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 and had to be scratched, his connections were rightly disappointed as a lot of hard work came to nought.  Why the fuck 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. http://docs.tattersalls.com/cat/december/mares/2010/2138.pdf. 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” http://youtu.be/4S6L4EBnyzQ. 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.

Quotas: India’s way of enforcing Socialism in Racing

During the 20th Century Karl Marx, The Soviet Union and the Left promoted the utopian doctrine of Socialism which ran its course in many parts of the world. While it did indelible harm to the racing and breeding industry in so much that it curbed the natural growth of the sport which was funded by betting. Gambling is a perceived vice in socialist thought but yet an essential part of the human state is the urge to gamble. Times changed, the Soviet Union crumbled and India began its march towards full blown capitalism and right wing thought. Along the way in racing a socialist mindset evolved which promoted a thought process by which to curb excellence, the system of, “Quotas.” Its very easy to justify this system unfortunately when it comes down to sport there is no place for it. Yet racing chooses to embrace it. The evolution of the quota system took a while and as such become detrimental to Indian racing.

The first sign of this becoming a part of the racing industry was during the days that India’s premier trainer Rashid Byramji dominated Indian racing. He was based out of Western India and his domination of his contemporaries was such that it was RRB first and the rest simply making up the numbers and fighting for the minor placings. Every owner of consequence at the time was either training with him or after getting a whupping from one of his horses, wanted to train with him. The fallout of Rashid Byramji’s success was that his domination was found to be effecting the overall competitive nature of the sport. As a result the Committee of RWITC first mooted the proposal of limiting the number of horses that he could train. Mr. Byramji, never the sort to take things lying down, in protest moved lock, stock and barrel to Bangalore which was otherwise his summertime base. Bangalore’s gain was RWITC’s loss as RRB was better placed in Bangalore to raid Hyderabad, Madras and his old home Mumbai at will, something that can be seen in his record number of classics won, it also helped to establish Bangalore as a full fledged racing centre, not just where you spent your summers because India’s best trainer with the best horses was based there. RWITC on the other hand has never had and from what is on display nowadays will never have a trainer of his calibre based in their centre. Mr. Byramji for a long period of time was refused a license by RWITC as a result many of his assistants from that period all find their names on the Indian Derby Roll of Honour as RRB dominated his country’s home Derby.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and as Indian Racing continued to stay stagnant or regressed in my opinion as the administration of Indian Racing never kept up with our burgeoning racing and breeding industry. Madras Race Club was first shut down and then destroyed by the greed of one man as a helpless and emasculated industry remained silent onlookers. The result was that the Indian breeding industry for the first time reached a point where supply outstripped demand and we were overproducing. One of the solutions albeit a short term one was that Mysore was launched as a racing centre in its own right to absorb Bangalore’s overflow. This did indeed work for a while but soon Mysore was overcrowded too. Hyderabad Race Club on the other hand, had money, space and owned their own land and they chose to restrict the open nature of racing. They imposed quotas on how many 2 year olds can be brought into their facility. This system was originally created to safeguard their local owners and trainers who notwithstanding the occasional exception were performing at a lower level than their counterparts in Bangalore and Bombay. As if to compound an already bad idea they decided to hand these quotas to owners rather than trainers. The result of this policy was that owners who could genuinely buy good horses had to limit themselves, while many who could ill afford to buy a horse suddenly found themselves in a position of power, since they had the golden ticket a, “quota.”

