Mr Arun Jaitley, you just destroyed a thriving industry!

I’m no expert economist and from what I understand, the new Goods and Services Tax is going to simplify our country’s direct taxation regime. What I do understand is the economics of the business of racing and breeding thoroughbred racehorses and the proposed GST of 28% set by the Government of India has pretty much set the seeds for the end of our sport which has rolled along in a haphazard way since 1777.    To treat it simply as gambling isn’t just plain wrong it shows a complete lack of application on the part of the GST Council, the Finance Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry and the entire Indian Government.  It clearly seems as if they think some horses turn up on the race track, they run and people just gamble on it, well Mr Jaitley it’s a lot more and I mean a hell of a lot more than that.
It’s pretty obvious the government hasn’t done its due diligence as to the effect such a high tax slab will have on the industry as a whole. Nowhere in the world are betting pools taxed as heavily as this and frankly speaking all this will do is to drive betting underground to illegal bookmakers and penalize the transparent totalizator system which is the norm in successful racing jurisdictions like, Japan, Hong Kong, France and USA. The three most heavily hit race clubs will be Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mysore as they are running very efficient tote setups and as a result paying their State Governments a handsome amount in turnover tax, the reason for this is that they were taxed within reason and they were able to pass this on to their customers who seeing a good return flocked to the tote instead of the bookmakers and as a result swelled the total pool.  The beauty of this system is that every paisa bet is accounted for and the government collects its fair share of Tax without any evasion or hiding whatsoever, the entire amount bet goes into a computerized pool, whatever percentage has to be deducted is and the rest is distributed back to the public in winnings.
All other clubs will be hit as well since Indian racing is synergistic in nature and a drop in tote commissions would mean a drop in commission paid between clubs as well. Further to this it’s very obvious that the government hasn’t looked at the employment racing and breeding generates, when I say the industry provides about 50,000 jobs believe me that’s a low figure it’s probably a lot higher. Take the example of Dashmesh Stud Farm and our village, Sarainaga. My family are basically farmers if we were to plant the normal Wheat and Rice prevalent in the area, I’d employ no more than 20 people to work the entire farm, two tractor drivers and another 18 farm labourers.  
Since we are involved in breeding horses we employ at the farm; 60 syces, 30 women who clean stables, 30 supervisory staff, such as office people, jamadars, farriers, etc. 6 tractor drivers, 20 farm labourers, 15 watchmen, 12 gardeners to look after the stud yard and estate, 2 full time electricians, 2 veterinarians and 4 compounders. Further to this we also hire daily wage workers on a regular basis, at least 20 of them at any given time involved in jobs like painting, putting away produce etc. Added to this we buy horseshoes which come from Bangalore and are manufactured by somebody. Veterinary medicines, vaccines, bandages, chemicals etc. which are also manufactured by somebody. My truck man Surinderpal makes at least 15 annual up and down runs to and from racecourses either delivering young-stock or picking up mares. We also buy bran from a mill where again people are involved in the manufacture of the same. We pick up rice straw and a separate team are contracted to bring in 600 trolleys annually. Other farms buy their fodder and oats too, we grow ours in house. All in all as you can see from my example the knock on effect of running a Stud Farm provides a huge amount of indirect employment as well. Consider the fact that this is one stud farm alone, there are other farms spread out all over India who certainly employ a lot more staff that we do. We give employment to the average Indian, the majority of whom the universal government education system has failed miserably. My employees are the ones that run the show and they have trained on the job to look after horses and believe me it’s a very valuable skill.
Now let’s talk about a race club, they employ people in the thousands all the way from Veterinarians, racing officials, jockeys, trainers, riding boys, farriers, tote operators, security personnel, gardeners, those people who replace divots after every race, drivers, doctors, nurses, jamadars, race book sellers and a lot of syces in many places one per horse, to put things in perspective Bangalore stables a thousand horses. Owners own horses and pay bills, one usually earns that money from stakes and it is paid as Basic Training Fee or in the case of trainers and jockeys, commissions. All this money to run the show comes from the income that clubs get from their betting commission on the tote, BTC was taking 4% from the turnover to fund their racing and paying 8% on turnover as tax, when one factors in entertainment tax and service tax BTC was paying the Karnataka Government 11% in taxes. Now if that amount rises to the proposed 28% suddenly the tote pool shrinks and the punter gravitates towards the illegal bookie who pays 0% tax and pays nothing to the sport. Most of these syces and riding boys come from backward places like Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and the Marwar region of Rajasthan, they earn money and send it home to their families, so someone should tell Mr. Jaitley that the cascading effect of a 28% tax slab runs across a lot of places far far away from the,”Race Clubs.”
If clubs run their racing efficiently and earn money from betting which is whether one likes it or not the fuel that keeps our engines running, the cascading effect is a more robust market as higher betting turnover means better stake money and better remuneration for owners which makes owning horses viable. All a 28% tax will do is drive legal betting underground and as such cause a loss to the exchequer as well as the clubs that run the sport, they’ll continue running it in a meagre way instead and as has been proven time and again this causes owners and trainers to be more dependent on gambling rather than shooting for excellence to make ends meet.
The unfortunate thing is that the GST Council has failed to see empirical evidence available in India itself before coming to this decision of taxing Race Clubs at 28% on their betting. RWITC was paying a 20% tax to the Maharashtra Government, this is a ridiculous tax rate on horse betting the result was that the club was paying the state government well under 20 Crores annually. I can safely say that RWITC’s turnover that is lost to illegal betting easily runs to over a thousand crores.  On the flip side was BTC who by running a successful totalizator based operation with a sensible tax rate of 8% was paying the Karnataka Government something in the region of Rs. 200 Crores annually. Now with 28% taken by the government and the club taking a commission the overall pool shrinks and a shrinking tote means misery for all involved, the club, the government and all connected dependents.
I’m pretty sure that those who have decided to fiddle with what is a very fine balancing act when it comes to revenue have never been to a racecourse or visited a stud farm ever. Worldwide breeding of horses is encouraged by governments and even subsidized as it provides jobs and it’s an environmentally cleaner option than any kind of intensive farming. Breeding horses means no using of pesticides on pasture, paddocks are pretty much left to grow naturally. Further breeding horses is a very viable and well paying animal husbandry option and it’s agricultural in every way. Without experience as a farmer any breeder would struggle, breeding horses is simply put a value added agricultural system.
One hopes that we as an industry for once get some relief. To start with the GST has taken over what ought to stay on as a state subject. Our Racetrack and Off Track Betting project in Punjab which was a straight up project worth Rs.600 Crores of Foreign Direct Investment and was going to bring at least 10,000 permanent jobs and a lot of welcome revenue for our cash strapped state is now dead in the water. No one in their right mind will invest in a racing project where the tax rate is 28%, the total take out from pools; which means government tax plus the club’s commission in no proper racing jurisdiction exceeds 20%. The Punjab Government as part of the project was going to earn between 5% and 10% as their cut. Well that’s all gone because people who scarcely understand our industry sit in judgment over it. Shame on you Indian Government, I didn’t know that the panacea that GST was promoted as is supposed to suck the guts out of an industry that few understand. You’re not creating any new jobs at least don’t destroy the ones that exist!

