The general consensus among racing people this year has been that the just concluded Bangalore Summer Season has been the worst in history, as a regular over the last thirty years, I definitely think so. A myriad of reasons have caused India’s only national season to fall to the depths that it has. Every single thing that makes racing good has been compromised on and as a result standards plummeted to what has never been witnessed before. One hardly saw races for horses rated 80 and above, in old terms, Class One. No 60-85 races which were always interesting, instead we got this new 60 and above class, which simply just wasn’t as much fun. Depleted quality in Maiden Special Weight races was another thing that was apparent, in the old days some really top horses emerged in these races like Elusive Pimpernel, Adler, Berlioz, Noble Prince, Classical Act and Continual, I doubt we saw any horses of that level emerge this season.
The one person who it seems has reached the end of his tether is the handicapper, the committee has given him way too much power, he frames a majority of the racing policies, he frames the prospectus and he decides which race to divide and which race to void and which race to ballot out horses from. He has reached a point where he has left the sport in shambles and should own moral responsibility for the crap we witnessed in the name of racing and hand in his papers.
First thing that is way out of wack is how the prospectus is framed, the handicapper has helped the BTC have no need for a round circuit track, we may as well have a 6 furlong half track as he sees it fit only to card sprints. Since there is a paucity of space, BTC may as well build stables on the balance 800 metres. On the penultimate week, we had no fewer than six 1200 Metre races in a seven race card. The handicapper has created a system of mediocrity all around and since our biggest races such as the Derbies and the Invitation Cup are run at distances beyond 2000 Metres, its very understandable that the local contingent was able to pick up only four graded races over the entire season. Only one of these races was at a Mile and a Half and the win in that was testament more to the talents of Isn’t She Special’s trainer, S Padmanabhan than any help from the system (in fact due to a lack of opportunity, this same filly was perceived to be a non stayer until she won the Indian Oaks). The Champion horse of the season Amazing Grace owned by Vijay Mallya was lucky to find herself in the Liquor Baron’s Western India operation under Pesi Shroff rather than in Bangalore, where I doubt she’d have reached the heights that she has. Amazing Grace made her debut over 10 Furlongs in Bombay which she duly won, after this she was stepped up into the mile and a half Oaks and Indian Derby where she performed well enough but not enough to win, after picking up another long distance race in Bombay she headed to Bangalore where she won a mile race, then a graded race Hat Trick via the Chief Justice Cup (9 furlongs), Maharaja’s Cup (11Furlongs) and topped it out in a 3 runner St. Leger (14 Furlongs), expectedly 2 of the 3 runners were from outstation. Now if this filly had been with Jaggy or Suleiman they would have compulsorily had to start her career likely over a maximum of 7 Furlongs and would have had only one chance to run over a trip until the end of Bangalore Summer Season in her three year old career that too in the Summer Derby, Shroff has only had to cut her back to a mile for her first run this Summer season. This is why stayers rarely reach the heights in Bangalore.
The boring and mundane short distance racing one sees is due to The handicapper’s myopic vision which he put into force many years ago, unfortunately nobody questioned it and as a result things have now reached a point where we simply go through the motions, akin to seeing only 100 metre races in Atheletics, one division for the top end another for women, another for runners who are over 30, another for runners over 50 another for runners with missing toes and achilles tendons, another for runners over 60 who have had a hip replacement and another for fat guys etc. etc. you get the point. Bangalore racing rarely even stretches to a mile as a result we are now producing inferior jockeys who have never ridden over a trip, trainers who have lost the ability to train for stamina as well and horses who are bred to run longer distances being forced to sprint instead. Mo Farah wouldn’t stand a chance in a 100 or even 400 metre race, would he? Similarly a filly liked Winged Foot who won the Bangalore Oaks of 2014 when rated 38 needs to run a full mile and a half to really show her true colours. Yet here we are forced to run sons of Ascot Gold Cup winners over a 6 or 7 furlong trip and then wonder why they run so poorly.
Races must have 8 runners is the rule followed in Bangalore and when there are 16 or more acceptors then races are divided. Even the division system is flawed, rather than equated divisions, where there is an even split of runners, here the better runners go to the higher division while the lower division gets the inferior horses. Another backward thought process that is put into practice is that if a class 2 and class 5 race are dividing but as a result there is a card in excess of 8 or 9 races then the shittier race is divided and the better race goes to balloting. Normal intelligent human beings would have it the other way around but here its never about competence its as they say in India, “Like That only.”