Hyderabad is possibly the worst centre when it comes to payment defaults because the horse must come into HRC with a sale or lease form whether a breeder has been paid or not. Yet, year in and year out these defaulting owners get quotas to bring horses into HRC. There are people who genuinely want to buy more horses in Hyderabad and can afford to do so but perennially they find themselves running out of quotas. Similarly a couple of people who have quotas have decided to become breeders since the junk they produce is their own junk and they have the brahmastra: a, “quota.” Year in and year out quotas are handed out to these blokes without looking to see how their previous allottees did. Yet towards the end of the annual sham sale that we conduct in Pune you find the bottom feeders of Hyderabad racing come around looking for horses on contingency. Helpless breeders are left with little option but to get rid of horses in this way as there is a glimmer of hope that you’ll get a return or else there is a good chance that your horse will not even find a stable at any track as you are unable to, “arrange” a quota. The general performance level at Hyderabad has improved considerably as trainers like Vittal Deshmukh, Shehzad Abbas and Laxman Singh have upped the quality of their stock and now the local horses more often than not hold their own against all comers, in fact last week’s 1000 Guineas saw local horses occupy the first two slots, once again performance based quotas to trainers would go a very long way in improving the quality of horses at Malakpet immensly. Currently there is a very distinct divide whereby the better quality stock will hold their own on a national level but there are an equal number of horses that can only be classified as junk and those that are rated below 25 at Hyderabad are very possibly the worst horses racing in India.

Bangalore Turf Club is the one racecourse which turns over more in betting handle than the rest of Indian racing combined. Unfortunately due to a lack of space and rampant benami ownership the quality of their racing product has been on a very steeply declining curve. A poorly written racing programme as well as draconian winning penalties have encouraged the concept of bringing horses down in handicap by giving them runs, to strike for an annual or seasonal gamble. Not only has the quota system encouraged the setting up of benami owners but here we have benami trainers too and there are a minimum of 300 horses that are controlled by these stables as well as dubious elements. Its an open secret as to who actually trains horses with certain licensees. The saving grace for Bangalore has been the fact that day in and day out the public turns up and splashes the cash at the tote counters. The better trainers are restricted as none of them have extension counters while at the lower end of the spectrum this practice is rampant and worst of all an open secret. Cancelling licenses is the only way to sort things out as rather than handing out quotas through a system which makes no sense at all, the club ought to ask trainers how many they would like to train along with the names of the potential horses as well as the owners’ name and then hand out quotas through a merit based system.

Its about time that the clubs looked upon handing out extra quotas to the top trainers at their centres. By that I mean the trainers with the best strike rate, highest per capita earnings per horse, the highest earners of stake money should all be handed extra quotas for excellence. Similarly the reward for winning graded races ought to entitle trainers to an extra quota for say every 3 Group 3s won, another extra quota for every 2 Group 2 wins an extra quota and one extra quota for every Group 1 race they win. Not only will it spur trainers to improve their tallies it will also encourage them to attempt to win big races, something sorely lacking nowadays. Similarly poorly performing professionals should be the ones losing their quotas. Trainers are the ambassadors of the sport, better pros will attract better owners to get involved with the sport. The quota system and the extension counter system is so rampant now that often the RWITC Twitter handle ends up sending congratulatory messages to the de facto trainer rather than the trainer on record. So why must we have this charade?

As of now a huge problem is the arbitrary nature by which these quotas are allotted to various trainers. Trainers at the top of the ladder are treated the same as trainers of inferior quality simply because the latter are perceived to be big trainers since they train a large number of horses. Since when was this a sport about quantity? Its supposed to be all about quality and the best must face each other and may the better one win. Nowhere is this chasm more evident than in Hyderabad where this concept of quotas has mutated into something thats about everything but excellence. A cursory look at the statistics will give you a clear idea as to how many trainers there and similarly a segment of owners too ought to find a different game with which to involve themselves. Similarly There is a trainer in Bangalore whose monthly commission earnings over the past 19 seasons are less than what a daily wage labourer would earn per month in Punjab. Rather than weed out incompetent professionals clubs keep on handing these people quotas. When there is a situation where there is a shortage of space at their racetracks the Turf Authorities should be culling trainers who aren’t performing at a basic level just as breeders are forced to cull inferior mares and stallions. I understand that no system is perfect and must evolve over a period of time, many of my ideas might be right or wrong but I’m sure they’ll be a step in the right direction. The current system has unfortunately turned into a Frankenstein and the monster is eating up the upper end of the sport and digesting it and throwing out a waste product at the bottom end which is growing bigger and bigger but benefits nobody; not owners, trainers, jockeys, breeders or even the clubs. Its about time we awoke as a racing nation to the fact that this is a sport that is based on excellence not a quota system which restricts it.

Jaggy Dhariwal: Master Trainer and an All Round Rockstar!