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Thank You Bangalore…Calcutta we look forward to 2018! 

Our championship weekend is over and Bangalore Turf Club deserves a pat on their back for a very well organised Invitation week and some really high octane racing. Our Indian Derby winner Hall Of Famer disappointed as the favourite in the Invitation Cup.  Well, that’s racing and sometimes things don’t quite go your way and we live to fight another day. Temerity is a lovely filly and a deserving winner of the championship event in record time. A huge congratulations to her owners Shyam and Amay Ruia of Equus Stud and Berjis Desai. It was great to see Amay beaming in the winner’s circle after the filly’s win I hope he’s as hooked as his dad was when he led in an Invitation Cup winner as a young man with Venus De Milo way back in 1969, co incidentally the first time Bangalore hosted the event.  The enthusiasm that Shyam carries for the sport of racing is awesome and I’ve often seen him come to Bangalore and Hyderabad to see his horses run in ordinary races. We need more people like that in racing, who race for sport and Temerity has hopefully given them a real shot in the arm.
Serjeant At Arms is a really special horse and his win in the Super Mile was breathtaking. His trainer Sulaiman Attaollahi should be lauded for having this horse race at his peak over a period of over 12 months something a lot of people don’t realise is a really tough ask. The Sprinters Cup was a bit of a crapshoot and the draw played a huge part in the result, Adam won the race for the second successive year but there were numerous hard luck stories in the race, shuffle the draw and you’ll get a different result. The Stayers saw another super performance from the handsome Captain Morgan who weaved his way through from last place to beat old man and defending champion Tintinnabulation who was being hailed a winner close home. The spectacle of a long distance race is something else and one wishes there were more contests of stamina in our calendar as they test a jockey’s riding ability as well as a trainer’s ability a lot more than the humdrum Indian racing has become over shorter trips. The supporting events on both days undercard were top class and competitive and we saw top drawer action at every level over the two days.
It’s about time the stakes on offer for the Invitation races went up a notch. This weekend’s races are very high quality and the prize money on offer needs to reflect the same. Thirty Lakhs each to the winners Sprinters, Stayers and Super Mile needs to be at least Fifty Lakhs. To put things in perspective Multitude who flashed home to run a cracking Fourth in the Sprinters would have earned more by staying in Calcutta and picking up the terms event being run there on the 8th of March over Six Furlongs. Similarly the Invitation Cup needs to see a boost in stakes so that it truly stands out as the year end championship race. The TAI’s marquee event cannot be less than half the Indian Derby’s prize money, the optics aren’t right.
I’m quite critical about the lack of fizz around our sport but the Turf Authorities awards evening at the picturesque Bangalore Palace was a superbly organised event. Possibly one of the best ever, top class food and booze and very well choreographed entertainment. The BTC Committee deserves kudos and a pat on their back for the way they went about organising the weekend and I’m sure next year’s hosts Calcutta will realise that the bar has been raised which is good to see, as the boys in the City Of Joy will take on the challenge in the right spirit and give everyone a great time next year at Hastings. On the other end of the spectrum was the Karnataka Racehorse Owner’s Society’s party which yours truly sensibly passed up. I’m what you call a very reluctant (read I want out) contributor to this organisation and I heard some great stories of the goings on at their party and the general misbehaviour of their attendees, hijacking of snack bowls and booze bottles just ain’t on guys. Since the awards were instituted after ages we actually saw the right people being rewarded as the mass rigging that was going on especially in the jockey and trainer categories is hopefully a thing of the past and Trevor and Pesi were deserving Champions and it was refreshing to see them not thanking, “Baaaas.”
On the technical side of the sport it’s good to see the Pattern Race Committee becoming a body which has now started operating in the right way. Soon you will see races being upgraded and downgraded on merit and the quality they represent. A big decision at the Turf Authorities Annual meeting was the setting up of a permanent Secretariat for the TAI under the aegis of veteran racing administrator Nirmal Prasad. This is something that was badly needed as usually one had every club pulling in different directions when faced with a problem but now they will hopefully act in unison in the interest of racing. Another good proposal that was mooted was to increase the distance of the Stayers Cup to two miles, a great idea in my opinion. It’s been five years since the Invitation was opened to older horses and it’s about time we looked at rationalising the arbitrary weight for age scale that has been in use thus far, it’s heavily stacked against older horses and we need to rectify the same.
The times are changing and racing must adapt, we’ve always been a very inward looking sport and it’s about time we started looking outwards. We need to spread out into more states and the image of the sport needs a massive revamp, I was particularly impressed by the UB Group’s attempts at promoting the Indian Derby and how they went about getting many first timers to the races. The attitude that it’s just, “Satta” and the associated griminess needs to go. Stricter policing and more OTBs is the need of the hour to rapidly increase betting turnover. The more our customer trusts the system the more he or she will gamble. Racing is one of the coolest sports to be involved in and one of the most cerebral whether it comes to pedigrees, rearing, training or riding. As I head home the breeding season is in full swing. Hopefully this breeding season one conceives the winner of the 2022 Indian Derby! Yup that’s the time it takes and one wishes more people appreciated that! 

Blood Sweat Tears & Finally JOY!!!!

