at the open company races in which Three Year olds are eligible, there will be older runners who are just going in for, “runs” so that the handicapper who incidentally writes this shit-sheet can drop them in the handicap.  Its simple, make a lower class and the lower you go, certain trainers and owners will figure out a way to reach there.  Yes, one can understand that if we had a shortage of horses being supplied into the industry then just to card races we need to cater to the lower rated horses but we have a glut.  Today our tracks are bursting at the seams and there is a huge shortage of stables being faced by every single club.  Due to poorly structured quota systems inferior horses can get into the system easier than superior horses as they sell much cheaper. Since our racetracks cannot cater to the numbers of horses being produced and don’t throw out aged and inferior runners fast enough, the knock on effect that this is having is that many stud farms are going out of business, this equates in a loss of jobs and livelihood for a large number of people like syces, farriers, suppliers etc.

Apart from Bangalore this is an endemic problem in each and every racing jurisdiction in India.  At RWITC for example more than 50% of the stock is rated below 33, this in itself is a very shocking statistic.  Over and above this there is no cap on the age of a horse that is allowed to race irrespective of its rating. One keeps on hearing from Western India owners and trainers that so and so horse isn’t Western India class, when 50% of the stock is rated at an international rating of 5 there is something very very wrong in the way that the sport is structured. When you consider that every race day in Western India has numerous divisions for horses rated from 1 to 26 you actually realise how poor the bulk of racing at this centre is.

Mysore is another place where inferior quality horses dominate, they recently started showing live races on the net so out of curiosity I tuned in to see their baby race, the winner takes home a solid purse but the quality of horses on display was abysmal. Apart from one horse that weighed in at 418 Kg the balance of the field was south of 400 Kg with the earth shattering weight of 330 kg carried on the frame of a horse called Vroom Vroom, now 330 Kilos is a weight that a good weanling would weigh in November not even a yearling, a weanling, ie a horse that is about 9 months old! The prize money on offer at Mysore is very remunerative, yet the quality of horses are possibly the worst in India and from what one hears about the level of fixing at this centre its truly shocking. A couple of years ago one of their trainers was busted for putting stones under a horse’s saddlecloth in order to stop him, if I’m not mistaken the bloke has been granted his license again and the show goes on.

Hyderabad has races for horses rated 25 and below, these races have got to be the worst category of races run in India today, slow banged up horses are being given a chance to earn money when they would be of better service in a riding school. Hyderabad with its overly protectionist attitude has caused their racing to dip to abysmal levels as a whole, a huge exception being trainer LVR Deshmukh. For the first time since JS Dhariwal left Hyderabad to set up base in Bangalore almost a decade ago, a trainer truly broke through on an All India level. Deshmukh has always been ambitious and targeted many of the plums at other centres but with sporadic success. In 2012-13 he had the stock and he had them firing on all cylinders, he travelled them to Bombay, Pune, Bangalore and even as far as Calcutta with immense success and he bagged many of the country’s plum events. You’d expect him to sail away with the trainers championship every winter season at his home centre but he has to fight very hard, why? His horses find themselves in the higher classes and as such winning or rather running opportunities for them are few and far between. His closer pursuers on the other hand have plenty of horses rated below 50 or even 25 and the opportunity afforded to these nags is much higher than is available to Deshmukh’s top end runners. Hyderabad does have a fair terms system too which one must say is better than most other clubs but one is seeing more lower class races dividing nowadays and shorter fields in the terms races.

All these problems have arisen due to the protectionist, socialist policies followed by our racing authorities, without realising that “Racing” by nature is a capitalist sport, my horse is faster than your horse its as simple as that. Racing is broken into two separate streams the better quality horses compete against each other on terms according to races or prize money won or at level weights (after allowing a standard sex allowance). The other stream for inferior horses is the handicap route, the big problem with handicapping is that it is very open to human interpretation and humans as is their wont are never perfect and human frailty often gets the better of them and as such huge errors are committed. When a 0-25 race for horses 5 years old and over is won by a low level handicapper by 8 lengths! Then Mr Handicapper sir, somebody has played you and circumvented the system. The problem faced is that racing authorities have skewed the sport too heavily towards handicap racing, when they could at least fit in more conditions events for better quality horses rather than drive them towards the handicap system too. The current system by which things work is as follows; you can run your horse in three maiden special weight terms races where if you don’t win you get a low rating, usually 25 for fillies and 28 for colts. Very few trainers target to win a maiden race, most of the time the attitude is to run down the field three times and get a low rating get fitter and then target a handicap race off a really low weight. If you win a race the handicapper gives you a thumping penalty, usually approximately 20 points and then rather than get to run in a conditions race you get driven into the morass of the handicapping system. This is where unscrupulous practices start as well, trying to cheat the system by manipulating your horse’s performance to get a rating that is lower than your horse’s ability so that you can make a sure thing of your horse and have a thumping bet.