The passing of Jaggy Dhariwal brings to an end the career of one of the greatest trainers India has ever seen. His career with over 2000 winners and innumerable Classic winners is there for all to see but the true gift Jaggy had was his ability to train a champion to hold its form for the whole year. My family has been involved with Jaggy for three generations and I’m proud to say that I was an owner in his stable right to the very end. He shared a very close relationship with my grandfather, someone Jaggy always looked up to, similarly he was very close to my father and finally I too struck up a great rapport with him as did my two brothers. Every time I’d see him it would bring a smile to both of our faces and Jaggy always had a mischievous gleam in his eye. He was extremely well read and he always had the X Factor as a trainer, he would pick up things many wouldn’t simply just looking at a horse. His handling of the siblings Chaitanya Ratham and Chaitanya Chakram was absolutely flawless, he took Chakram through from the last proper Ooty season through Bangalore Summer, through the Hyderabad Monsoon season, the Indian Derby, Invitation Cup and then further on to the President of India Gold Cup with flawless precision. A shrewd tactician he was always quick to adapt. This was best seen when he trained in Madras; a certain owner would often block Jaggy’s horses during a race, not one to complain Jaggy simply decided to change his tactics. He started to teach his horses to go to the front and win their races start to finish. This manifested itself to make Chakram the machine that he was, hit the front and go fast, every furlong go faster, once clear a slight breather and then kick for home and it worked every time.

A very kind man, Jaggy was always there to help a fellow professional or a small Punjabi Breeder and he was truly loved by his friends. I would always joke with him that wherever he went he had a large fan club. Full of life his one liners would always entertain us at track in the morning, whether he was taking Dicky Singh’s trip or having a friendly argument with my father. I shared a common bond with him with both of us being Jatt Sikhs and whenever we’d talk it would always be in Punjabi. Once when he was training Bonzer another trainer asked him whether he felt Bonzer was as good as Chakram, the reply he got was one only Jaggy could give, ” Could be Chakram or he could just be Bonzer.” Jaggy was always full of life and anybody who came across him would eventually become a friend. Today there is a pall of gloom over the entire industry though his health had been failing and in the last couple of years he had been in and out of hospital quite often. The fighter that Jaggy was, he would always roar back with a vengeance. Alas his body finally gave up this time and we lost a truly loveable character from our sport.

He was an enigmatic trainer, you’d never understand his methods but man his methods were very effective. He trained some real superstars for us and when Practicallyperfect won us the Hyderabad Fillies Trial trained by him I doubt any big race win would’ve given me as much of a kick. My father was ailing with Cancer at the time and the filly winning momentarily took my entire family’s mind off our situation. We will all miss him greatly, he was a member of our family and its not just us. Similarly today Marthand Mahindra, Mr Pathy, Mr Sibia, Mr Dhillon and every single breeder in Punjab are missing him like we’d miss a family member. He trained for Vijay Mallya with tremendous success and year in and year out he would produce another top notch horse for them. I take this opportunity to condole with his wife Judy, his nephews Romi and Pinta and the entire Dhariwal clan. Today we lost one of our own and we will miss him greatly. Rest In Peace Jaggy Uncle, it would be safe to say you led a really full life and you leave us all behind with very fond memories. Jaggy went out training at the very top end of the game, Saltoro Ridge will go down in history as his last winner and that was just a few days back. Rest In Peace Jaggy Uncle, we will miss you a lot.

Taxes, Mass Media, Commentary & All that Jazz!!!