The 2017 Indian Derby is in the books and yours truly was the fortunate guy who won and got his monicker on the roll of honour. It’s the pinnacle of Indian racing and breeding and it takes a lot of blood sweat and tears to stand on that podium. The race itself lasts about two and a half minutes but years and years of toil are what it takes to get there. Hall Of Famer had what it takes and took us into dreamland while one is weathered enough to realize that we lose more often in racing than win, the thought of our grey Filly passing the post ahead of a gutsy Serjeant At Arms will bring a smile to my face the rest of my life.
So I thought let’s see how we were able to stir the pot and cook up an Indian Derby winner. For Dashmesh it started when we took over a mare called Trustworthy (Razeen-Snow by Grey Gaston) on terms from owner RK Jain. Trustworthy was trained in Bombay by Sunderji she ran on Derby weekend over a very unsuitable 5 Furlongs many years ago and flew home to be second. A typical daughter of Razeen; built like a barn, Trustworthy never quite realized her racing potential and blew a tendon soon after her debut. Her dam Snow was a daughter of Usha Stud’s dominant stallion Grey Gaston and a winner of the 1983 Indian 1000 Guineas for trainer Bezan Chenoy and owner NM Irani (As if it was ordained purely by chance I saw the Derby sitting in NM Irani’s daughter Mrs. Bakhtawar Chenoy’s box on the 2nd floor). Breeding is a heartbreaking business and there is a lot of trial and error involved. When mated to Green Forest, Trustworthy threw the Golconda Oaks Gr.2 winner Gisele for owner Sunil Jhangiani and trainer Michael Eshwer, despite high hopes Gisele was an absolute dud broodmare. Elusive Trust was Trustworthy’s get from Elusive Pimpernel our champion Indian racehorse and still considered by many to be India’s best. Elusive Trust was leased out to Deepak Khaitan in whose colours Elusive Pimpernel ran. She too is a well built sort,  put into training with Dallas Todywalla, she won twice and she placed second in the Calcutta 1000 Guineas and had a third place in the Calcutta Oaks to go along with that. Elusive Trust retired to stud as a good broodmare prospect and her first foal was the Carnival Dancer colt Amandus who did quite well for his owners in Calcutta winning a fair number of races but he was nothing more than a good horse, definitely below top class.
Mated to Win Legend, Elusive Trust threw Hall Of Famer who inherited her dam and grandam’s solid structure and stood out from the time she was a foal. She has solid bone and the backside of a squatting washerwoman. We retain the occasional filly for racing, which we feel will be assets as future broodmares for the farm. Co-incidentally the breeding industry was in overproduction and supply was far outstripping demand so it just made sense to retain a few as sales were tepid at the time. That year we decided to split our horses among trainers in Bangalore as trainers had to stick to a quota of 16. I felt that she would be a great fit for Paddy’s style of training and thus made the fortuitous decision of sending her to the, “Hall Of Famer.” In fact she’s named after her trainer.  
She made her debut under David Allan towards the back end of the Bangalore Winter season and closed well to be 4th behind the highly touted La Dona over 7 Furlongs. David came back saying she already needs a mile & a quarter. Put away for Bangalore Summer she started her season under A Sandesh in a mile maidens race. Just as she looked as if she’d kick on and win she veered out under pressure and was beaten to a close third by Star Nijinsky who went on to win the Deccan Derby in the Monsoon season. A nice added money event for maidens over a mile on Derby weekend called the Mystical Million became easy pickings and this time Sandesh was wise to her tricks and she kicked on to score a facile win.  
As Paddy felt she was still a bit immature and weak it was decided to let her have the monsoon season off and strengthen up as we felt we had a filly of classic potential and we’d see her at her best in the winter classics. Paddy had her ready to go for a prep run on Mysore Derby weekend and David Allan was in town to ride Ice Glacier. Hall Of Famer scored an easy win over a mile in the 40-65 event in a cracking timing. It was time to step into big time racing with her. We had an option to go in either the Bangalore or Golconda 1000 Guineas, the latter gave us an extra week to the Indian 1000 Guineas. She hit the front entering the straight and when the pressure came on she drifted out again, David wisely let her drift to the outer rail and then rode her out to beat La Dona by a shade under two lengths. The next port of call was Mahalaxmi and a bit of work on her teeth and an equipment change was done to help her mend her wayward ways.
The Indian 1000 Guineas was a heartbreaker and Mrs Patmore got us by a head, what was heartening to see though was how she pinned her ears back and almost got up on the wire with a second wind, added to that she didn’t drift out. In a heated battle that day she showed a lot of heart and character to fight. On further study the rail mayn’t have been the best place to be on, on that day as all winners came wide. It was either the Indian or Bangalore Oaks next before a tilt at the Indian Derby. Paddy was away with Desert God in Dubai and I on vacation with my family in Thailand when Mrs. Sharmila Padmanabhan got the brilliant idea of heading to Calcutta for the Derby where we had to pay a hefty final entry. Once the training team had decided to head East there was no second guessing that call. Boy what a call it was, sitting in box seat off a hot pace when David asked her to run she decimated the opposition winning by 8 1/2 lengths geared down and still running the fastest Calcutta Derby of all time in 2:28 and change. Left in her wake were Calcutta Oaks and Guineas winner Silver Beauty and the highly touted Pune Derby winner Accolade who had gone off as favourite. We knew we had a great chance in the Indian Derby, added to the fact that our trainer and jockey were defending champs in the blue riband and Paddy had done the Calcutta-Indian Derby double twice in the past four years.
The race itself never quite went to plan though put simply when you win it’s all hindsight. When Lucas veered out David found himself in front, he was able to get Hall Of Famer to settle in front and in retrospect man what a brilliant ride it was. When I looked up at the 1:20 and change split for the first 6 Furlongs I thought in my mind, “boy we’ve got this!” He had everyone off the bit turning for home without having yet gone for broke, Serjeant At Arms under an inch perfect ride from Sandesh split horses after coming the shortest way home looked as if he’d pass us for fun but when David asked, the filly answered in spades, showing that grit, pinning her ears back and fighting off her challenger. We won the Indian Derby, I let out a real roar, the sort of reaction that is joy, relief and fulfillment all rolled into one and lifted my wife in the air with a bear hug, luckily she never hurt herself.
Hall Of Famer is a product of events that span continents and testament to the memory of two of India’s greatest breeders Major Pradeep Mehra of Usha Stud, who imported Amber Forest the 4th dam of Hall Of Famer and bred the grandam Trustworthy and my father Sonny Brar who set up Dashmesh and the day he saw Trustworthy he simply told Mr Jain, “whatever the cost I want that mare.” I must thank Patrick Barbe our friend, agent and advisor who was insistent that we must stand a son of Sunday Silence and found us Win Legend (who was languishing in Japan after his racing career) after we lost Sunday Doubt who produced two classic winners from his only crop. Many must have scoffed at us when we imported a Japanese stallion but as they say nothing works like success. I’m very grateful to my staff in Sarainaga at Dashmesh who had faith in me and stood by me through some really tough times. They had a good shindig after the Derby with a DJ and all. They are the true heroes who make for a successful organization. Similarly to be thanked are people like Paddy’s Jamadar Kalam, Kamrool and Mujeeb as well as Inderjeet Singh who rides the filly in the morning and pretty much entire team Padmanabhan a thoroughly professional outfit which works very hard and deserves every accolade heaped upon them.

