Too Much!  Way too much!!

Our racing industry is facing a huge problem right now.  We have too much of everything, we breeders are breeding too many horses and unfortunately more often than not more bad horses than good.  Too many trainers have been licensed, too many substandard jockeys keep on plying their trade.  Our racing jurisdictions are framing too many races and as a result the entire level of our industry has fallen.

Unfortunately at the top level nothing has changed, we have regressed.  If one were to look at the trainers’ tally no new names can be found.  There are exceptions though and interestingly all the exceptions are trainers who got their grounding under top people over a period of time and thus got their licenses.  Two names that immediately spring to mind are Sulaiman Attaollahi and M Srinivas Reddy.  The former who is a third generation trainer initially had an interest in riding which manifested itself into an interest in racing, he worked at Nanoli Stud after which he joined Vijay Mallya’s URBB and assisted champion trainer the late Jaggy Dhariwal.  M Srinivas Reddy or Srinu as he is fondly known as on the other  hand has been assistant to Hyderabad’s leading trainer Vittal Deshmukh for a very long time.  Both have had breakthrough years in 2015 and since experience is key in the sport expect both these guys to get better and better over the years.

Unfortunately both these young men are exceptions and the majority of trainers licensed in the past five or so years aren’t exactly setting the Thames on fire.   As our stake money struggles to keep pace with inflation the earning potential in the sport is not quite up there to attract the quality of person that the sport attracted in the 70s, 80s and 90s who wanted to become trainers.  In those days it was a huge thing to hold a trainers’ license.  Not many know this but the late Madhav Mangalorkar ran away from home in Pune in trainer BP Shivan’s float.  Once Shivan told his parents that their son was safe and sound, Madhav started working for him and then went on to become an all time great trainer in the sport.

Unfortunately in recent years our sport has stopped being about excellence its all about mediocrity.  Nowadays you see a jockey punch the air when winning a B class 6 years old and over race.  Trainers getting excited about winning similar races and breeders send you whatsapp messages about winning some ruptuppy race in Mysore one wonders what the hell is going on?  So if you do indeed read my blog please understand that winning “A” race is no big deal and if you put some bookies out of business good for you, the rest of us couldn’t care less.  Yes be satisfied you won but honestly I don’t want to know about it.  When you win a big huge one, a graded race or a classic go nuts, break chairs, break bones, thump and puff your chest out since you’ve, “achieved” something and well done, we’re all impressed.  If you need lessons in celebratory aggression I’m available for coaching.

Too much of substandard racing has slowly eroded the general enthusiasm for the sport.  Substandard horses is what the authorities have catered to at the detriment of the upper Twenty Five percentile of the sport.  The difference in purse money awarded at the lowest levels needs to be cut and cut drastically.  Similarly stakes for the higher classes need to go up exponentially.  I know the majority of professionals would be against such a move but unfortunately you sir are only cutting your own feet or you aren’t capable of training good horses.  Interestingly every year towards the end of Hyderabad Winter season Vittal Deshmukh who performs admirably with his “quota” of horses finds that suddenly his lead starts diminishing because there are fewer races for his horses who find themselves in the higher categories for example a horse like Machiavellianism probably gets one opportunity to run every month.  On the flipside the category three and four stock get 8 opportunities to run every month.  I do understand that the so called low end stock holds up the pyramid but when it comes to purse money there ought to be an inverted pyramid.  This would create a situation where there is at least a temptation to excel and earn more in prize money.  

My pet hate has always been low end age group racing which has been propagated to insane levels by the Bangalore handicapper.  Its an odd one as I don’t think there is really a need for this.   There was a time when India produced a very small number of horses so clubs encouraged stock to race for longer since lets face it numbers make up our cards.  In recent times we’ve got an opposite situation whereby our racetracks are bursting at the seams as we have too many horses being produced in India.  We need to cull out our bottom end stock and encourage excellence, what say? Shouldn’t that be the idea in any performance sport? Do you want to see Virat Kohli kicking ass in his prime or would you prefer seeing Kapil Dev playing in a 50 years and over cricket tournament.  It’s about time that our Turf Authorities banned the framing of age group races, if a horse is capable of beating younger stock in open company, kudos and so be it thats how it works the world over.  A great example is Red Cadeaux who goes for yet another Melbourne Cup at the age of 10.

A reduction in fixtures is the need of the hour, most of our raceclubs lose money on the days that they conduct live racing.  Its never happened to me before because I’ve always been an absolute racing keeda all my life but nowadays I don’t even feel like checking the results in Mysore and Delhi the quality is for the lack of a better word SHIT!  A visit to the proctologist would be about as exciting as the racing being conducted at these centres, the occasional big race aside.  It’s about time our sport returned to the glory of excellence not linger on in the hum drum of mediocrity.

The Vanishing Art of training and other musings

Indian racing is at a very serious crossroads, there was a time when becoming a trainer was a very sought after profession.  Unfortunately our sport and incomes derived from it haven’t kept up with the times or with inflation.  The result has been that there is a general lowering of quality of the sort of person that wants to train horses.  Its about time we woke up and smelt the Coffee and rectify the situation or else this is something that is going to have major ramifications for the sport in the next couple of decades when many trainers who are currently in their prime are going to start retiring.

Racing should be structured in such a way that professionals involved with it are able to earn a fair living off’ve it without having to resort to underhand means.  The commission earned for winning stakes by a trainer in India is set at a very fair 10% unfortunately when a race is worth 200,000 the trainer’s cut is a measly 20,000, in today’s day and age unfortunately that is an abysmal sum of money in the horse business.  The low stakes on offer have a domino effect on the sport as to make ends meet trainers are forced to pull off gambles and similarly in some cases even lay their short priced favourites.  This has a detrimental effect on the overall perception of the sport.  To put things in perspective last year’s champion trainer in USA; Todd Pletcher cleared stakes of $22,476,736, now 10 Percent of that is a cool $2.24 Million, that amount compares very favourably with that of an American with a posh job, it would buy you a nice apartment in mid town Manhattan and a Maserati every year.  Our top man in India will clear about Six Crores in stakes, or a commish of ₹ 60 Lakhs, would that buy you an apartment in suburban Mumbai? In other words the lucrative American game attracts top end people like our sport did in the 80s and 90s, something that is not happening today.

Unfortunately as distance races get fewer in number and age group sprint events dominate our sport (thanks BTC Handicapper), the application required and the skill required to train a horse is not needed anymore either.  It takes a lot more effort and thought plus skill to train a stayer and the number of Indian trainers who have that ability are falling exponentially.  Furthermore a big part of being a trainer is the social aspect of dealing with their owners, a minimum level of education ought to be required but when many committee members at clubs lack the same, what do you expect?  Trainers must be in a position where they can make a fair living doing the right thing.   This would make them think twice before they think about doing something underhand as it would mean jeopardising a comfortable life for a one off gain.

Indian racing has descended from being a “sport”on which one gambled into a dirty gritty casino game.  Clubs haven’t quite kept up with the times and are decades behind the world when it comes to concepts and business organisation.  While money wagered on racing has moved from on track gambling to off track in the rest of the world, backward India still harbours the concept of packing in the crowds into their overstretched facilities.  A good example is South Africa which has 92% of wagering off course and only 8% on track.

The lack of clout with governments among the various committees at our clubs means that the government treats our sport worse than shit, (at least they have sewers to dispose shit!).  Not one club has a person at the helm who can understand properly how to run a very complex and layered sport and a business.  Neither does any club employ a proper professional to administer the business aspect of the game.  We are the only legal form of gambling on mainland India but with casinos legalized in Goa and Sikkim its just a matter of time before our mothball laden industry loses its incumbent advantage to the perceived coolness of casino gambling.  I’ve been to casinos and honestly they aren’t cool but the image that they create among mass media is.  Its not James Bond sitting on a Baccarat table with a vodka martini, “shaken not stirred.” Its more like fat old redneck woman blowing her welfare cheque on a slot machine swigging cheap flat beer out of a Dixie cup.  Racing on the other hand is indeed cool, go visit Saratoga, Royal Ascot, Longchamp and many other tracks and you’ll understand what I mean.  We are a sport which is supposed to be a lifestyle event but when clubs are more into cramming the janta into their gates into their inadequate facilities there is little thought for classiness.