Its been a great month for our industry, the Karnataka High Court ruling regarding the dreaded Tax Deducted at Source was a huge shot in the arm for everybody in the industry, whether its owners, breeders, jockeys, trainers, syces etc. The Honourable court quashed the demand of the Income Tax Department that 30% of our stake-money earnings should be deducted as TDS as the IT department wanted to treat the same as a windfall gain like in a lottery. The boost from getting back 30% of our liquid capital is huge. At the same time we need to make sure that as an industry we start taking ourselves seriously, so that in future an ill informed babu who sits in an office, crunches numbers and tries to subvert Supreme Court rulings cannot put us through the hell we have gone through as a whole. The industry must engage the various state governments and communicate what we bring to the table so that such unfortunate situations do not occur in future. As a result of what happened many stud farms have had to shut shop, while this can be glossed over it means lost jobs and redundancies and it isn’t the bosses of the Stud Farms who have suffered, its the staff. Many people from Jharkhand, Bihar and other such states, leave home and come away to work at farms located in other parts of India. These people send money back home so that their families get three square meals a day and so that their families are looked after. For too long the semi pro fashion this multi faceted and multi crore business has run has hurt everything and everybody involved in it. Nobody realises it but we’re always a hair’s breath from impending doom and disaster.

While the breeding industry has kept up with the times, unfortunately our racecourses have not. Simply put we haven’t increased the number of racecourses in India post independence. The Turf Authorities of India (TAI) since they are the custodians of the sport need to stand up and take responsibility and start running the sport along professional lines. We have missed every chance of getting on Mass Media, first it was radio, does racing have a footprint? The answer is no. Then came Terrestrial TV (Doordarshan) we contrived to miss that boat too. Next came cable TV and yes once again another opportunity is being missed. We can see no name cricket reruns from 2010 but live racing? Yet another big fat no. An attempt was made by Procam Sports to package the product professionally but it appears that the chaotic structure of Indian racing cost them too much and that too disappeared. The only presence racing has on TV today is the weekly show; The Winning Post, that too on Neo Sports (a channel not carried on TataSky; India’s largest DTH platform). One hopes their TRPs are good but I doubt they are.

We need to take a page out of the recently concluded Pro Kabbadi League that was on Star Sports. The organisers decided to promote and package the sport sparing no expense, glitz, glamour, movie stars, HD quality cameras, proper camera work, a large number of different views etc. were used, as a result they got superb TRPs and the entire exercise was a big success. On the flip side was the Punjab Government which took a call to promote Kabbadi and started hosting the Kabaddi World Cup. Big Stadiums, foreign teams, the best players etc. etc. but their TV coverage on a channel called PTC fell somewhere between bad and really bad, the result; most Kabbadi players want to be playing on Star Sports in the Pro Kabbadi League rather than in the World Cup. Its all about exposure and we have nobody running our clubs that understand that. The most unfortunate thing about the way that our sport is packaged is the slap dash way that the content is put together. It wouldn’t cost much to hire a proper presenter and put out a broadcast that at the very least engages the off course audience. Interviews with connections, a more interesting format for presenting previews and proper experts giving their opinions would go a long way. RWITC did have some decent coverage when Rajesh Narredu and Nial Sadh were presenting racing at Bombay. Unfortunately this was stopped, what the reason was I don’t know.

The quality of race calling or commentary as we call it in India at RWITC is abysmal. One of their race callers seems in too much of a hurry to finish off the race, though his diction is decent and then we have the guy who called the St Leger, he struggles with English in the first place, his spoken English is heavily accented and he messed up calling the Leger big time. RWITC got Jim McGrath down for a few of their big races a couple of years back and his commentary was a real treat to hear. Calcutta on the other hand is fortunate in the fact that its Cyrus Madan’s hometown, in my opinion he has been the gold standard of Indian commentary for over 3 decades now. He knows the sport at a far deeper level than most and speaks very fluent English something that carries through in his race calls. His call of The Stayers’ Cup was possibly the best we have heard in the past year. Anit Casyab who is the regular caller at Hastings is very good too and is getting better as he gets more experienced. The Bangalore Callers are very clear but very boring too. They use the same expressions for every single race, such as “Back To The Leadaaaa….” I love the Delhi caller, Deepak but thats because he has me in splits all the time, where else would you hear somebody say, “Brrrusting through the rails.”