Another problem being faced in Bangalore is the lack of long distance races. Training over shorter trips is simple, run your horse a few times and it will reach a level of fitness where it can win. This is not so easy when you have to do this over a longer trip, training horses to go a distance is where the ability of a top trainer really gets tested. The ability to get your horse fit to run the Derby distance over a mile and a half really separates the men from the boys. How to space your fast works, what pace to canter every morning, how much to feed etc. these questions only arise when you got to go over a trip. Similarly jockeys learn how to judge pace, time their runs, settle their horses etc. when they ride over longer distances. Overall the Indian thoroughbred suffers as a breed too, since the Derby is still run over a mile and a half trip shouldn’t we offer some encouragement to breeders to breed for that rather than for a gamble for horses rated at 25 and below. I remember as a kid in Bangalore Summer season one got to see later developing stayers stretch out in trip and come into their own. More recently my filly Conceptual was trained into the Mile and three quarter St Leger off a mile prep race, absolutely unheard of anywhere in the world, testament to the filly and her trainer that she won. Another story relating to the same horse was when we were prepping for the Stayers’ Cup in Mumbai, Conceptual was supposed to have a lead up race in the mile and a half Stayers’ Trial which was approximately 40 days before the big race. Unfortunately only two horses accepted and BTC in their wisdom voided the race, as a result we ran the Stayers’ Cup off a 90 odd day gap, the slight lack of fine tuning cost us as we knuckled under to Maseeha in the last 50 metres of the race to go down by 3/4 of a length. The fine margins in sport are only understood by those involved in the sport as sportsmen and coaches not by somebody who spends most of his time behind a desk. Yes business is great at Bangalore but is racing a business or a sport? We must always look at the business aspect but we mustn’t forget that racing is a sport first and a business next.

My good friend Anil Mukhi is the only journalist in India that writes about the frailties of the current system http://www.indiarace.com/FullReview.aspx?ReviewId=3399 and as a person based out of Canada he is well versed in how the sport is run in North America. Handicap racing has been replaced there by claiming races. If you want to compete at the higher end of the sport there are plenty of graded and stakes races, if one isn’t good enough for these then there are allowance or in other words conditions (terms) races where one carries an assigned weight depending on races won. If a horse is not of that quality level then there is what makes up the bread and butter of the sport there, the claiming system. The claiming system by nature is self handicapping, claiming races run from a claiming value as low as $2500 all the way up to $ 150,000. The best thing about this system is that it prevents people from cheating, since if there is a horse that is run in a claiming race that horse can be claimed by any other trainer or registered owner for its assigned claiming price. In other words if I run my superior horse in inferior company, I run the risk of losing that horse to another shrewd trainer or owner who keep their ear to the ground and know that my horse is worth more than the value it is running for. This inbuilt check discourages people from giving their horses runs to bring it further down the scale as somebody might claim it. Further this system also keeps horses and money circulating, for example if I want to come into the sport as a new owner I can test the waters in a simple way with limited liability. Say there is a claiming race of horses worth Rs. 300,000 all one has to do to own any horse in that race is to pony up Rs. 300,000 and be the proud owner without any clandestine dealing as might be required today.