It boggles my mind as to how the Maharashtra Government charges an insane 20% betting tax and drives all gambling underground to illegal bookies.  This causes a multi crore loss to their own exchequer and successive committees at RWITC aren’t able to make a convincing case to show them how the government will earn more money by simply having a sensible tax structure as prevails in most successful racing jurisdictions.  The empirical data is out there but then again a good Powerpoint presentation will have to be made and I doubt RWITC has a single employee in their admin department that can make one!

During Bangalore Derby weekend, Calcutta racehorse owner Joydeep Datta Gupta gave us some really good food for thought.  Think about this; on a Monday afternoon at the races who is your audience?  Well the answer is simple, its the jobless low end punter who has nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Yes siree we are catering to the dregs and plebs instead of quality people.  Our focus is almost extortionist where the Auto driver is our audience rather than our burgeoning middle class. I’ve been racing in many parts of the world and sadly our racing is by far the most banged up, the riff raff is uncomfortably close as seen by the riot at last year’s Invitation at Mahalaxmi.

I’d be amiss if I wouldn’t mention this year’s impending Invitation Cup weekend at Chennai.  Does the non existent organisation called the Madras Race Club made up of emasculated lackeys have the ability to host such an event?  Will the racing surface be safe for the poor horses? Last time around the sand flying around on ground like a road made it look like a scene from Lawrence of Arabia.  Why did they chicken out the last time around when they were to host it? Why is their racing still recognised? In the words of a senile nut-case crook I know very well down South, “GOODLUCKGOODLUCKGOODLUCK!”

….and then one day!

The Bangalore Summer Derby is in the books now, Angel Dust’s victory was a cathartic event of sorts for a person like me.  Its a validation of my methods, my beliefs and the various people I have around me.  We are all part of a fast moving sport where you lose more often than you win, you’ve got to learn to keep your balance and never carried away with winning and losing.  Most of us who are part of this wonderful industry of racing and breeding are sociopaths of sorts and honestly getting to understand us for normal people is difficult.  Things leading up to events such as this have a long history which unfortunately rarely gets covered by our so called journalist community in Indian racing so I just thought that since my blog has got a decent amount of eyeballs I’d give you an insight into what happens behind the scenes.

Lets start with the dam line of Angel Dust, our involvement with the family starts with the grandam Nafazaka, a daughter of Caro and the mare Najidiya.  Nafazaka was a good looking mare that came into India in foal to Ela Mana Mou and was imported by the late Sajjan Kumar Jajodia.  The get from that mating produced a decent filly Swiss Maid who went on to produce Stayers Cup winner Swiss Don (by Don Micheletto) from Nakul Stud.  Further Nafazaka’s dam Najidiya was imported by Poonawalla Stud and has produced many top runners for them notable among them being classic winners Salute Her and Forever Elegance.  Anyhow Nafazaka arrived at Dashmesh on terms during the days that we had Green Forest and early on she produced the good filly Surfside who won the Calcutta St Leger, unfortunately Surfside died traveling back to Bangalore.  Nafazaka produced a number of foals none of which were spectacular with the Local Talent colt Muscat Ranger probably the best of them, he won quite a few races at Hyderabad but nothing out of the ordinary.  Unfortunately for Nafazaka her career was severely damaged due to the fact that she visited our resident stallion Local Talent very often and I’d be the first to say that he was a truly bad sire, so bad that the damage he caused Dashmesh has lasted almost two decades.  This is a business where you need to make quick calls and the one thing you must never do is to give your resident stallion too long a rope.  Finally Nafazaka visited Elusive Pimpernel and the resulting foal was a lovely long legged filly with everything you’d want to see in a proper thoroughbred.  In fact whereas we’d usually sell Nafazaka’s get we took a call to lease this filly.

Zeyn Mirza had just taken over as racing manager at Vijay Mallya’s URBB and Pesi Shroff was young in his training career, they came to Dashmesh and selected two fillies both by Elusive Pimpernel and interestingly out of Caro mares one was the Nafazaka Filly and the other a daughter of Goulaine both were leased to URBB with a foal.  The Nafazaka filly was sent for training to Jaggy Dhariwal and she was named Angelique.  

Angelique was a victim of Bangalore handicapper Shivaprasad’s myopic sprint based racing system but yet was good enough to reach the highest class in a bit of a stop start kind of way with a few black type placings along the way. I remember Zeyn telling me that I should take her back for breeding as he felt she’d done enough.  I, on the other hand felt the filly had it in her to pick up a black type win as she had to carry no penalties.  She ended up in Pune during the Equine Influenza outbreak and by default had to stay on in Western India.  This was a fortuitous happening indeed as Angelique took the length of the Mahalaxmi straight under Imran Chisty to mow down the top filly Yana in the prestigious CN Wadia Gold Cup over a mile and a half, she had her big black type.  She finally went to stud with a rating of 119.  Her first mate was Princely Heir and to be honest the result was a runt.  A little goat of a filly which I ended up selling as a broodmare prospect to a fellow breeder, Zeyn had an option which he wisely chose not to exercise and wait another year.

This is where Win Legend comes in, our agent and advisor Patrick Barbe is very well versed in Japanese racing and breeding.  Patrick had been telling me for a long time that we need to get a son of Sunday Silence, we zoned in on the Wertheimer bred and American born Sunday Doubt, he had two classic winners with Practicallyperfect and Royal Blue Star in his only crop as he died of a twisted gut before the start of the next covering season.  We asked Patrick to find us a replacement and Win Legend was the answer, Japanese bred but with an easy to understand Brit pedigree.  A descendant of the Juddmonte Farms’ Blue-Hen mare Where You Lead, as such close up in the pedigree are some stellar names like Rainbow Quest and Warning.  The horse himself won a stakes race and raced exclusively at JRA tracks, his best showing came in the Centaur Stakes where he set the fractions for international speedballs like Takeover Target and Bentley Biscuit before caving in a Furlong out, he still wasn’t beaten that far.  

I knew we’d hit gold dust when his first runner Azienda zoomed out of the gate at Calcutta to win on debut by daylight.  In his first crop he produced a classic winner with Fly Like The Wind who won the Calcutta 1000 Guineas and St Leger.  In the Calcutta Oaks she gave subsequent Indian Oaks winner, Tiger Tops a mighty scare, running her close in a runners up effort.  He would have done even better if bad luck had not plagued Merion who got cast in his stable and broke his withers prior to the Golconda 2000, after he had won a valuable conditions event in his winter reappearance. 

So Angelique visited Win Legend and the result was a Filly that was a Carbon copy of her mother.  Zeyn liked her when he saw her and he exercised his option to take her.  His original plan was to send her to Calcutta which was prevented due to my intervention.  She ended up with URBB’s principal trainer at Bangalore, Sulaiman Attaollahi.  She was forward enough to make her debut over 6 Furlongs as a two year old in November itself. The trip was way too sharp for her liking but she had enough class to run third.  In her next start over 7 Furlongs she ran second behind the highly thought of Authoritarian with Eternal Flame back in third, once again she looked like she’d appreciate a step up in trip.  The Governor’s Trophy over a mile was her next port of call but there were only three acceptors and BTC and their handicapper in their wisdom decided to void a sweepstakes race.  As such she was put away for the season since there were no opportunities for a staying filly like her.

On her seasonal reappearance she won a 7 Furlong Maidens race with authority and headed for the Fillies’ Championship Stakes.  It rained heavily that week and the Fillies’ was run on dead ground.  She threw in an absolute clunker and was beat out of the gates.  Sulaiman and Zeyn were of the opinion that it was too bad to be true and that she get a chance to redeem herself.  Sulaiman is relatively young in the training ranks but has risen very fast most importantly due to his workaholic nature.  In the Four weeks between the Fillies and Derby he gave her a very easy Gallop in the 29th of June.  Ryan Marshall who usually rides her in the morning would come back after cantering her and say she’s really well and that the Derby would see a very different Angel Dust from the Fillies’.  