I was taught well by my father and brought up with the ethos of being honest to the process day in and day out without worrying about the end result, it’ll come if it has to. There’s no shortcut in the horse business they have to be fed, watered, cleaned and looked after every single day. Many in this business have stood by us in our tough times and they all know who they are. 

It’s been a long hard journey and every time I thought about Elusive Pimpernel winning the Indian Derby, it always crossed my mind would we ever get there again? I guess that monkey’s off my back now. I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of good wishes from across the world. Western India has not been a priority market for the stud for a long time and the disconnect of the clientele there is summed up by someone who said it’s refreshing to see a small farm win the Derby. Well if you insist despite a 133 Classic wins, we’re small and that’s fine by us. Our motto is that it’s quality that counts and not quantity. My father always said you need to produce that one horse and that’s just what my mighty grey queen is! 

HALL OF FAMER as a yearling on the extreme left: the grey with a blaze

The Dawn of a new Era for Indian Racing…..Fingers crossed let’s hope so!

Finally the Punjab racecourse project is back online. The Punjab Infrastructure Development Board took out an ad in the papers asking for bids for the proposed project that is to come up near Ludhiana which is Punjab’s largest city.
This track will be very different from any other in India as this will be launched as a pari mutuel or totalisator pool wagering set up. No bookmakers will be part of Punjab racing, something that is the norm in every country where the sport is thriving; Japan, Hong Kong, France, South Korea and USA just to mention a few. Another important aspect of the project is permission to set up Off Track Betting (OTB) sites in the entire state.  We in India are still going on with an archaic way of running the sport like the erstwhile, “Great” Britain. The British left us with a racing setup similar to what they envisaged as to what racing should be. Seeing where English racing is vis a vis other places, we have backed the wrong horse, the stakes paid out in UK are a joke, on par with RWITC and Delhi; yes, that bad. 

Unfortunately neither our government nor our racing administrators understood that the organization of any sport must evolve with time. Take British Football as an example if the old system sans the Premier League was still operating, I doubt very much that worldwide the game would have got the exposure it has today. If Test Cricket was the only form of the game that was played by now a large chunk of it’s fan base would have eroded. Introducing new formats like ODIs in the late 1970s and now T20 has grown the sport’s fan base exponentially. 

Indian racing needs to get its act together, I’m extremely critical of the club system as it stifles progress. See the state of affairs at RWITC or the mess that Madras Race Club became the past few decades under the aegis of an overly powerful chairman. To start with, it’s very apparent that racing is directly dependent on the attitude of the state government. The entire Punjab project has been conceived by the State government after a lot of discussion and trying to understand exactly what is required. Without the government’s encouragement and help our sport cannot thrive.  

Our clubs lack the clout and will to engage with our state governments. With the right kind of policies by the government, the racing industry could be contributing at least 10 times more in taxes than what it is today. Our structure is archaic in so much that today’s racing in India is all about packing people in to the racecourse. Most of the wagering too happens on course, the world over in modern racing set ups 83% of wagering comes from off track sources. Racing is a business and governments need to understand that charging arbitrary tax rates like Maharashtra does, causes wholesale damage to the ecosystem that racing exists in. The standard takeout the world over is in the region of 20-21%, this includes the racing jurisdiction’s commission as well as government levies. Here most state governments are antagonistic about racing as our misinformed lawmakers and bureaucrats think of it only as gambling, not as a source of employment and revenue. These same governments run lotteries which they advertise aggressively, it’s new year time lots of, “New Year Bumpers” are taking place now.

 Governments need to understand that horse racing and breeding is like any other industry and we deserve a better deal, we create rural jobs, our endeavour is ecologically green and we contribute richly to state exchequers directly and indirectly. An example is our farm; the economy of Sarainaga village to a great extent runs on Dashmesh Stud Farm, these men and women are getting proper employment with remunerative salaries right at home and as such don’t need to shift to cities looking for work. Take the state of Kentucky in the United States of America as an example; the estimated annual economic impact of the horse industry in the state is $4 Billion. The horses generate 80,000 to 100,000 jobs in the Bluegrass state. We had a study done in India and found that our industry generated 3.3 Million man days of employment. 
We need to professionalize the way our tracks are run, a simple example is in surface management. Not one club has taken on board a qualified professional turf expert who curates and looks after the track surface, the result is a loss of race days when it rains and loss of revenue. The exact same malady effects our training sand tracks too, the result is more injuries and soundness issues.

 Similarly our clubs have failed to promote the sport in a general sense, we missed the boat on Television and similarly we have missed the boat on social media as well. We need to engage a whole lot more people than we are on Facebook and Twitter.  Horse racing as a whole does not exist in mass media. The weekly programme that is the sport’s only regular presence on TV is so badly made and scripted that it causes the sport more harm than good. Even the picture quality that racing is broadcast in is in non HD format, the camera work is poor and the picture quality poor, HD quality production is now the norm rather than an exception the world over but not one of our clubs have even thought of upgrading.  

We must learn to package our sport a whole lot better. The arbitrary fashion shows that we see at RWITC often are cheaply produced and look as such, more akin to a, “mujra” than a classy affair. Racing or rather any sports event must be comfortable to attend, the lifeblood of the sport is the punter who comes day in day out to bet on racing, do any of the clubs provide them with proper amenities like clean toilets, comfortable seating and decent food and drink? The answer to that is an emphatic no and that is wrong because no business should take their customers for granted. Our clubs spend more time pampering their members rather than think about the customer who brings them the moolah on a daily basis. There is a serious need to improve things for the common punter. I hear HRC has opened a new Off Track Betting centre on the Tank Bund which is supposedly quite nice and comfy, all our clubs need to be thinking about things like this.
Everything we do is arbitrary and ad hoc in nature. While sending our racing pictures to betting shops in England and from what I hear Australia, was a progressive move but poorly executed as we have absolutely no idea as to what the product is worth, the figure arrived at was with no proper calculation, as such we sold a product without knowing how much it was worth. The argument that it was money for jam and something we weren’t getting earlier just shows how poorly clubs conduct their business.  