And…… then there is Hyderabad! There was a time when Ali Khusro Jung was doing commentary over there, he retired a few years back. He was top class, crystal clear and his delivery was impeccable. It will be tough to replace him, the guy who does most of their races is quite decent but then they have a couple of guys who should not be doing this, their calls are the worst in any English speaking jurisdiction, anywhere in the world. One of them always calls the last horse as,” The lying last one.” Another term he gets awfully wrong is,”cruising” you do not get excessively whipped and “cruise” into third place. Lets not even get to the level of competence in spoken English as these guys really struggle with that. Clubs should be recruiting the best debaters and dramatics youngsters from universities, maybe hire them to do other work alongside commentary or offer these youngsters to come on weekends and holidays and pay them a stipend, anybody in college always appreciates a bit of pocket money. Recently Tom Durkin retired from being NYRA’s race caller, I would recommend to our fellows to listen to some of his great calls on youtube and learn rather than put out the same mundane drivel day in and day out. Honestly nobody cares how many,”classics” a certain owner has won and the next time a commentator is obliged to give us the tally I hope a cat gets his tongue!

The camera work needs to improve a lot too and its about time High Definition coverage became the norm. HD would also help the stipes do their jobs much better, similarly in objections and enquiries HD coverage will help greatly in coming to the correct decisions as the images are crystal clear. The hardware is available very easily nowadays and costs far less than one would think, its about time we upgraded its not at all difficult. Similarly the sound system at every track needs to improve too, microphones which produce less echo and better speakers would be a good place to start. If racing is to attract good crowds it needs proper publicity and packaging. We desperately need to hire full time pros who look after promotion especially for our big events. Racing is a lifestyle sport and we need to understand this and get on board to make sure that an owner who spends Lakhs to buy a horse gets a good bang for his buck! They need to feel special and be put on a pedestal, the more exposure they get the more like minded people will want to get involved. Page 3 has become ubiquitous in our City Newspaper editions as the place to do some shameless self promotion, racing would fit in beautifully over there. Simple little things can make a huge difference; how about a dedicated hospitality area for those owners that have a runner in a particular race, making it like the VIP room at a nightclub. Similarly a pre and post race press conference for any big event should be compulsory for connections of various contenders and in case a representative doesn’t turn up a fat fine would make those who miss out think twice before missing out again. The sponsor should be roped in for the publicity of a race carrying their name in print and media this would be of direct benefit to them as they get more coverage.

Web presence and social media is another must in the 21st Century. RWITC takes the lead in this and their website is engaging and very informative. Similarly RWITC has a very active twitter handle @rwitcmumbai and they are always available to answer fans’ questions. Calcutta too has a good and informative website updated on a daily basis, they have a Facebook page too. While BTC and HRC also have pretty extensive websites its quite apparent that these need to carry more information and need to be far more interactive. Presence on Facebook which can be updated in real time is a necessity in todays day and age. We must engage our audience and market racing as a really cool thing to be involved in, I for one enjoy racing immensely as a fan I doubt there is any sport that has so many layers whether its pedigree, training, jockeyship, medicine, luck, tactics and a myriad of other variables. The motto of my alma mater The Doon School is, ” Knowledge our light.” Simply put the more information that we put out in the open the better the experience will be for punters and fans alike. Its about time we wake up and smell the coffee or else our shrinking base will reduce even further.

Bangalore Summer Season! How did we F@%k Up something as good as this?

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.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

When I started writing this blog, the intention was to put down on record my thoughts on a sport that is also my business and a way of life for me. The response has been overwhelming so far and one hopes that I am able to convince some of the powers that be in Indian racing of the many ills that plague our sport. At the same time most of the time I come across as what we boarding school kids call a,”Sheddy.” Well I am far from that and In this blog I intend to mention a few things that our sport can say are world class.

Lets start with the Indian Stud Book; here was an institution that was very poorly run until Major Srinivas Nargolkar walked up to the plate as the registrar. Major as we fondly call him brought about a radical change in an institution that was as poorly run as the rest of the sport. I doubt many people know this but our Stud Book is a model that most countries in the world come to see when they want to find out how things are done. Major, computerised most of the data that the Stud Book kept. He started maintaining proper statistics, organised in such a way that the Stud Book took over a lot of stuff that breeders were being made to do such as the responsibility of doing their own write-ups for the annual sale. I remember one year in the 80s when Major Pradeep Mehra and my father, Sonny Brar messed up their deadlines and both of their sales entries were rejected and we conducted a separate sale at Delhi Race Club, so if you wanted to buy a Grey Gaston one hoofed it to Delhi and incidentally out of this sale came the year’s champion filly, Chaitanya Ratham (TV Sunday-Urvashi by Everyday II) not only did she wipe out all the Southern classics in her year but went on to produce an Indian Derby winner in Astronomic.