Next comes his handicapping where he has created a system whereby one is encouraged to be a non trier since after winning as he slams you with penalties that are so draconian that it often causes horses to retire, its happened with two mares I owned years ago called South Sea and Hoorpari. Its as if he overcompensates for earlier errors when he rates horses. Both these fillies won by too much, as a result they got slammed penalties so heavy that they simply stopped being competitive so we just retired them rather than keep running for the sake of it to find a fair handicap mark again. The idea of handicapping is to equate every horse’s chances in a race so that people are encouraged to bet on a spread of horses in a race rather than have a one sided betting affair. Unfortunately when one sees the racecard its rather obvious which horse will win as every trainer in Bangalore has figured out Mr. Handicapper’s style and race their horses as such. If you try your horse every single time you have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. Take the case of Cape Ferrat he is a genuine horse who has got rogered by the handicapper so badly that it took him more than 700 days between races to win when he won on the penultimate week of racing. On the flip-side see a horse called Brownie who was rated 41, has been run without being tried and won a race by dropping 21 points in a six month period. The champion trainer of the Summer Amit Caddy has the handicapper figured out to a T and he has reaped the rewards. Full marks to the young man who has mastered the system of Bangalore’s handicapper and its system of racing, he has performed admirably within the system created at BTC. A majority of his winners made the handicapper look really bad as horses won sub 45 rated races for age group horses in a common canter, with the jockey looking around at the bend if anything was coming from behind, nothing ever was most of the time. Further the trainer’s winners got some insanely huge penalties which his runners further defied, he was that far ahead of the Handicapper. The handicapper’s failure as a racing person has been glaring, he has forgotten that this a sport and yes a business too but first and foremost a SPORT!
Riding instructions are pretty straightforward, good jump, try and get to the rails hold up till 300 out and go for it. We ooh and aah when we see Richard Hughes hold up a horse and produce it at just the right time to win Group ones, here our boys do not have the luxury of holding up as in a sprint you have to be up there or you are accused of stopping your horse. Training is a form of art and the top purveyors of this art like Rashid Byramji, Sir Henry Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute, Aidan O Brien, Vincent O Brien, Woody Stephens, Bobby Frankel, Andre Fabre, Francois Boutin, Ettiene Pollet and Charlie Whittingham are not known because they trained top horses at Six and Seven Furlongs they are known for their records in classics and the shortest classic is run over a mile and the longest over a mile and three quarters. When you train for longer trips you must work your horses over long clippy canters, balance it with the proper pace work usually a mile gallop. This must be balanced with the right amount of feed and the right amount of exertion so that a horse runs at its peak on Derby Day!
The St Leger had 3 runners, the reason being that there is no proper programme that leads up to the St Leger, further to that is the draconian system the handicapper follows, if a 40 rated horse beats a 100 rated runner and places in the first three, he actually puts that horse up to the level of the beaten runner and as a result the horse ends up way out of scale. This pretty much chases away genuine contenders who are sitting lower in the scale due to the lack of long distance opportunities. How do we fix this? Its actually pretty simple, there should be ample opportunity at every trip all the way from Five and a Half Furlongs all the way up to a mile and a half. Rather than skew the system in favour of shorter trips, there needs to be a proper programme for Sprinters, Milers, Middle Distance runners and Stayers. We need to card at least one 10 Furlong plus race on every race day, boost the prize money of these races and see that they are gone through irrespective of whether there are seven runners or more in these races. In fact if only one runner accepts, go through the formalities of a walkover if need be. Once the owners and trainers see that prize money is going a begging you’ll find them get a lot more adventurous and running over longer trips.