As a sidebar I’m glad RWITC and BTC were able to resolve their signal and commission imbroglio. As I had mentioned what would happen in my previous blog, RWITC lost a lot and BTC lost a negligible amount in the whole scheme of things. 
Hopefully a fresher outlook from a new run for profit racing jurisdiction will show us the way and help our sport come out of it’s Nineteenth century mindset. Let’s hope we in Punjab are able to show Indian racing the way ahead and maybe just maybe the industry reaches the heights that our sport deserves to.

BTC vs RWITC: Shark vs Minnow!!!!

Recently the entire racing industry has been agog due to the standoff between Bangalore Turf Club and RWITC over commission due to the latter by BTC. Bangalore has offered to pay Rs. 2.5 Crores which falls way short of the 23% of BTC’S turnover on RWITC racing’s off course betting that RWITC is demanding. The result has been the disconnection by RWITC of their signal to BTC of the ongoing Pune meeting. RWITC is adamant that BTC is ripping them off and are hell bent on taking what they feel is their fair due. On the flip-side is BTC’s argument that in what is supposed to be a reciprocal arrangement they get only 50 odd Lakhs from RWITC for the telecast of their signal. In other words BTC feels that the difference of 2 Crores or so, that is the eventual amount being paid is more than enough for RWITC’s signal. To further compound RWITC’s problems the new turf authority Mysore Race Club has decided to back BTC in this case. 

 Let’s examine this issue as in all honesty it sort of dovetails a lot of points that I’ve written about in this blog, the useless and emasculated Turf Authorities of India, the decline of RWITC as India’s premier racing centre and the stupid approach taken under the aegis of the club system. 

RWITC is making a huge error in my opinion as they have a very inflated opinion of their own worth as well as that of their product. The unfortunate and bitter truth is that in today’s scenario of Indian racing RWITC is a bit like the old fable; The Emperor’s New Clothes, all show and no go. The bitter fact is that their legal betting turnover annually is under 100 Crore, their Stake money paid out is half that of most other clubs in India. They are running into losses on a year on year basis, they lose money on their core area of operation ie racing. Their cash reserves are being depleted at an exponential rate, simply put they have taken a very wrong approach in this case. Maybe they should be expending their energy in making a proper case to the Maharashtra Government to reduce their taxes on betting so that they can curb the thriving illegal bookie trade in the state which ironically not only costs the club but the state exchequer too. On India’s most popular racing website; indiarace.com’s horse talk forum a user writing under the name Naveed made this calculation. While the eventual real loss to RWITC may not be such a high figure, every rupee that the club loses is added on to the already spiralling losses that are being made annually.  

Bangalore Turf Club on the other hand have no serious financial issues such as losses to face up to. They are turning over 1800 Crores annually on their totalisator ops. This figure is way more than the rest of Indian racing combined. Their argument is that BTC has worked very hard to bring their tote turnover to what it is today. They feel that what they are paying for RWITC’s signal is enough and that RWITC instead of getting their own house in order are instead trying to piggyback BTC’s efficiency. They do have a point when they say that RWITC sold their signal for 1 Crore for telecast in English betting shops so why is it a problem when BTC is willing to pay more than double that for the same privilege.
RWITC’s claim is that the mutual understanding among the Turf Authorities of India is that 23% of betting turnover must be paid out to the club giving their signal. From my investigations it appears this is a verbal understanding among all the Turf Authorities and there isn’t any written contract.  Further this agreement was made years ago before computerization amped up totalisator betting.  Lets see what the ramifications of this situation are going to be. Currently RWITC and BTC/Mysore by mutual consent do not clash when they race. During the Bangalore Summer Meeting, Bangalore races on Saturdays and Sundays until August, when Pune takes over the weekend and BTC races on Thursday and Friday into the second week of August. This pattern continues right through the Mysore main season which runs contiguous along with Pune. In the winter when racing shifts to Bombay and Bangalore runs its winter meeting, RWITC races on Thursdays and Sundays while BTC takes Fridays and Saturdays. Hyderabad Race Club races on Sundays and Mondays as they refused to give up their holiday fixture every week. If this stand off continues both BTC and RWITC will race on weekends and the Mysore winter fixtures will clash with RWITC on Thursdays. In other words they won’t miss RWITC’s product. 

Another factor which was non existent in the Indian racing scene is the future emergence of Madras Race Club. It’s been dormant or rather, dead for the past three decades, now they’re starting to step back towards normalcy as the Oligarch who controlled, rigged and wrecked it is no more. Madras Race Club (MRC) conducted a competitive Ooty season this year over spring and summer and from all reports BTC and Mysore turned a neat profit from their off course betting. The coming Madras Winter season is going to be even bigger and soon we might have a scenario like the old days. Where there were three basic clubs; RWITC, Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) and South India Turf Club which over the years broke up into BTC, Hyderabad Race Club (HRC), MRC and Mysore Race Club. The South Indian Clubs have always kind of got along with each other, RWITC has always been connected but somewhat aloof while RCTC which was the main racing club of Asia in its heyday has trod its own path albeit keeping it good with their other Indian counterparts. There are going to be two race days per week over the winter in Chennai and MRC are going to be looking to fit back into an already crowded racing calendar in India. The absence of RWITC from BTC/Mysore is going to enable them to fill in to a vacant spot further isolating RWITC. 
All the aforementioned clubs come under the aegis of the Turf Authorities Of India, the organization under whom all of Indian racing theoretically exists. The TAI is supposed to be the body which makes sure that there is harmony among all clubs and that everyone is mutually beneficial to each other with the aim of benefitting the sport as a whole. Unfortunately the reality is that the TAI is a, “Dabba” organization with no real executive or legislative power that meets a few times every year and pretty much does or achieves nothing. They have failed to take the sport forward and every club pulls in its own direction to the detriment of the sport of racing as a whole. Indian racing has regressed over the course of the last century and no new racetrack has opened up in the last 50 years or so. Our facilities are lacking whether its for punters, horses or the general good of racing. The club system ensures a status quo of stagnation and the bottom line is rarely looked at since a profit motive is lacking, as such poor decisions are made time and again. The TAI failed to prevent the downslide and destruction at Madras Race Club, proof that nobody really gives a damn about sport in any sense. Similarly they are yet to present a cogent case as regards GST to the Indian Government the next big problem looming for the sport of racing.
RWITC is banking on the fact that their product is superior to all other clubs, even if this is indeed the case from a punter’s standpoint it makes no difference whatsoever. While punters will miss punting on RWITC in the short term over a period of time they will get accustomed to whatever racing product is put in front of them. I can see a scenario where we can have 7 day a week racing without RWITC even being there. Betting is a simple business, the punters will bet on whatever product is presented to them as long as it is competitive enough, quality is important to geeks like me but to every punter, a “B” class race and a Classic race are all the same. The BTC handicapper has used this reasoning to create the system he has in Bangalore; good for business but destructive for sport. Any business in the world is simple, at the end of the day money talks and bullshit walks. RWITC is living in a fool’s paradise, BTC/Mysore will suffer in the short term but in the long term things will level off. If RWITC was a business, their CEO would have tread cautiously in this case knowing fully well where they stand financially. RWITC is willing to sink chunks of money into the Gallops case but unfortunately they’re hell bent on jacking themselves in this particular case. Simply put the minnow aka RWITC is taking on the Shark that is BTC. Perceptions never necessarily have to be the truth and RWITC’s perceived might is actually a, “Phus Pataka” as they lack the financial clout to be the leader in the sport of racing. Every other club in India has cut it’s cloth according to the situation that they’re in, RWITC on the other hand have lived in La La land and now the pigeons are coming home to roost. In any business and more so a betting business financial clout is what counts in the end, something that RWITC lacks. RWITC risks becoming a peripheral player in Indian racing if they start cutting their signal to the best betting set up in racing and inversely losing 122 race days of profit making off course racing from BTC/Mysore.  RWITC is facing a, “Kodak moment” at one time everybody was using their film for photography and suddenly digital cameras arrived.  In this metaphor, the digital camera is Tote betting!

