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. 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.