We need to change the status quo, unfortunately its very easy to get comfortable in mediocrity. Bangalore is attempting to weed out non performers but in my humble opinion they are giving a very long rope for duds to perform. Similarly inferior trainers and jockeys too are able to carry on in the system, see how Hong Kong does it, they have set a strict performance criteria which is adhered to and if you cannot cut it your license is revoked, something trainers like Peter Chapple Hyam and David Hill found out. In India currently we have state mandated hooking allowed wherein one uses a bad jockey on one’s horse and bring it down in the handicap and then wait 3 weeks and fancy the horse with a good jockey up, when you win by 8 lengths against similar level aged nags, nobody even asks a question. Theoretically shouldn’t every horse be on job every time? Think about it.

Indian Racing & Breeding: Part 2: The Club System, Way Past its sell by date.

Racing is a game that traces its origins to agrarian societies around the world. Horses were the equivalent of what cars are these days and were the chosen beast for transport or burden, its only natural that its inherent running ability was harnessed and used for racing as sport. It became a pastime of the wealthier landed gentry, the lords and landed gentlemen of I would think mainly European countries started running an organised system where you could place bets against each other or with professional bookmakers who became vital for racing to start getting treated as a business. This encouraged many like minded individuals to form clubs which would conduct meetings where horses would race against each other. While other sports have moved on from the system where sports were run as clubs whether it be Cricket, Hockey, Tennis or Football, Indian racing has continued to conduct the sport under the aegis of clubs.  Golf is a great example where individual spread of the sport was nurtured through smaller local level golf clubs but when it came to becoming a proper tour affiliated with world golf, it was run by an association. Furthermore the sport has boomed all over the country as more and more privately run courses have opened up all over India.  Our various racing clubs come under the banner of the Turf Authorities of India, I might have written about them but the TAI are a toothless body which actually has no real enforcement powers.

Clubs in the earlier days were the best way to pool your resources together since it was cost prohibitive for any individual to attempt such a large endeavour except maybe royalty who encouraged the pastime and were involved themselves in most cases, ergo the monicker, “The Sport Of Kings.” Soon betting became the vital financial fuel that the sport required and clubs would charge bookmakers on course to take bets on the races. This is the system that we still use in India, the stall fee that bookmakers pay, clubs like Delhi Race Club derive almost their entire funding from here, an antiquated business principle, not years from its sell by date but possibly a century. While clubs were good for the growth of racing in the earlier years, over a period of time they have become inefficient quasi-governmental organisations. Along with that come inefficiencies in their system of functioning, such as arbitrary decision making and the impression that vested interests indulge in favouritism and nepotism in the system. In India we elect committee members and stewards by a process of elections, these people are from the general body of the club which may or may not have the correct candidates with the requisite experience to administer the sport. Most of the time the people who do get elected are more or less in an honorary capacity and most definitely not on a full time basis.

As it stands today not one of our clubs has a professional Chief Executive Officer who takes decisions on behalf of the club. The defacto head of the club is the secretary who isn’t qualified at all in running administration, marketing, finance etc. for a sport. There is a general feeling that a level playing field does not exist for all when it comes to punishing wrong-doers and corruption in the sport. Another huge problem under the club system is the fact that there is no proper profit motive. As a result of this nobody’s pocket gets effected and that leads to poor decision making with no consequences to any individual. If the Club loses money nobody’s life in the committee or general body gets effected. Take the case of the RCTC which was at one time THE premier club under the British Empire, their asset base was awesome and India aside they owned very valuable property in the centre of London too. Corrupt officials in connivance with a corrupt committee got rid of this property for a pittance.  Apart from this scam, officials in the system pilfered money from the club’s reserves the result was that racing almost ceased to exist at Calcutta. What has happened to the perpetrators of the fraud committed earlier, absolutely nothing, they still roam around as respectable members of society, without so much as a censure. Fortunately there has been a huge revival over there of late because the biggest owner in Calcutta Mr. Deepak Khaitan took over the reins of the club recently. He negotiated a good deal to develop property owned by the club in the centre of town, this corpus fund was used to increase stake money, facilities and to stabilise the finances of the club. They are attempting to streamline the running of the RCTC along the lines of a professional company.