To sum things up it’s time that the TAI took the lead and made the concerned parties sit down and hammer out a compromise. May be a wise head like HRC chairman R Surender Reddy could arbiter the peace between the warring parties. In this case RWITC will lose a lot and BTC/Mysore will lose a bit but sadly the sport of racing will be the biggest loser.

….For whom the bell tolls!!!

Bangalore Derby weekend is over and we’ve had a great weekend of high class and high octane racing. The BTC facility is cramped and uncomfortable but man does the city of Bangalore embrace the Derby! The financials of the club are good the aesthetics and setup awful. However banged up everything else in BTC might be; poorly maintained track and surface, poor officialdom, poor starting staff, pathetic stabling but…. the crowd bangs in their cash on the tote and as the old saying goes money makes the mare go round! BTC turned over in excess of Rs. 17 Crore on Derby Day, the club gets a neat 68 Lakhs for their 4%: QED! Lets look at the inverse of this situation and that situation is RWITC. Everything around the sport is good but the financials? To say they are abysmal is an understatement.

First there is the politics; it boggles the mind as to why anybody respectable would like to put their name against such a financial disaster but come election time and we have a lot of very influential men ready to fight like kindergarten kids to be on the committee. Once there, nobody seems to really give a flying f&@k as to the good of the sport but these successful and honourable men will behave like crabs in a basket, ready to pull each other down as soon as any one of them try to pull their attitudes out of the mire.
It’s a truly sad state of affairs but when their world class starter Jehangir Sayed gives the, “they’re off” call at those lovely Steriline starting gates, the club loses money by the simple act of conducting their core business ie running a race. It’s really sad when the club makes money from weddings, catering, equine hospital, The Stud Book, the sales and every other non racing activity but loses money by the simple act of running a live race. They pack in massive crowds for The Indian Derby but in the whole scheme of things lose money by conducting racing on India’s best attended race day. The government’s commission has been cascading downwards over the years yet the club cannot or has not been able to present a proper case for a reduction of tax. Added to this is the fact that on top of the 20% the club has some pretty unviable take out rates on their pools;
POOL CLUB GOVT. TOTAL

WIN 10% 20% 30%

PLACE 10% 20% 30%

SHP 10% 20% 30%

FORECAST 35% 20% 55%

QUINELLA 35% 20% 55%

TANALA 35% 20% 55%

TREBLE 35% 20% 55%

JACKPOT 24% 20% 44%

SUPER JKPT 35% 20% 55% 

So if you try the Forecast or Quinella bets only 45 paise of your Rupee goes into the pool. I’d say that as a result the public is deserting the tote for the simple reason that they are being ripped off! There are solutions at hand but nobody is willing to put their necks on the line and put these into action as these solutions are not going to be popular.  

Lets start with the number of fixtures; RWITC boasts the maximum total stake money paid out over a year but this is spread out over something like 60 or 70 fixtures over a calendar year. As a result the stake money paid out is truly pathetic. The April meetings at Mumbai solve no purpose except giving the low end stock chances to win and to pull of some punts.  With Madras Race Club coming around now to competitive racing it’s about time they took their Ooty signal instead, for off course betting, through the month of April. This would mean fewer fixtures and a saving to the club. Apparently Bangalore and Mysore did rather well this year with Ooty racing. Racing is a sport and in a proper competitive sport excellence ought to be the goal. When you card too much average and bad racing it dilutes the overall product. By cutting fixtures RWITC would ensure tighter and more competitive racing. In a day and age where the perceived to be inferior Hyderabad pays out well in excess of 4 Lakhs for a maidens race the far tougher and higher quality racing centre; RWITC pays less than half of that for theirs. 
Thursday racing at Bombay is very poorly attended maybe racing every other Thursday would be something to think about. Bangalore doesn’t race twice a week in their winter season because they find it effects their field quality. Instead they race twice every other week. RWITC must realise they cannot be racing just for the sake of racing when it costs them money.
Of course the one thing and the most important at that, which they do need to do is to sort out their totalizator. I’ve written about it before but the 20% tax is only benefitting the illegal bookmaker since everyone bets with them at half or no tax rather than bet legally through the club. The government has been very unfair on RWITC but they’re huge sufferers in the bargain too. Karnataka and Telangana/Andhra have sensible tax regimes on their betting as a result the government gets a great return too from their race clubs. Well over 100 Crore vs 18 Crore in Maharashtra annually. This is THE core issue and problem and it must be sorted out. It’s incumbent on the committee to address this and put all politics aside or else the bell is tolling for the club it’s just a matter of time.
One hopes against hope but as things stand RWITC is staring down an abyss and nobody really seems concerned about it. The eulogy was written way back in the 80s when BTC under PG Belliappa and HRC under R Surender Reddy decided to have a proper dialogue with their state’s governments and get their taxes reduced so that they could control the money bet and push their totes. RWITC in the meantime kept on sleeping and that has led to the situation where the club is on life support today. One hopes it doesn’t happen but their cash reserves are dwindling fast and the 20 Crore plus operating loss the club is making has simply made the sport unsustainable in Maharashtra. Owners are under immense pressure, since it’s nigh impossible to pay for a racing operation and run for stake money. I’m reading leading American horseman Barry Irwin of Team Valor’s book Derby Innovator, one of the best quotes of his in the book reads, ” All around the world where prize money is meager, the incidence of corruption is higher, as horsemen and jockeys manipulate their horses to set up betting coups because cashing bets keeps them above water financially.” Rings really true doesn’t it?