Major would come around to every stud farm at least once a year with lots of test tubes to collect blood samples for Blood Typing of our yearlings. Proper rules were set, proper deadlines were made and the breeding industry followed. He humanised the Stud Book and personally knew every single breeder. Whereas the previous registrars would talk down to most breeders, Major was like a good housemaster in boarding school, fair yet firm. Our Stud Book kept up with every single innovation that the world came up with and he was very instrumental in helping set up our DNA testing lab in Pune. One rarely hears of anybody ever felicitating him for the service that he provided, after he retired and after two registrars who weren’t in the same mould as him, later the reins have been handed over to Satish Iyer who worked very closely with Major.

A person I find to be in a similar mould to his Guru, Satish is a person with his roots in computers and he was responsible for undertaking the computerisation of the Indian Stud Book. Since he has taken over, the Stud Book has been brought up to scratch keeping in mind more modern systems of computing as earlier the Stud Book ran on DOS programming. A great idea has been the adding of a CD ROM in the sleeve of every Stud Book publication so that one can access data in pdf format. The latest innovation was the launch of a website which provides data on every Indian thoroughbred and the site is updated on a weekly basis. One understands that Gautam Lala played a large role in conceptualising this and at an annual subscription of a Thousand bucks you get proper information on every mare, stallion and foal in India, its not just the best value in Indian racing but I’d dare say its the biggest bargain in the world’s breeding industry. A recent innovation has been a breeders’ portal for the registration of foals as well as maintaining accounts. Recently Satish gave a very well received presentation on the Indian breeding industry at a session at the 2014 Asian Racing Conference in Hong Kong, the session was chaired by Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla. Our Stud Book is one of the industry’s only world class institutions and thank god we have it or else maybe we too would head the way of Pakistan which has lost its status as a country that produces thoroughbreds. The staff at the Stud Book are what one could call helpful facilitators and the entire team are very well marshalled and know their jobs. That is indeed testament to the man at the helm, keep up the good work.

Keeping in the positive mode one must mention the new Monsoon track that has been laid in Pune. I remember in the old days Pune racing would often get cancelled when the ghats were over-run with torrential rainfall. At that time part of the racing surface was converted into a Monsoon track while another part of it was still the old black cotton soil based surface. The old monsoon track it seems had run its course and a refurbishment was required. Recently RWITC has converted the entire surface into a track that holds up well under wet conditions but at the same time plays fair in bright sunshine too. As if on cue it poured during the opening week of the Pune races and the track as well as timings held up extremely well one hopes the entire exercise is a massive success and the surface plays fair and is safe for the horses that race on it. Apparently the Bangalore track is set for a refurbishment at the end of the Summer Season, this is urgently required and one hopes it all goes off well.

Now lets get to the bad and ugly of Indian racing and unfortunately nothing typifies it better than the soon to be concluded Bangalore Summer Season. As outstation horses return to their home bases, BTC is struggling to fill their cards and races have been going void, this week Thursday’s card has an abysmal lot of 6 races. I couldn’t but help notice two horses in Friday’s first race which are racing off a mark of ZERO! Yes Sifar, Nought, Nil. What has gone wrong with racing at BTC? This club handles more betting on their tote than the rest of India’s tracks combined, yet its been sliding like a freight train going downhill. This is my home centre and I have seen the heydays of the Bangalore Summer Season. The days when Rashid Byramji would become champion trainer after giving his pursuer a lead of six maybe eight into the last week of racing. The days when Vasant Shinde would say, “Baba Sollid” and then get beat by Pesi Shroff, Aslam Kader, Warren Singh and Karan Singh. The quality of trainers was top notch and the jockeys were a different class to the riders of this era. I will never forget Vasant’s ride on Nine Carat in the Bangalore Derby when the filly stumbled out of the gates; in one smooth motion the man had the filly on her feet and moving as if nothing happened when moments before her nose was on the turf. Similarly Pesi Shroff’s ride on Brave Dancer in the Maharaja’s Cup where he stole a march on Divine Light at the top of the straight and held her off in an epic battle to the wire versus Vasant. This was Elusive Pimpernel, Adler and In The Spotlight’s home centre. India’s best trainer S. Padmanabhan is based out of Bangalore. Yet their big races have been plundered by raiders from Bombay and even Hyderabad. Things are so bad that even the best Three year old in Karnataka; Fink is based 3 hours down the road away in Mysore! As it stands the best 3 year old in Bangalore is Bold Majesty with a Fourth in the Derby and a poor runner up effort in the mile million on Sunday.