Another huge factor in this entire problem is the quota system, something that was put into force first by Hyderabad Race Club in order to save their local trainers and owners from fair outstation competition. This was something that was done at the cost of SPORT. Racing when you have these restrictions suffers, as a lack of competition breeds laziness and as it is in many fields you improve when you compete with the best. You don’t learn how to play pace bowling by facing Vinay Kumar or Manoj Prabhakar you learn by facing, Andy Roberts, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson and Dale Steyn. Competition in sport must always be unfettered and be about the best beating the best. As a result of the quota system many more competent trainers have their numbers restricted while less competent trainers are treated on an equal footing due to what must be perceived to be a, “Fair System.” This is sport mate and nothing in sport should ever be equated, the best must thrive and the bad must perish. Do we treat Sachin Tendulkar and any other batsman the same way, the answer is a big fat NO. A system needs to come about where the top end of the sport must be nurtured and one must create conditions where the mediocre must pull up their socks or else they must be forced to quit. Treating a trainer who has a strike rate of 6% the same as a trainer who fires at 22% winners to runners is plain wrong. There must be norms in place where the guy who isn’t performing must be warned that his performance must improve and if it doesn’t he must be de-licensed like in Hong Kong. Similarly the BTC must understand that they are running a business and certain trainers’ horses attract a hell of a lot more betting than others, as a result of which BTC earns a commission of 4% of every Rupee bet. In return BTC provides these trainers with valuable real estate in the shape of stables for their horses. Now isn’t it normal for you to give a higher commission to the man who earns you more money than another colleague, similarly you have to create a system and atmosphere where the trainer who is earning you less money is made to suffer to a point where he either earns you more money or he quits. Racing isn’t a Socialist Democracy its supposed to be a Capitalist Meritocracy, perform or perish.
The level of stiping is abysmal, as a result trainers and jockeys are stopping horses at will without ever being hauled up by the stipes. The entire team needs to be sent during the hiatus from racing to work in Hong Kong, America or Europe and taught what their job is. On the last weekend I saw a jockey whom I rarely use and now never will, give a stone cold run to a Filly of mine in a seven furlong maiden set. I could make it out but the stipes, I can guarantee you will not even question the ride. This is how it went down; my horse didn’t have a great chance of winning on paper, the trainer asked for the jockey to take a good jump and sit up as close to the pace as possible and do his best from there, instead the jockey takes a tug on jumping out and rode as if he was stoned the whole way and covered a few in the stretch. Honestly I thought that the race was made up on the winner as even the other jockeys including the Runner Up were very half assed in their attempt to win. Instead of the leaders if one was to look at the last five horses in every race, you’ll see exactly how every single one is ridden in other words its how a run is given. Similarly there is another perceived to be top jockey who rather than attempt to win is busier in interfering with fancied runners instead. I’ve noticed two cases which were blatant and if one were to sit down and watch every race run I’m sure a man with coke bottle glasses would find another dozen such cases unfortunately the stipes pick up NOTHING! The Result of incompetent officials is more fixing in racing.
The Committee of Bangalore Turf Club should understand that the bureaucracy of the club is making them look bad. Similar to how red tapism and bad bureaucratic babudom makes the world perceive that their politicians are useless. The committee and stewards find themselves unfairly blamed and they should understand that they have the power to crack the whip on the salaried employees of the club who aren’t competent at their jobs. The whole system needs an overhaul with a very different attitude, structure and a fresher and more modern system. We need to balance racing out over every distance and have races over varying trips in every class of racing. Similarly we need to have more conditions races for our better class runners. The bottom quality races should be claiming races as the sword of having their hooked horse claimed will prevent further malpractice which is rampant as off now. The handicapper is completely at sea and most trainers know how much he is going to drop them and when he is going to drop them, this is a massive problem and is causing the sport to suffer. Age group racing needs to be discontinued in the entire country as this is a remnant of the 70s which has now run amuck. Age group racing was encouraged because there was a shortage of horses to fill up cards all over the country as the breeding industry wasn’t breeding enough youngstock to populate the various clubs’ stables. Today there is a glut and a very heavy level of overproduction.
Currently Bangalore racing is all about horses aged 4 and over who carry a sub 40 rating. To put it in perspective the champion trainer won 19 races, his best victory was in an open company 40-65 set, his 19 winners had an average rating of 30.8 further to this he claimed an allowance of about 3.8 rating points through creative use of apprentice jockeys which means his average winner effectively ran off’ve a rating of 27. Racing and sport is supposed to be about excellence, isn’t it? The 2014 Bangalore Summer Season was far from it, it was gritty grimy gambling and not at all about sport.