Summer musings! From Darkness into the Light!

Been a while since I’ve written anything so thought I’d pen a few thoughts just in case you forgot me. It’s been a busy summer so far as us much maligned breeders have wrapped up our breeding season or are in the process of doing so. May 15th is the last day of the breeding season at Dashmesh but usually scan-master extraordinaire Navtej manages to convince me to make a week’s extension. Anyway one always runs away from our 45 Celsius plus soon after and it’s Bangalore that sort of doubles up as summer quarters with it’s temperate climes. This year from all reports was the hottest ever summer in My Southern home with the Mercury topping out above 40 Celsius. There were days in April when Sarainaga was cooler.

As Bombay dragged out their April fixtures, we waited with intrepid interest to see the Ooty season as it was the first since the late 80’s where there was going to be proper competition with even a few outstation runners coming for their classics. Young local trainer R Karthick took the 1000 Guineas with the fittingly named filly, “Light” as the darkness disappeared from Madras Race Club. Neil Darashah took the 2000 Guineas and Derby at the hill station with Battalion and wrote his name into the history books, I’m sure he must have thrown a few looks at the females hanging around Ooty Lake and broken a few hearts there. Fahad Khan became the champion trainer as he put the winningest trainer in the history of the world in the shade and put an exclamation mark on the end of one of the darkest eras in Indian racing history. While we saw competitive racing, I’d have to say the quality of horses running in the bread and butter races at the centre were extremely poor. The committee, must be congratulated on the conduct of racing with help from HRC as well as their efforts in reviving the sport in Tamil Nadu. They must make a long term plan to improve the quality of horses as well as making an effort to improve the level of professionals working there. It would have been interesting to see their champion jockey C Brisson in action at Bangalore Summer, he sits decently and rides out quite well from what I saw of the racing there online.
In the meantime Mid May means the start of India’s best racing season; the Bangalore Summer Meeting. My favourite whipping boy the handicapper has tinkered around a bit in his quest for mediocrity and re did the classes somewhat and compressed the scale further to help weed out the bottom end stock which he has worked so hard over the years to nurture. In his wisdom he knocked out the 80 and above races which leaves a large number of very good Class one horses in no man’s land in so much that they aren’t quite up to the level of running in terms races but are very good when running at a rating of 90 or so. The Class one horses ought to have been what the prospectus should cater to but….
I got a pleasant surprise when I walked into BTC as the shanties to the left when you walk in to gate one have been done up and look good now. Similarly the weighing room has been renovated and I’d be amiss if I didn’t say job well done. The entire weighing room block has been given a facelift, a new patch of grass has been planted in an expanded paddock with the introduction of a winner’s circle. I’m not much into BTC politics but I must say that the new committee has done well and now when someone walks into our racecourse they don’t get a slummy feel, which the place had earlier. The next port of call should be to raise the height of the stable roofs a few feet to improve airflow and to remove the asbestos sheets and replace them with a safer, better looking and more modern material. The quality of racing has been quite decent barring the lack of quality riding talent available save a handful of jockeys.
Our somnambulist Turf Authorities of India need to seriously think of setting up a proper modern jockey school along the lines of what there is in South Africa, not the patch up job we have in a few centres nowadays. I’ll be back soon with a bit more vitriol which my readers like but for now Ola!

Chennai! It’s good to be back!

The Invitation Cup weekend is our annual year end bash where the best of the best face each other.  It’s a lot like the Breeders Cup weekend in America or like Dubai World Cup night at Meydan.  This year is all the more significant as it’s being hosted by the Madras Race Club, Guindy in Chennai.  You can all sing paeans and lie about it to yourselves but you and I know who did this and destroyed one of our best racing centres.  It’s a great example of the failings of the Club structure that runs the sport in India.  Anyway those dark days are done and we must look forward to Madras Race Club once again taking it’s rightful place in the Indian racing scenario.

In Mr R. Ramakrishnan or as he’s better known to the racing world RK they have just the right man to revive our sport in Tamil Nadu.  A seasoned racing administrator and an ex chairman of MRC during its glory days, he knows his marbles and one wishes him the very best in this yeoman endeavour.  The Secretary of MRC Dr. SM Karthikeyan is one of the country’s best veterinary minds and every time you sit with him you’ll learn something.  Well, he has just the right personality for the job, once he sets his mind on something he’ll go after it with a martial zeal.  Just the sort of person MRC needs at a time of rebuilding.

Honestly speaking one doesn’t quite know too many of the brave guys who hung around to train in Chennai.  Most of them left town and setup elsewhere because of the sad situation created at their home centre.  Padmanabhan, Dhariwal, MB Mangalorkar, Vijay Singh, Irfan Ghatala, Dominic, MP Mahesh are all guys who were originally based in Chennai.  Craig Marshall shifted to Macau, David Hill to Hong Kong and most owners left Madras as well.  In a twisted way the demise of Madras helped Bangalore Turf Club and Hyderabad Race Club emerge as powerful racing centres in their own right, they used to be feeder centres to Madras, running a summer season at BTC and a Monsoon season at HRC, if I’m not mistaken earlier they all came under the aegis of South India Turf Club with the mecca being Madras.  

Ooty which hosts the Spring/Summer season before Bangalore Summer season is set to see a good proper competitive racing season this year.  All this is going to benefit the other clubs immensely for example RWITC can close their season earlier and take on off course racing from Ooty and in the bargain reduce their losses somewhat, as terminal as the situation might be.  Everything is going to take time and hopefully Indian racing can once again become national in nature unlike the closed door mediocrity encouraging situation it currently is in.  It’s about time the Turf Authorities sat down together and understood that overlap of fixtures equals to a waste of resources.  They must sit down and make a national fixture list where everyone is accomodated and the off course product is of benefit to all of them.  The waste is best illustrated by Hyderabad racing on the Saturday of Indian Derby week when RWITC anyway puts out a quality all sponsored product on the same day.