Bangalore was homestead to Rashid Byramji who was head and shoulders above the competition. The best would come from Bombay, Haskell David brought his A Team from Calcutta and a whole lot of horses arrived from Madras and Hyderabad too. This was our national season, our Saratoga. What happened? This year The entire season has been a train wreck! I hope those in-charge take my comments and suggestions in the right spirit. My intention is to be constructively critical for the betterment of sport and nothing else. I will go into details regarding all this in my next blog so that I don’t get too verbose as many of my readers have said so. Just a synopsis of what I intend to discuss as regards Bangalore, the Prospectus, the human element, an ill conceived Quota System and the lack of opportunities for superior stock and inversely too much opportunity for the lowest third of the stock in training. Similarly a Socialist attitude for a Capitalist sport has led to a destruction of merit and excellence isn’t rewarded while incompetence isn’t punished.

Nothing To Be Ashamed Of Except Saturday’s BTC Card!!!

The recent travails of racing as a sport and breeding as a business have led me to a conclusion, of how we fall into a complete blind spot as regards the Government. Racing has failed and failed miserably at that to keep up with the times. The sport has been unable to cash in on its incumbent advantage as the only legal form of gambling on mainland India. I have spoken often about the so called, “Club” system and its numerous failings to administer a 21st Century sport.

The Racing and Breeding industry provides an estimated 3.3 Million direct man days of employment in India and most of that number is rural jobs. I haven’t taken into consideration all the indirect jobs that are created such as in the hospitality sector and many others. Yet we are unable to shake off the stigma of being considered a vice and being looked upon as a rich man’s indulgence. This attitude is far from the truth since I doubt there is a sport in the world that requires as much labour whether its a white collar executive all the way down to the guy who has to shovel horse-shit. As an example take my farm which is located in rural India in a village in Punjab, if I was farming rice and wheat, which incidentally is far more profitable under the current scenario we find ourselves in as an industry, I would need no more than 30 people to work on my farm since a lot of modern farming, especially in Punjab is done with machines but since I breed horses I require many times that number. Added to this are the intangibles that one never thinks about, the pursuit of breeding horses is a green industry. Utilisation of insecticides and weed killers is minimal as horses would be harmed by their use. The pressure on water resources is far less than if one was farming the land for crops. A paddock needs watering once a month vis a vis crops which need a weekly or at least a fortnightly watering. So here we are, a green environmentally friendly industry that hires a large number of people to work and gives extra revenue to the Government, sounds like a fail safe doesn’t it? We should get respect but we find ourselves on the oblique opposite side of respect, we’re looked down upon. We are neither treated as a sport, an industry or an agricultural activity. We are the orphan of Indian Policy making.

So here is an environmentally friendly industry that runs right through the core of society be it Mr Tycoon who buys a horse or Mr Syce who looks after a horse or Mr. Farrier who is a skilled worker or Mr. Trainer whose job is akin to that of a sports coach or Mr. Jockey who if good is as talented as any cricket player and yet has the toughest profession in sports as a whole as he must control his weight as well as retain his strength to control a 500 KG horse. To top all this we give the government oodles of cash from betting taxes for the privilege of running our sport and get fiddle all in return from them only more hurdles and hoops to pass through. We need to hold our heads high and be proud of what we do; breeding, training and riding is an art-form which is very nuanced and extremely difficult to master. See the regard greats like Lester Piggot, Sir Henry Cecil or Federico Tesio are held in, in their homelands they are revered as gods and books are written about their achievements, sadly its not the case in India. Whereas in most other countries around the world racing and breeding is seen as a major economic driver, in India we have been way off the mark when it comes to making a good case for ourselves in the eyes of the government or the public.