Usually when I have a big race runner I get butterflies in my tummy.  This time I was calm, they jumped out and Trevor pushed her out to get a great position at the first bend itself, from there the race went off like a dream, top of the straight she was asked and she lengthened and went for home.  Thats when all the adrenalin kicks in, thats when suddenly someone else takes over, the thrill of victory,  29 years since we won it, the infernal luck which cost us with Royal Liberator and Nine Carat all forgotten in a bit over 2 minutes. She was alone in front for 500 metres or so racing only against herself and she did taper off in the last 50 or so yards.  Desert God was blocked for a run at the top of the straight, many felt he was unlucky and might have toppled our applecart in a few more strides but then again, the starting gate is placed where it is placed and the finish post isn’t moving either. Its a 2000 metre race and at the end of it, Angel Dust won so QED!  Trevor’s ride was inch perfect,  Sulaiman had the courage to for all practical purposes come into the Derby off canters, a massive call for a trainer of his experience.  

This was an epochal moment in my life, I have my way of doing things many might not agree with a lot of my methods. I can read a pedigree, my old man taught me well, I know intrinsic value when I see it.  I’m old school, I’m a “Breeder” not a trader.  You bank a good memory like this and think about the future, one is always learning in this trade, its hard work but days like this make the toil worth it, I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.  Something feels different though, can’t put one’s finger on it but something definitely is different!

Marketing: You’d think its a no brainer but then again…..

Its been a super June in world racing, the biggest in 37 years in fact as American Pharoah finally broke through and won the Triple Crown in USA.  I’ve been following American racing for a number of years and the sport there is in what you might call contraction mode.  Over the years its suffered as at one time it was the largest spectator sport in America but as time went on and other entertainment options such as the, “talking picture” people stopped visiting the track and thronged the cinema halls of America.  Slowly American racing declined, many historical tracks such as the picturesque Hialeah Park in Miami and more recently Hollywood Park in Los Angeles stand shuttered.  Made for Television sports like American Football and Basketball have also corroded racing’s base.

America has soldiered on and though things aren’t as good as they were in old days, the Americans understand a lot of basic concepts to promote their sport.  The Main thing in their scheme of things are the heroes of the sport and in American Pharoah they have one.  Ever since the Belmont Stakes victory the rockstar of racing has been everywhere; the cover of Sports Illustrated, front page news in every major Newspaper Stateside, parades at Churchill Downs and Santa Anita, his connections are throwing the opening pitches at baseball games, his jockey, Victor Espinosa has been on every conceivable talk show and even raced Jimmy Fallon on a mini bike on the Tonight Show.  Across the pond there is England the ancestral home of racing, they had “THE” Derby on the same day as the Belmont Stakes, John Gosden fired home a classy 1-2 with Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs.  Furthermore popular jockey Frankie Dettori won the Derby after a rough couple of years and getting the sack from the high profile Godolphin job.  The affable Italian has mounted the greatest comeback since Lazarus.  I’ve been shocked at the coverage that English Racing has got in mass media, a picture of Gosden posing with his Derby couple the next morning at Clarehaven Stables is just about it.  

The sport in England is very well established and the quality of competition is amongst the world’s best but lets face it, the Lords and Ladies from the Sport of Kings are yesterday’s news.  Today’s kings are people like the ruling family of Dubai, the young enthusiastic princes from Qatar, the Saudi businessman Khaled Abdullah and many more of this ilk.  British racing pretty much lives off the largesse of the Middle East, if Sheikh  Mohammed were to quit Newmarket the economy would go into a big time downward spiral.

I love the coverage by Channel Four of British racing but thats because I understand what is a very nuanced sport but I’m pretty sure it flies over the head of the casual fan.  On the other hand NBC Sports in America caters to the casual fan and their entire telecast is about human interest stories connected to the horses as such people connect that much better and as a result the entire show is far more watchable than the English telecast.

Thus I come down to how we in India fit into the picture.  A dwindling audience and more worryingly a lack of interest by the Upper Middle Class in the sport has reduced our sport from being a sport for the Uber set to a sport for people who come to the racecourse thinking they’re going to earn money from it, yup I’m talking about you, the guy in the burgundy polyester pants with a slight shine leading in a horse in Mysore.  Never has Indian racing been marketed properly to proper people, the result has been a lack of interest by people mainly due to the fact that they don’t even know it exists.The curiosity factor is huge and whenever a stranger asks me what I do for a living they always end up having a long conversation with me which inevitably ends with I’d love to go racing.  Unfortunately we’ve never quite got the word out properly and the health of the game has suffered as a result.  Over the years one has seen so many sponsored races unfortunately the sponsor gets nil value for spending their money.  No promotion, hardly a mention in the press or on social media the best way to put our promotional effort would be to say that we are preaching to the already converted only.  If Christianity had the same attitude they’d be confined to the greater Jerusalem area rather than be the biggest faith on Earth.

While gambling is the lifeblood of racing, its heart and soul is the sporting aspect and the thrill of leading in a winner.  I’ve had guests visit the Bangalore Turf Club and they’ve loved it.  Relatives of mine from Chandigarh were in Bangalore, they came racing and lost a bit punting a couple of weeks back but loved the thrill of the game, guess what they were back this week too, why?  The answer is they enjoyed themselves.  Simple little steps would go a very long way, I can arrange passes for people I know as can many other owners and trainers. Why not have a simpler system where one can buy a ticket like one can for a Cricket or Football match, through Ticketmaster or Bookmyshow with proper seating and hospitality.  Spending a nice December afternoon at Royal Calcutta Turf Club in your swish Armani suit, getting wined and dined alongside the adrenalin rush of cheering for the horse you punt on is a very cool thing to do.  A win win for all as the race club can charge according to the service, a club like RWITC whose betting ops are on Life Support would do extremely well to become a hospitality hub, with the advent of night racing the synergies are mind boggling.  Clubs lose money  on conducting live racing with the possible exception of Bangalore, to augment their live product with hospitality would only add to their coffers. A non gambling dependant revenue stream would do wonders for the finances of the clubs, plus it would attract a better quality of sponsor looking to market their high end products to the wannabe set.  Indian Polo does this extremely well and racing ought to learn from them.  Sponsorship of big ticket events such as Cricket is far more expensive by an exponential factor and the marketing isn’t targetted spot on because lets face it your average cricket fan is not going to buy a Rolex Watch or An S Class Mercedes, while the possibility of a horse owner buying one is higher.  An attempt to separate the gritty low end gambler, from people who might like to punt but would prefer a higher level of comfort and are willing to pay for the same. When you think about it its actually a simple idea akin to the high rollers getting to gamble in a VIP room.

 I’ve written about the hospitality or the lack thereof the same many times earlier unfortunately BTC just doesn’t get it, they still serve crap in the owners’ canteen if you can call it that, unidentified fried junk cooked in adulterated loose oil and the ubiquitous “Bisibele Baath” this is supposed to be about Champagne and Caviar and beautiful people dressed in their Sunday best.  Okay, I understand that its too much to expect but a Cafe Coffee Day or a Barista isn’t asking for much is it? Having a high end bar section with a high cover charge serving beer and wine would be cool too.  Both Calcutta and Hyderabad got their hospitality spot on during their Invitation weekends in 2013 and 2014, it was extremely well done and classy.

I doubt there’s an entity in the world thats as oblivious to marketing as the BTC.  Wonder whether any of you were aware that Fillies’ day was promoted as Ladies Day, no press release, no newspaper ad, no billboard, the only place it was mentioned was on the members’ Lunch Invite.  So I guess one of the four or five ladies that the BTC publicity department managed to get across to, won the best dressed competition.  Wouldn’t it be better to have invited Ladies’ in general with a promotion lots of well dressed ladies would have been happy to turn out simply for the curiosity factor.

Stories like those of Ms Rajamma who was a partner in Indian Derby winner Super Storm are a publicists dream.  A girl from a small town in Karnataka who came to do college in Bangalore and worked at BTC on the weekends as a tote operator to earn a little extra money.  She works hard makes good and has enough money to fulfil her dream of buying a horse, she buys a leg in Super Storm and the rank outsider under an inspiring ride from Jimmy Fortune wins the biggest of them all, “The Indian Derby.”   Its got movie script written all over it but alas…. racing missed out yet again.