Unfortunately most clubs in India are run by mediocre men with absolutely no experience in running any sort of business, leave alone a multi crore business which effects the livelihood of thousands of people, directly or indirectly. The red tape within the system is an absolute shame and unfortunately even the various officials of the clubs are hellishly mediocre and would struggle to hold jobs under more organised and better run racing jurisdictions. The quality of stiping has been on the wane recently and many decisions taken by stewards have been absurd, I am pretty sure many of them aren’t even aware of the rules that they race under. Would this be acceptable in a professionally run setup, I doubt it very much. Since the bottom line doesn’t effect any individual person’s pocket there is a complete lack of proper forward planning, neither is there any liaising with the government at the local or central level.

Think about it Hong Kong started their racing under RCTC rules today the Hong Kong Jockey Club which is under professional management handles over ₹ 60,000 crores in stake money. Most countries around the world have professional bodies run by qualified people running their sport such as the Japan Racing Association in Japan or France Galop in France, similarly in The USA you have NYRA running the three main New York tracks; Saratoga, Belmont and Acqueduct or Stronach Racing which runs Santa Anita in Southern California, Pimlico in Baltimore and Gulfstream Park in Florida among a host of other tracks. Churchill Downs Racing operates Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, Louisiana Downs in Louisiana and Calder in Florida once again with professional management in place and a public listing on the stock exchange. Churchill Downs has turned their showpiece event the Kentucky Derby into the hottest property in the sport of racing. The buck must stop with somebody and when somebody’s pocket gets effected they will take care whenever they make a decision.

On the flipside we have Indian racing; One of our premier racing centres Madras has been taken over by one owner because he controls the club. Similarly Delhi Race Club is run by a very old President who too controls the politics of the club and despite the fact that it sits in the capital of India, Delhi has a shameful racing setup. Rumour has it that many years ago the Delhi Race Club was offered ample land in a different part of town called Dwarka near the airport to make a modern racing facility, no professional sports body should have rejected such an offer but Delhi Race Club did because the committee is too comfortable to stay where they are since none of them are going to profit personally from a move, who loses? Only racing.

All in all the club system is well past its sell by date. While one can get good regimes like RCTC has, more often than not the sport gets damaged such as in Madras and Delhi. Jurisdictions like Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai have both pros and cons associated with the club system. Further on in another post, I intend to address problems faced in each separate racing jurisdiction in the country.

Indian Racing, where are we headed? Part 1: An introduction.

I have been involved in Racing in India for well over 30 years now, I have owned horses in every centre and every turf authority that conducts racing in India today. The primary reason for me to start this blog is because our sport is stagnating badly in the last few years and I wish to record my thoughts on a sport which I love as a fan and also as a source of livelihood. I’m an opinionated person and many of the things I say, others might not agree with but at the same time I love a healthy debate and am also flexible in my thoughts provided you can convince me. So what are we talking about? Recently racing has had bad publicity over the handling of various cases such as Martin Dwyer’s suspension handed down by RWITC which the BHA has chosen not to reciprocate. A similar controversy was created when champion English jockey Richard Hughes was handed a suspension for his riding of Jacqueline Smile last year. Recently Jacqueline Smile’s erstwhile trainer Hormuz Antia was roughed up by disgruntled punters when a favourite of his tanked at Pune and its stablemate, a longshot won. These are just a few incidents but every Racing jurisdiction in India has had its fair share of controversy as well as problems in the recent past.

How is the sport conducted in India? Racing is something that was left behind by the British Raj in India, there was a time when every army cantonment (Read British Army base) had its own racecourse and racing was very much part of the social fabric of the imperial rulers of India. Our oldest racecourse In Madras was setup in 1777. Post independence the sport went into steep decline, something that is borne out by the fact that so many towns all over India have a Racecourse Road but not a Racecourse! The socialist structure that India chose was never going to be conducive for racing to thrive in the country but many soldiered on and kept the sport alive, the main people involved in the sport were the Royalty of India the Maharajas and Nawabs and racing truly was the sport of kings. Racing evolved over a period of time and was the country of choice for all the top English jockeys in the winter when flat racing went into hibernation for the winter. The introduction of tote betting alongside bookmakers was a major innovation, I’m not too sure when it was introduced but it became an important factor in the 80s.

I don’t want to waste too much time explaining how the sport is structured in India but here is a link to its wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_racing#India, which I just sorted out today. Over the next couple of weeks I intend on going on record with the numerous problems that plague the racing and breeding industry. I would love suggestions from anybody who would like to get involved.