Racing has been deemed to be a sport by a landmark Supreme Court judgement in 1996. In other words we ought to be treated on par with other sports and should be getting grants like other sports such as Kabbadi and Kho-Kho get from the Sports Ministry, what do we get? Once again the answer is Nada! Instead we get our state government in Maharashtra tax the tote 27% and then wonder why everybody bets on the phone with illegal bookies instead of the Tote. Unfortunately we once again fall in a policy blind-spot while babudom orders us to bend-over even more.

Anyway enough of all that and lets return to The worst Bangalore Summer Season in history. After some good racing over Derby weekend despite a deluge of rain we return to reality. Saturday’s card is a repeat of the shitfest that we witnessed on the Saturday before Derby week. Though on the positive side it was great to see the track hold up really well despite some solid rain over the entire Derby week which turned into sheets on Derby Sunday. The going albeit soft was safe and every race on the card was gone through, well done BTC at least something deserves praise; the current management of the racing surface.

Going racing at BTC is akin to going to see a Formula One race but being treated to racing Maruti 800s instead and to add to that analogy Maruti 800s that are for good measure 5 Years old and over. Age group racing was encouraged when there was a shortage of horses for racing in the 70s, it was a way to encourage owners to keep their older and less competitive stock and card races for them to earn their cornbill and the quid pro quo was that they ensured that numbers in an era of horse shortage remained healthy enough to card a proper racecard on a weekly basis. In the same era BTC, RWITC and HRC ran breeding operations to populate their stables and clubs subsidised horse ownership. Now we have a glut of horses, so why continue with the boring spectacle of age group racing. RCTC has pretty much done away with it, its about time BTC smelt the Coffee and did so too. Carding races for lower class aged horses is causing racing to fall into a rut as since owning a 25 rated 6 year old is so lucrative, why attempt to buy a nice juvenile instead when no proper races are being written for them. The quota system that was instituted a few years ago now is bearing fruit, unfortunately the fruit is about as tasty as Snow White’s Apple. While genuine buyers are denied quotas or rather restricted, many trainers who do not have the clientele and as such funds to buy young-stock were given quotas which they have been obliged to fill since they were allotted. The result has been that they have brought in inferior stock which was available cheap and in most cases stock on contingency without any care about quality. In other words horses that shouldn’t be in racing have found their way into the BTC racing system and are going to be around for many more years to for the lack of a better word pollute the sport as a bad jockey or trainer would and these nags have taken a stable that could have been occupied by a superior horse. Currently racing is so far down the abyss that a race featuring the stray dogs of BTC would be more watchable than what is being churned out in the name of racing.

BTC has been plagued recently with a a lack of direction, deteriorating standards of racing, the complete lack of any policing of the sport to ensure fairplay, no consistency in decisions taken and a general apathetic attitude towards everything whether its a cup of tea or a Derby winning racehorse. In the the real world (read everywhere but BTC) the man at the helm would have been sacked eons ago for pure non performance but here there is nobody at the helm, so nobody to hold accountable; no professional CEO who is empowered to take decisions, expand business or generally manage affairs as a company with a ₹1600 Crore turnover should. The stiping levels have fallen to depths of depravity previously never seen. The department is today only competent to count how many times a horse is whipped. Jockeys give runs today with an impunity that I have never seen before in my life, its so bad that the handicapper doesn’t even change the rating of more than half of a weekend’s runners, in other words he feels that these horses are not running on merit. Recently Wayne Wood has been hired to hopefully improve the sorry state of affairs, one hopes he has had a dispassionate look at the sorry state of affairs and the competence level of those around him. I’m pretty sure that he is aware of the surgery required in the department and he should be empowered to take a cleaver to it if he so desires and make sure that racing officials know their jobs properly, currently pushing pens is the only place where there is excellence!