Its time things changed or else these inefficiencies are going to rip the heart out of Indian Racing.  Things on our Punjab racetrack are at a very advanced stage and the hope is that we have the contract signed between the government and the chosen concessionaire by the end of July.  This is going to be India’s first privately built racecourse ever and its operations are going to be run along the lines of a for profit business and you bet marketing is a huge part of the  whole idea, champagne wishes and caviar dreams anybody?

Breeders! Keeping your sport alive.

Whenever I visit Western India the general refrain over there seems to be that breeders with vested interests have ruined racing.  Honestly this is far from the truth in fact its bad management by successive committees that has caused ruin and if its breeders who’ve caused damage I’d love to know who these guys are.  In my opinion its us BREEDERS who are keeping racing going.  There was a time when the various Race Clubs had to breed their own horses in order to fill their stables and their once a week racecards. The riskiest and most expensive part of the Indian Racing industry is the process of breeding racehorses.   Its a commitment, its very capital intensive and believe me its a heartbreaking profession, its extremely stressful and it tests your resolve more often than not.  A friend of mine entered the breeders community a few years back, a happy go lucky sort he had high Blood Pressure within 6 months of opening his farm.

At the cost of being repetitive as the club system has gradually decayed the racing industry, its the breeders who have helped prop it up, as good owners who used to buy horses are disappearing at an exponential rate.  Today due to the profession of training becoming less viable as a career choice we’re getting a lower level of professional being licensed by our clubs who couldn’t give a damn as far as competence is concerned, it’s heartbreaking as a fan of the sport to see literally every new trainer being licensed set up as extension counters to sub par gambling based outfits.  Its the breeders who in most cases race clean, their main drive being to see their stud’s produce performing well.  

Arguably the Gold Standard among the owner-breeders in my opinion is United Racing and Bloodstock Breeders of Vijay Mallya, a mammoth operation under the management of Zeyn Mirza that at any given time has over a hundred horses in training all over the country.  I’ve had the privilege of seeing them operate closely as I train with quite a few common trainers.  Its an operation that exists with one purpose alone and that is to win, nobody in their op cares about odds or punts.  The majority of the stock comes from his Kunigal Stud, which was earlier run by BTC.  In those days Kunigal was synonymous with  corruption and substandard stock.  Since Mallya has taken over Kunigal has become one of the country’s leading Stud Farms.  

Recently the Burgundy with Gold epaulettes silks  of Shapoor Mistry have become a common sight in Indian Racing with a large number of horses in training in Western India, Bangalore, Mysore and a few in Calcutta and Hyderabad.  All their horses are bred at their own Manjri Stud.  Phoenix Tower has done really well in his two crops as a sire and Manjri Stud has augmented this with some really top end got-abroads that carry the Manjri Silks which shows that here is a breeding operation for racing rather than for profit.   A big plus here is that Shapoor’s son Pallon looks to be an avid racing enthusiast too and is usually on hand to lead in his winners alongside their enthusiastic racing manager Sarosh Mody.

RWITC Chairman Khushroo Dhunjibhoy owns Nanoli Stud and at any given time his silks are carried by a minimum of 150 horses, give or take a few.  KND as he’s fondly known is a keen racing man and is a regular at Royal Ascot as a fan of the sport.  He too has an all India presence, though most of his stock races in Western India where he currently serves as Chairman.  A majority of the stock he races are bred at his Nanoli Stud.

The Poonawalla family and more specifically Cyrus Poonawalla is another who races on a pan India basis and has recently expanded his racing operation.  I doubt very much there is anybody in our industry like Cyrus who comes across as a hardcore racing fan.  One hopes that he keeps owning horses in India as he’s tasted blood at the highest level abroad with top sprinter Gordon Lord Byron who races in Cyrus’s colours. 

Equus Stud of Shyam Ruia is yet another owner/breeder operation.  Mr. Ruia’s Dark Blue silks are extremely well known on a national level, incidentally he had them as his silks decades before Sue Magnier of Coolmore took them on as her racing colours.  You can  rest assured his horses are running to win and are run clean.  Mr. Ruia is a hellishly enthusiastic owner and its rare to see a winner of his not led in by him in person anywhere in India.  It appears his son Amay too seems into racing and is a common sight at various racecourses in India alongside his nattily dressed dad.

Usha Stud has had a consistently good run ever since they’ve been breeding horses, recently Multidimensional has been doing extremely well.  One thing to notice is that many top runners from Usha have the Stud Owner as a partner.  Similarly Ameeta has increased her interest in ownership and has runners in her own colours in every centre in the country.  Once again here is another breeder who doesn’t bet and her horses always run on merit.  

Sans Craintes Stud run by S Pathy is another breeder with lots of horses running in their colours. One doesn’t see the affable Mr Pathy as often as one ought to outside of Coimbatore but his racing manager Subbu is at BTC every morning.  Most of their stock races in Bangalore but they have a good number in Hyderabad and Calcutta too and off late the odd horse in Bombay too.  

There is another big Owner/Breeder in Tamil Nadu but I don’t like him and I don’t want to get abusive about him  but for the record he’s a breeder too and if you follow racing you know he’s the guy who gulped down a whole race course.

Marthand Mahindra of Broadacres Stud has a large racing stable too and it would be fair to say that he’s one of the bigger owners at Bangalore.  Marty is a regular feature at BTC and his enthusiasm for the sport is infectious once again the focus is on winning and winning alone.  He’s been on a great run recently and his famed Turquoise with Gold sleeves silks which he inherited from his father Suresh have been in the winner’s circle often. Suresh Mahindra and a group of breeders including my father attempted to revive racing in Lucknow in the late Eighties.

Lets turn our attention to the worst racecourse in India, Delhi Race Club.  Who own the stock that races here?  Once again its the breeders, take them out and you wouldn’t have a 100 horses racing in Lutyens.  Sultan Singh of Sohna Stud and Rajesh Sahgal race a huge string there.  Similarly Mukteshwar Stud’s Gurpal Singh and his son Angad race about 25 horses mainly in Delhi with a few at other clubs.  They’ve been cleaning up of late at Delhi and both father and son are at DRC often.  Shailendra Singh of AB Stud Is another big owner in Delhi, Chhota as he is known amongst friends regularly hands a hard whupping to outstation runners who come to run the North India Derby, this year’s raiders were handed their asses by Chhota’s Just Gold.  Similarly the Bhatia family of Nakul Stud, Paramraj “Frankey” Singh of Tohana Stud and Vikram Singh of Vikram Greenlands too own large strings in Delhi.

Hazara Stud has been having a great run of late, the principal of their operation Nirmal Singh owns a large number of horses on a Pan India basis, many in partnership with Vikram Singh, yet another breeder and many in shares with others.  He has large strings in Delhi, Bangalore and Western India and is a growing presence as an owner in Calcutta and Hyderabad too.  All the Shivaliks and Himalayans running all over India are owned or were owned by him at some point or the other.  

My family owns about 30 horses at any given time all over India.  Our primary centre is Bangalore and recently we’ve been increasing our numbers in Calcutta too.  I’d love to have horses in Hyderabad too but I doubt I’ll get a quota there but someday we will.  At one time we raced a large string there as well as in Western India where I’ve recently started sending the occasional horse to race but the purse structure there is poor.  Our focus is only on winning stake money and I personally haven’t had  a hunner on a horse for at least two years now even though I cracked the exacta once and got paid out a Lakh and a Half on a ₹ 240 bet.  I enjoy racing in Calcutta because as an owner RCTC makes you feel special whether its their big boys in the committee or their officials.  On the flipside there is Bangalore where I race simply because its my home track and even though its a dump it is my racing home, my trainers understand that we are here to win and we race so that we can have big race runners.  I’m always willing to give a new guy with a good CV a shot, which is something my late father always did but honestly I’ve been disappointed lately as the quality of professionals being licensed recently haven’t been quite up to the mark.  Racing in Bangalore wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t for the breeders.  

When I walked in on Saturday into the owners stand I looked around and thought to myself, “Why the F@*k do I own horses here?”  Its become too much of a gambling den and that has started coming through in the appearance of BTC too.  I’m a great believer in dress regulations, dressing well separates one from the riff raff. A jacket and tie or a National Dress is cool by me (in fact I once even wore a Sherwani to the races at Bangalore) but the Safari Suit has got to go.  Yes, when Roger Moore wore it, it looked cool but a white polyester Safari with white sandals looks awful.  Our clubs need to ban the safari suit.  Ok I’m digressing here; back to what I was talking about.

Breeding horses is a tough business and every one of us have had their ups and downs.  A decision taken today kicks you hard on the butt in three maybe four years time.  You think you’ve bought a top stallion after paying a fat amount for it and when the progeny race you realize damn Local Talent is a shit stallion.  You can fly high and come down with a thud in no time at all.  I’ve always maintained that you’re as good as your last winner.  When some buyer doesn’t pay me on time, they don’t realise that we are rearing living things which have to be fed, watered and cleaned daily its a 24X7, 365 day a year job.  You might think 30 Lakhs is a fat price for a horse, compare us to the world market a similar amount in Dollars, Euros or Pounds are considered the bottom end stock.  Contrary to belief apart from labour our capital cost on land, infrastructure and inputs is higher if not equal to our counterparts in Kentucky and Ireland.  Selling a Million Dollar yearling while big isn’t necessarily a surprising outcome for my Western counterparts.  Tapit brings in $35 Million a year for his shareholders, I doubt the entire breeding industry of India combined net that in 5 years.   So the next time spare a thought for our community its a tough job and all we ask for in the words of Aretha Franklin is a little, ” R E S P E C T!”

Lights On!!

Saturday Night is going to be historic for Indian Racing as the lights go on at Mahalaxmi.  India finally gets night racing after many years of talk, kudos to RWITC for biting the bullet.   The genuine hope is that it will be a game-changer for the sport.  Unfortunately the bitter truth is that you can pack in a million people but if they aren’t betting on your product the crowd is simply just a number.

Currently RWITC is burdened by a draconian tax regime and unfortunately the Maharashtra Government refuses to look at empirical evidence from other states and countries and lower the current 20% tax that that they charge on betting turnover.  Due to their government’s stubbornness the state of Maharashtra is losing a lot of revenue.  Government sloth, red tape and screwing the club just because they have the power to do so seem to be the reason.  The result has been that almost all betting on RWITC racing is unfortunately through illegal channels.  So, the club gets cheated, the state exchequer gets cheated, the tax paying citizen gets cheated and the entire racing and breeding industry, ie owners, trainers, jockeys, employees, breeders etc. are all forced to make do with crumbs instead of a fat loaf of bread which the real revenue being accrued is but it’s all benefiting nobody except the bookmakers.  Horse Racing is India’s only legal form of gambling and it’s a state subject.  In other words the State Government gets a fat chunk of money for simply licensing a jurisdiction to conduct racing at no cost to them and the money earned stays with the state government.  Hong Kong, Japan, France, USA are a few countries that come to mind where the government behaves more like a partner than taking the adverse and obtuse stand Indian state governments take. The result is that these countries’ governments earn millions if not billions of Dollars from the sport and this money is used to fund welfare schemes and to plug their budget deficits without asking their citizens to part with extra taxes.  Maharashtra needs to snap out of their stupor and come up with a sensible taxation structure, at present they get about 20 Crores annually from racing, properly structured this figure could well be 2000 Crores.  The other thing unique to all these countries is that they have a Pari Mutuel (Tote) monopoly and their betting turnovers are well accounted for.  The crazy government tax apart, RWITC would do well to half their 10% commission to 5% for the evening fixtures as an incentive for people to bet with the tote.  They could also take only 12% instead of the crazy 24% that they are taking out of the jackpot too in order to swell the pool.  A guaranteed 1 Crore pool would encourage a lot of non regulars to try the jackpot, which is a bet that has never been used to its potential by our clubs.  It ought to be linked with a lottery and tickets need to be sold statewide, broad-basing it would exponentially boost the pool in our densely populated country.

Racing and breeding is a green industry, the racecourses are very important to the ecology of their cities too.  Take Bombay for example, the racecourse is a huge green space with old trees, greenery all around and open spaces.  The whole of South Bombay comes here to walk, in the rainy season the area occupied by the racecourse absorbs large amounts of rainwater as it isn’t a large concrete and asphalt structure, apparently the flash flood other parts of Bombay had a few years back was because there was nowhere for the water to go due to rampant and mainly illegal construction, tragically many died as a result in the ensuing chaos.  Most of our stud farms are located in rural areas and provide thousands of permanent jobs; they further utilize far less resources than intensive agricultural farming as prevalent in India does.  A green industry providing lots of jobs and revenue, sounds like a winner yet we fail to project that aspect.  Indian racing unfortunately is the best kept secret in the world, we ran our first race in 1777 but yet we are absent from Mass media.  24 hour news channels will regurgitate crap on the hour, every hour but racing is never part of it.  Not many would know this but when it comes to live audience on site I’m pretty sure that racing would rival cricket in India, yet whenever it comes to getting out there to get our sport more eyeballs and getting our message across we fail.  There is a huge curiosity factor among many when it comes to racing but our clubs rarely ever understand that they need fresh innovations to attract more people through the turnstiles.  Night racing could well be this massive innovation, the last time something like this happened was when Vijay Mallya and the UB Group  introduced the concept of sponsorship to Indian racing in the 80s, he changed the dynamic and money on offer in Indian racing.  Well, that took us into the new millennium but since then we have stagnated badly and our product is stuck in the past, just see the live coverage our clubs put out on the net its boring and mundane, nobody is making any effort we’ve simply got used to going through the motions.

Evening/Night racing will bring along other required innovations into the sport.  Hospitality comes to mind straight away, while this isn’t a problem at facilities like Bombay and Calcutta I shudder to think how Bangalore Turf Club would handle hospitality at such an event.  Look at how Royal Ascot, the Melbourne Cup Carnival, The Arc de Triomphe weekend, Dubai World Cup Night, The Breeders Cup etc. are done, it’s all about dressing up and going out to have a good classy time, do a little bit of betting but the focus is on having a good time.  Racing is a lifestyle sport and to encourage the upper middle class to embrace it we must have a proper strategy in place, it must be swish and stylish, a place where you can rub shoulders with the rich and famous.  I doubt it’s profitable to own a Formula 1 team but the uber rich do spend millions on what is simply a passion.  The reason for this being the exposure that the really rich get from that sport, similarly IPL team owners are attracted more to the glam quotient than anything else.  You can be loaded and buy yourself a Ferrari but then again any run of the mill rich guy with nil class can.  Now, can you win a Derby? You can spend millions and still not succeed. Money no doubt can shorten the odds for success but it never guarantees success in racing, thats the romance of it, one plus one never equals two.  People like Shiven Surendranath (Velvet Rope), Gaurav Sethi (Alaindair) and Ms Rajamma (Super Storm) can win an Indian Derby with the first horse they ever owned, yet it took Dr. MAM Ramaswamy decades in racing and crores spent before he ever led in his first Indian Derby winner in his own colours.  Packaging the product is going to be extremely important, good food and drink and a genuinely classy experience is absolutely necessary, with this innovation the RWITC is entering completely uncharted territory, it goes toe to toe as an evening entertainment option with the bars and restaurants all over the mill area and South Bombay.  I hope for the sport’s sake as well as all the hard work that has gone into making this happen that RWITC have a professional event manager handling things for them.  The Invitation was a poorly run show and one really hopes that this time around we’ll be spared the shit fest that was offered up on that week.  This must be a classy affair with quality catering, entertainment for the entire family especially kids so that Mom and Dad can gamble in peace, proper places to sit and off course an amped up atmosphere.  They are up against efficiently run setups like Blue Frog, Hard Rock Cafe etc. this time around, we must give the Mumbaikar a better experience so that the racecourse becomes THE default entertainment option for everybody, it needs to become a beehive of action packed racing and top drawer entertainment.  Honestly the open spaces and parking available at the Racecourse are both massive USPs in a congested urban slum like Bombay.  Every top city in the world has a quality racecourse, Bombay is blessed to have a facility that is world class in every way, in the 60s, 70s and 80s Bombay embraced it, it’s about time it happened again.

So Indian racing takes a huge step, this IS going to work to get the footfalls no doubt but it’s about time we started looking at proper revenue generation from betting too.  RWITC fancies itself as India’s leading racing jurisdiction, unfortunately their stake money structure is superior only to ramshackle Delhi Race Club while the cost of keeping a horse in training in Western India is exponentially higher by a factor of three as compared with Delhi Race Club.  So here we go, best of luck RWITC, one hopes to attend the next Indian Derby at 8 pm, win it and pop Champagne at the racecourse itself and party into the wee hours of the morning!!!

Of Porn Stars, Broken Vintage Cars and Dwarfs with Trombones!

So, the 2015 Invitation weekend is history.  I doubt we’ve had so much mindfucking excitement ever on our sport’s annual shebang.  The amateur way our sport is marketed and packaged is truly shameful and shoddy.  The rain last week just added to the mess that was the Invitation weekend or what it became, the Invitation week.

Lets start with last week’s awards night put on by the TAI (Turf Authorities of India).  The Chief Guest was the lovely Sunny Leone, India’s pride and joy in the multi billion dollar porn industry.  While our leading breeder Ameeta Mehra of Usha Stud who had a cracking year of achievement  in 2013-14 got a cursory mention at the awards night, oodles of time was spent on Miss Leone.  Ameeta who is fortunately not the sort and thankfully at that to let things slide was rightly very vocal in her condemnation of the entire event.  I couldn’t agree with her more, it’s about time we breeders who contribute the most to racing stood up and called a spade a spade.  Miss Leone handed over lots of mementos to our octogenarian chairmen representing their various jurisdictions.  One hopes their blood pressure medication didn’t need adjustment after that.  Anyhow enough of all that and while one wishes dear old Sunny all the best in her new Bollywood career, I don’t think she’s the right choice for an awards night where people in a sport or industry are being felicitated. Simply put one doesn’t see her as a Chief Guest and Keynote speaker at a CII conference!

Now comes the parade prior to the Sprinters Cup, wow was that a hoot!  First the vintage cars which were supposed to take our TAI Chairmen on a lap of honour wouldn’t start and needed to be pushed, sadly metaphoric of the current state of Indian Racing.  Then there was the band, considering the fact that Bombay has some fine Army, Navy and Air Force bands, the idiot who organised it ventured as far as the Mahalakshmi flyover and picked up a street band of bow legged dwarfs.  Absolutely fucking brilliant, in all the hullabaloo I witnessed temperamental Hyderabad challenger Un Un Un boil over and end up getting scratched after he flipped out properly when he was in the gates, his connections were rightly disappointed as a lot of hard work came to nought.  Why do we have all this crap and for whose benefit is it put on?  Calcutta and Hyderabad hosted the Invitation too and the focus over there was on the HORSES not on mujras which for some odd reason RWITC loves to put on for their punters who anyway bet illegally with bookies rather than their tote which is on life support.  Cut the crap boys and stop wasting cash, the stars of the show are the horses, we can go to a dance bar and get our rocks off, Kapische?

We must have a cogent marketing strategy for racing, its a great sport and its great fun to be involved in it, we need more people getting into it. We need to take our heads out of our butts and smell some fresh air.  Our sport needs to be packaged and presented in a far better manner.  We need the oomph quotient back, the NHBSI has made a request to the Chairmen of the TAI regarding this and we got a favourable response and we will be presenting them a blueprint of the same at their meeting in July on the Bangalore Derby weekend.  We’d love input from you so if you think you have a good idea we’d love to hear it.

Now back to the races, freak rain caused a postponement by a week of the Stayers Cup and Sunday’s races.  The result was that last Sunday, Sanjay Reddy, Arjun Mangalorkar, Zeyn Mirza and myself spent Sunday morning drinking copious amounts of Coffee sitting in the lobby at the Four Seasons hotel out of sheer boredom.   The inadvertent result of the postponement was what was probably the best day of Indian Racing ever on Saturday, three top end Group Ones and a Group Two were on tap.  A great day’s racing was marred by crowd violence when Quasar beat the chalk favourite Be Safe in the Invitation Cup.  A super ride by young Yash Narredu on Quasar and a bad case of misjudgement by Suraj on Be Safe gave us the dreaded, “Doosra” great result in my personal opinion simply because Ramaswamy lost and Jayadev Mody and his partners are good guys!  Bottles and stones were thrown, apparently some poor sod even landed one on Senior Stipe Shujaat Hussain, boy oh boy is that guy in deep shit, the senior stipe isn’t the sort to take take crap from mobs or any sort of idiots and whoever you are you fool you’re going to get it good I assure you that.  It was a bad week for Vintage Cars because the one used on Saturday got its windshield shattered! The committee did very well do go through with the Stayers Cup which went off over an hour late.  Good that they paid out all dividends on the Invitation Cup too or else it sets a bad precedent.  A better crowd management policy is direly required by RWITC and its about time it happened because this behaviour is becoming too frequent for comfort.  If the public is going to behave so badly then we need to come down on them hard.   So, on to Chennai for next year’s Invitation, its sad that the TAI gives that club legitimacy because the racing there is the shame of quite possibly world racing under rules.   So next year on the first Saturday of March I look forward to receiving the leading stud award from Ron Jeremy!

PS: Google that name in case you don’t know who he is.

The Fantabulous Derby Preview!

All roads lead to Mahalaxmi as its the First Sunday of February and that means Derby Day! RWITC has done well to make it into Derby Weekend with well filled cards on Saturday and Sunday. Obviously Hyderabad missed a connection somewhere because they too unnecessarily race on Saturday. The RWITC site is going to carry an article which will describe the Derby as Exquisite, Magnificent, Grand or similar (my friend Eruch Mody could help add a few more words there). So here is my two bits on India’s Derby and a note on the main runners.

Be Safe (Holy Roman Emperor- Oriental Lady by King’s Best) This horse is without a doubt the gold standard of the 2011 Foal crop. He should be unbeaten but was hooked in last year’s Poonawalla Million. Since then his trainer Malesh Narredu has drafted in nephew Suraj to sit atop his charge and Be Safe has been mega impressive as he has won the Bangalore Colts’ and Summer Derby and his victories in the Indian 2000 and Ruia Cup in the winter have looked like the proverbial walk in the park. Is there a chink in his armour? If I were to nit pick the only thing this horse lacks is a race over a mile and a half. That said, he ought to stay even though his broodmare sire King’s Best was a top miler and won the English 2000 Guineas for Michael Stoute. His sire Holy Roman Emperor only raced as a Two Year old so we never got to see him over a trip. In my opinion he would have seen out a mile and interestingly he has already sired an Indian Oaks winner in Smashing who was also runner up in the Indian Derby, though her broodmare sire was the classic staying influence of Galileo. Incidentally Be Safe’s sister Beacon Lady who was by the 2000 Guineas winner and miler Haafhd was a high level handicapper over the Derby trip she won 6 of her 8 races over it. The next broodmare sire Sadlers Wells though a mile and a quarter horse himself has over a period of time become the world’s greatest source of classic stamina. A look at Oriental Lady’s Tattersalls page makes it clear that this French Wildenstein developed family is one laden with tons of stamina. Breeding is a funny game and though many breed speed to speed and stamina to stamina, sometimes you get a genetic freak which is an ideal blend of both, this fellow possibly belongs to that category. His dam was an 8,000 Guineas buy at Tattersalls and that looks to be a real bargain indeed. He races evenly and Malesh Narredu has trained him impeccably. His rider, Malesh’s Nephew Suraj understands Be Safe extremely well, despite missing out on riding him in the Ruia because of a fall the previous day, cousin Neeraj Rawal was a very able stand in for what was a record breaking piss up. I feel he’ll stay alright and he holds this field on form by a lot. He’ll go off as a deserved odds on favourite.

Quasar (Seeking The Dia – Belle Jour by Smart Jones) Okay lets get his name pronounced correctly first, its pronounced “Kwayzaar” Its not Kasar or Kooasir or whatever. This solid chestnut is yet another top got abroad runner from a sire who was a bona fide disaster. Seeking The Dia a son of Storm Cat raced in Japan and won the Japan Cup Dirt. He stood in Japan before being relocated to Hill N Dale Farm in Kentucky but after less than stellar results he now stands in Florida for a measly $3,500. His dam Belle Jour is a daughter of Smarty Jones who took two legs of the American Triple Crown but lost in the Belmont despite running a great race. Quasar belongs to a top American family and his great grandam Triple Tiara winner, Sky Beauty who was trained by Allen Jerkens was a dominant champ on the NYRA circuit and won the Eclipse Award as Champion 3 Year Old Filly. We needn’t discuss his Staying abilities as he has won his last two over the Derby trip as he won the Calcutta and Golconda Derbies. What is bound to go against him is that this will be his third race in a period of three weeks. He got a scare from Dare To Dream at Hyderabad and Tiger Tops tested him hard at Calcutta. Quasar is also trained by Malesh Narredu and defending champion YS Srinath who won on Alaindair last year takes over on him as Suraj rides Be Safe. You’ve got to respect a horse coming off a six race winning streak with three Group Ones among those.

Tiger Tops (Tiger Hill – Cockayne by Barathea) The Indian Oaks winner has been very consistent right through her career, rarely running a bad race. She was the runner up in the Calcutta Derby and was not disgraced in defeat behind Quasar, prior to that she won the Calcutta Oaks. Tiger Tops returned to her home centre the following week to hack up in the Indian Oaks. Shapoor Mistry bought a share in her and that makes Colm O Donoghue eligible to ride her as he did in the Oaks (really dumb rule by the TAI against every tenet of competition, where Foreign jocks can only ride for their retainers). Tiger Tops is yet another bred on the hugely successful Danehill – Sadlers Wells cross. Her German bred sire Tiger Hill a staying son of Danehill stood with Darley but has been relocated to his country of birth since. Her dam line too is classic and she goes back to the great Selene, best known in India as the family of super sire Everyday II, recently Group 1 winner Beauty Parlour has come from this family. Her trainer Pesi Shroff has had a tumultuous year, yet he has been performing very well despite that, finally beating Malesh’s 1000 Guineas winner Godspeed in the Oaks after a number of reverses at Malesh’s hands. She too runs her third race in three weeks and once again what effect that will have remains to be seen. Pertinent to mention here that a share in her was a great buy by Manjri Stud and she should nick very well with their stallion Phoenix Tower.

Bold Majesty (Multidimensional – Fond Fantasy by Razeen). Flying the conceived in India flag will be last Monday’s Bangalore Derby winner. His dam Fond Fantasy was a top racemare herself. Interestingly despite the whole hullabaloo about Got Abroads, the best broodmares in India are the ones that were top racemares over here. If one was to look at probabilities, this set of mares will produce graded winners at a very high frequency. All that apart this Ganapathy trained runner comes into the Derby off a three race win streak. Bred on the very successful Multidimensional -Razeen cross, where Razeen’s broodmare sire and Danehill’s broodmare sire His Majesty are Full brothers therefore there is a close up duplication of their dam Flower Bowl (another nicking theory thats been very successful). He stays alright but he too is being asked to return within a week of a strenuous run on very firm ground at Bangalore. His trainer has been woefully out of form and this horse has been the only really bright spark for him this year. David Allan who won the Indian Derby on Moonlight Romance takes over from A Sandesh who had committed to riding Illidan earlier.

These are the top contenders where Be Safe towers over them all and squarely holds this field on raceform, one must remember that horses more often than not make fools of humans and there is a reason its called RACING! Among the rest one could make a case for Oaks runner up Tatiana, PBM winner Shivalik Storm (the only horse to ever beat Be Safe), The General and maybe Illidan for whom I think this race comes a bit too early in his career; Storming Home, whom he beat last time out was subsequently soundly thrashed, as such he has a hell of a lot to find on form. Further despite being from an Aga Khan line which has produced numerous Stayers, his sire was a champ juvenile who never saw out a trip. Tatiana ran a very good race in the Oaks but was well beaten by Tiger Tops, she’ll stay alright but lacks the requisite class it appears. The General gave 5 Kg to Highlander a lost by only a length, Highlander subsequently won the Byculla Club Cup and will be Western India’s number one invitee for the Stayers’ Cup in March. The problem here is when he ran against Tiger Tops in the Calcutta Monsoon Derby he only saw her derrière disappear in the horizon. The balance are making up the numbers but think back to Noble Eagle, Super Storm, Pyare Miya and the like, its the Derby but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get a stunning upset.

If this race was run on the second Sunday of February it would be better, since it would give ample time for the Golconda and Bangalore Derby as well as the Oaks winner ample recovery time and then it truly would be the Indian Derby. Traditionalists might disagree but the Epsom Derby was moved from Wednesday to Saturday to keep up with the times. Be Safe is well positioned to win with the perfect lead up into the race which has been his primary target since the Bangalore Summer Derby. His main opponents along the way have been in a few more recent battles and that might tell on Derby Day, inversely when you have it easy it can make you a wee bit soft!

Clubs Were used by Cavemen!

The past year has seen some major upheavals in our sport, a major regime change has taken place at RWITC, where the incumbent team led by Vivek Jain was replaced by Khushroo Dhunjibhoy’s crew. The sport in Western India has been in steep decline as nobody has had the ability to make the business of racing pay dividends as it should. A totalisator that is crippled by a myopic government tax structure and successive committees that have little or no understanding of how racing ought to be run in the 21st Century, have led to the club facing losses whenever they conduct what is supposed to be their core activity; racing. Racing at RWITC is conducted so that people may feed the cancer that eats our sport the Bookmaker; legal and illegal. In the process RWITC loses pots of money by conducting racing, unfortunately that is the bitter truth and there appears to be no resolution in sight as RWITC for all their pomp and show can only better Delhi in their stake money structure. A highly inefficient accounts department, hospital bills that would make you believe that your horse is terminally ill and a perception that certain people get favoured all add to the mire that is Western India racing.

The club system has manifested itself to destroy any hope the sport might have of moving into the 21st century. Archaic institutions run with archaic methods, systems that are easily manipulated and a lack of a positive image have made our clubs into badly run quasi governmental set ups with acres of red tape and poorly run systems. The bottomline effects nobody, nobody’s personal pocket is hit so poor decisions are regularly made. Not one club is run with business principles in mind, every club is only as competent as its membership and in many cases the lack of capable people within the general body. Nowhere is this more evident than at Madras Race Club. In the general hullabaloo of the RWITC elections a very vital development has slipped under the radar. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the goings on at Madras Race Club.

What was once South India’s premier racing centre has been rendered as to what can only be called the shame of our racing and breeding industry. Rigged racing under the garb of racing under rules, rampant corruption prevails and everything that can go wrong in racing has gone down at Madras Race Club. Its a slap on the face of every single member of our community, the Turf Authorities of India deserve to have their mandated powers to run racing under rules cancelled and every one of us is to blame. As a breeder I must hold up my hand as well that for our own personal benefit we have turned a blind eye to the destruction of one of the best racing set ups in Asia, yes every single one of us are to blame, barring none. When Always A Rainbow went up on the Stud Book wall as a sire of 10 classic winners, you may as well take a blow torch to the achievers of our sport, we rendered useless and disrespected the legacy of great Indian Stallions like; Razeen, Placerville, Grey Gaston, Everyday II, Riyahi, Rock Of Gibraltar, Prince Pradeep, Ilheus and Knight Of Medina. Shame on all of us, the farm statistics that we breeders are judged by are polluted by stake money earnings from Chennai. Honestly speaking India and as such the Turf Authorities of India which is supposed to ensure the integrity of the sport and represents India at the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (IFHA) need to answer a lot of hard questions as to how all this has been allowed to happen and that too in plain sight.

Our industry needs to take a long hard look at itself and start behaving in a more accountable and professional manner, since we aspire to be members of the world racing community and are hosting the Asian Racing Conference in 2016.  Since we were so damn quick to sign up to honour the impractical and Utopian Zero Tolerance on drugs pledge with the IFHA, shouldn’t we also think about a no under our noses CHEATING pledge?  Its about time the records of Madras and Ooty racing are expunged from our pedigrees and catalogues. This isn’t racing under rules and the few Gymkhana races conducted at the end of Bombay season last year and at Lucknow have far greater integrity.  The winner of the South India Classics more often than not even emerges India’s Horse Of The Year. The Mile and a Half South India Oaks is always run in a timing of 3 minutes plus. Since the IFHA are sort of the custodians of world racing rules, its about time Mr. Romanet and his team investigate Madras Race Club and kick them out of our sport. Nobody realises this but Madras Race Club graded race winners and placers appear in the Keeneland, Goffs, Arqana, Tattersalls, Inglis, Fasig Tipton and every other world sales company’s catalogue as black type. In other words the guys who compile these catalogues are misrepresenting pedigrees and facts to their prospective buyers and clients. Does sound dastardly and crooked when one puts it like that, doesn’t it? On Invitation weekend the annual awards jamboree gets the gas taken out of it since the stats from Madras pretty much ruin the entire show, as the winners are all complete unknowns to the rest of us because rampant fixing gives us results which are impossible to match in any competitive racing jurisdiction.  Even Aidan O’Brien’s phenomenal record in the Irish Derby pales in comparison to the records at Madras race Club.

I’d be amiss to leave Bangalore Turf Club out of my rant. Their racing department may as well not exist, it wouldn’t really matter. There was a time that a team of stipes would interact with professionals, see trackwork and generally have a good idea of what the sport looks like outside their crappy offices. Moving around and observing trackwork would give these guys a bit of a better idea of all goings on. Its disturbing to see racing at BTC nowadays and any experienced person in the sport could tell that gambling syndicates have hijacked the sport and the officialdom has no clue about it. Their handicapper like any pen pushing non horse person keeps on screwing things up even further, apart from a strategy where he wants Mo Farra to run vs Usain Bolt over 265 Metres he has novel methods by which to rape the sport. His latest contribution is an upper limit of 45 horses per trainer, after all in his mind this is a Marxist sport for horses that can run over 6 and 7 Furlongs and are 5 years old and over. So why not introduce a bit of socialism where their top trainers can be treated the same as many who do the sport a great disservice by choosing to be trainers. Simply put certain trainers’ horses get bet more than others, like Todd Pletcher in U.S.A. or Andre Fabre in France, similarly a large chunk of the tote turnover for the club comes from their superior trainers and a set percentage of that money goes to the club.  In other words certain trainers earn more money for BTC. One would think they ought to be treated better than a squatter who occupies 10 stables. By limiting the quota for their top men to such a low number the handicapper’s new rule is LOSING Bangalore Turf Club MONEY!!!  The data is available as BTC has a very well hooked up tote, so they ought to look at these stats if nothing else at least as an academic exercise.

Their rules are arbitrary at best and recently in what ought to be classified as a case of racism they have been asking Padmanabhan’s assistant James Mckeown who incidentally happens to be Caucasian and comes into the sport with an enviable resume to also do circus tricks. He has been asked to produce documentation which doesn’t even exist in India, possibly they want to see him perform some magic tricks for their general entertainment. The said assistant trainer applied for a license with an enviable bio data with stints in USA, England and a very long association as an assistant to India’s top trainer in S Padmanabhan, further to this he did very well in the written exam too. Rather than give him a license many other extension counters have been added to the existing Babu Rao’s of the sport! Wake up and smell the coffee BTC, start running racing as a sport, its nobody’s fiefdom. Your quotas are ruining the sport of racing!

The Annual Merry Go Round

Its sales time once again, there was a time when this was harvest season for us breeders, now its a time for trepidation and doubt and hope as one hopes to sell the stock that has taken us three years of toil to bring so far with their limbs and airways intact. The TDS issue made last year’s sale one of the worst ever, many horses that were produced for racing ended up as horses for riding and polo instead. A severe correction has taken place and as a result we are sans Doaba, Mare Haven, Arabesque, Sunder and a few other farms. Once again the main track is not available for us to roll on to show our stock. Instead we pay ₹ 12,500 plus service tax, for a stable and a free suntan over four gruelling days. The RWITC clears a nice profit from the sale yet never is any of that money used to promote the sale, its put away into its coffers to subsidise their losses from the activity of Racing. One hopes this year things will be better as the TDS issue has been sorted out and the foal crop is smaller after ballooning to almost 2000 in last year’s crop. The market is healthy when production goes below 1400, we’re not there yet but will be there as soon as next year.

Many successful stud farmers succumbed to what can only be termed as greed as they expanded their broodmare bands to excessive numbers, one understands a lot of them are now reducing to more manageable numbers. So lets hope this year’s sale doesn’t see local Pune breeders hijacking buyers from the Turf Club to show them unsold stock at their farms. You know who you are and one hopes the 12,500 plus service tax that you save is keeping you in a healthy state of profit! Be ashamed of yourselves as you are cheating your brethren! Similarly anybody promoting their new stallion, make sure you at least serve good biryani, that 2 minute pasta that you served last year is etched in the memory of at least one senior trainer. Another complaint; a new farm never entered even one horse for the sales but bought ad space in the catalogue to advertise their wares and then proceeded to take people from the sales grounds to a private stable nearby and sold their stock, so once again you know who you are and what you did last year was in very poor taste.

Similarly the sales have spawned a certain breed of perverse humans who are having breakfast in the canteen early on the first day and then strut around for the duration of the sale pulling out every horse and never making an offer. There’s a big dark guy and a fat fair guy with shades and catalogues tucked underarm, BREEDERS BEWARE these guys are wasting your time. I’d also like to encourage all of you to contribute names of bum buyers who fail to honour their debts, its kind of sad that many of these guys are part of the polity of race clubs too and as such maintain a veneer of false respect.

Anyway a lot of selling has already taken place and I’d be amiss not to say that things are better this year not just at the higher end of the market but at the mid and lower levels too, one of my colleagues in Punjab had 3 for sale and has already sold two, he would have sold the third too but wanted to at least bring a horse to the sales, just as a PR exercise. Similarly there is a huge misconception that the horses that come to the sales are left overs. To put things in perspective Malpensa with earnings in excess of a Crore was a 4.5 Lakh Pune sales buy by the late Nana Raghunath, Suzanna a winner of two Millions at Calcutta was also bought by her owner and trainer at last year’s sales. Similarly Fly like The Wind was on offer and after the sale a Mumbai owner passed on her because he felt that my asking price was too high, after almost 90 Lakhs in earnings and big race wins for my partners who got into her and myself I thank god she ended up where she did because its been fun racing her. Honestly as a breeder its impossible to know for sure whats your best stock, as a racing man I would have raced them myself. I have seen trainer S Padmanabhan buy top runner Diamantaire at the sales as well from Usha Stud and Indian 1000 Guineas and PBM winner Winning Pretty too for Feroz Khan from us.

So as a buyer do the right thing, select your horses on looks then see your pedigrees, see who turns out their horses looking well then get into the nitty gritties of turned in and turned outs, remember procedures like knee stapling and periosteal stripping can make a crooked horse look correct. Know your budget and make sure that you stick to your payment plan because the breeder whom you are buying from has spent on that horse with no return so far, once you’ve shook be honourable and be good with your payments, its greatly appreciated and makes your reputation better. There was a time when all horses were sold at the auction which today can only be classified as an utter waste of time. I’d love to put a few in the ring but once again perception messes it up since the moment a horse goes into the ring the feeling is that the horse is a crock, so us breeders shun the ring instead. Its a vicious cycle but sales in an auction ring is the only way things will settle down for both owners and breeders. Full disclosure by breeders too is the need of the hour and the club should invest in a digital endoscope and X Ray repository in order to make buyers more comfortable, testing for Anabolics by the sales company ie RWITC would also be a step in the right direction? A lot of breeders are already doing scoping and X Rays at a private level. So its on to Pune for the sales, most of the stock from Punjab is already at the sales grounds since they need the extra time to recover from their journeys from up North.