I as a breeder will always have a special place for Madras in my heart as Dashmesh’s first classic winner Grand Parade was trained by Tych Tyrell for Mr. AC Muthiah in Madras and he won the 1978 South India Derby; he was followed by many of our Dashmesh breds who have won the Blue Riband at Guindy, his full brother Aristocrat, Queen Of The Hills, Chaitanya Ratham, Astronomic and Maximillion all won the Derby.  Chaitanya Chakram too started his career in Madras but when racing was banned in Tamil Nadu he and his trainer, the all time great Jaggy Dhariwal became domiciles of Hyderabad.

So, all the best Madras Race Club may you prosper in the years to come.  My best wishes to your entire team in hosting a successful Invitation weekend.  It’s going to be nostalgic and exhilarating to walk into the gates of Guindy a place where my father and grandfather were regulars.  I hope to be back and be back often.  Good Luck! Good Luck! Good Luck!

The Derby Preview

So the first Sunday of February dawns upon us, its Indian Derby time. This year the race carries the moniker The Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby partnered by Signature, as Sunday sees Bombay come to the races dressed to kill, this year’s race is as open as they come with a high class lot of Four year olds lining up and most of them have every chance of pulling it off. So here goes my two bits, hope it helps you select a winner.

Costa Del Sol (Phoenix Tower-Shining Glory by Singspiel ) Trainer:P Shroff Jockey: James Doyle.

This colt gets into the race off a runner up finish in the 2000 Guineas after which he smashed the Mile and a Quarter track record giving weight to Bullrun, the Pune Derby winner. He runs in the colours of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala in partnership with the Mistry family and has done little wrong in his career. As a juvenile he took out the Poonawalla Breeders Million, he’s been kept fresh with a winter campaign in mind. He ran a cracking race in the 2000 and was closing fast on Phoenix Tiger at the business end. Shroff had him out again soon after and he donkey licked Bullrun giving him weight, the timing was impressive too but keep in mind that the Mahalaxmi track has been running pretty fast this year. With young James Doyle to guide his fortunes he gets one of Europe’s top talents aboard.  I’d say its a given that he’ll get the trip on pedigree too even though he hasn’t run over a mile and a half yet.  His broodmare sire Singspiel has been a classy influence for stamina.

Desert God (Burden Of Proof-Running Flame by Steinbeck) Trainer: S. Padmanabhan Jockey: David Allan

The Calcutta Derby winner comes into the Derby with an ideal preparation and by far the best body of work behind him.  His trainer Padmanabhan has been India’s big race king for over two decades now.  Apart from training Desert God he also bred him, outside of a clunker in the Bangalore Colts’ on dead ground in a messy race this Chestnut has danced many a dance and always done so with praiseworthy efforts. He won the Calcutta 2000 Guineas and Derby this winter with a matter of fact ease just as was expected.  He was runner up in the Kingfisher Derby at Bangalore in the Summer behind Angel Dust.  Her win in the Bangalore Winter Derby just strengthens Desert God’s form lines, similarly he thrashed Golconda Derby winner King Charles to oblivion when they faced up in the Colts’ Trial during the Hyderabad Monsoon.  His victory in the Deccan Derby was very impressive too, a perfect monsoon campaign was blotted by a perfunctory riding effort by Suraj Narredu in the Mysore Derby where he was a fast closing Fourth.  He’s already proven his ability to stay the trip, his trainer has an enviable track record in big races and his jockey David Allan knows the colt extremely well.  The entire team has been camped in Bombay preparing their champ for the big day.  His dam Running Flame would have to be considered the best broodmare at stud in India, with Desert God being her third classic winner from her four foals in India aged four and above.  His half brother brother Borsalino (by Choisir) won the Bangalore Summer Derby, his full sister  Sur La Tete won the Golconda Oaks and elder full brother Torch Bearer is classic placed.

Phoenix Tiger (Phoenix Tower-Tigress Noire by Senure) Trainer: Dallas Todywalla Jockey: Colm O Donoghue.

You’ll see this fellow come into the paddock with the attitude of a prize fighter with his chest flexing.  He’s only lost when he’s been the victim of jockey error.  His first big scalp was the Bangalore Colts where his jockey Colm O Donoghue went to the front and rode our Indian talent to sleep in a front running masterclass, unfortunately in what was a messy race the colt got nicked on his hind tendon and his veteran trainer did well to back off and sort him out. He reappeared on Pune Derby day and won impressively.  In fact after seeing what was an abysmal Derby where the protagonists were gasping for the line 5 Furlongs out I was joking with Dallas that he may as well have run straight into the Derby that day.  He won his first winter target, the 2000 Guineas in workmanlike fashion over Costa Del Sol but blotted his copybook in the RR Ruia when going down to Colombiana as an odds on favourite but it would be fair to say that Colm misjudged things that day.  He didn’t quicken up as his rider would have expected too but in a twisted way that experience might have been good as he will learn to hold up.  The Indian Derby  is always run at a frenetic pace and he might benefit from sitting a wee bit off the pace.  Pedigree wise he’s an interesting one, his broodmare sire Senure ought to instill some stamina in him, further back he comes from a non Kentucky American pedigree.  The names one finds further back represent some top Florida based stallions like Al Hattab and Minnesota Mac.  Though Floridian pedigrees are considered a bit blue collar, the state has produced some absolute stars in American racing.

Myrtlewood (Multidimensional-Adamile by Razeen) Trainer: Pesi Shroff Jockey: PS Chouhan

When a filly hits form the way she has they usually become unstoppable.  After an impressive start to her career in Bombay, she went to Bangalore as the hype horse from the hype centre.  Things went awry and she never figured anywhere in an abysmal campaign.  Shroff put her off for the Monsoon and the results this winter have been stunning.  After an easy win in her leadup she showed an electric turn of foot to win the 1000 Guineas under wraps.  Any doubts of her staying the Derby distance were dispelled when she cut down a beleaguered opposition in the Indian Oaks.  To win here she will have to improve again of  a two week gap.  Shroff has a proven track record in getting his horses to rebound well off the Oaks.  The other problem here is the fillies have failed whenever they’ve faced the colts on an all India basis except for Angel Dust in the two Bangalore Derbies and in both those races, the runner up and third placer were colts.  All that aside, Myrtlewood has done nothing wrong and is in here with a solid shot.  As for her pedigree Razeen is her broodmare sire that’s all one needs to know.

While the above mentioned horses would be considered the main contenders, the field in this year’s Derby is very deep and there are plenty of others who run with a good chance.

Sea Lord (Admiralofthefleet – Loch Katrine by Selkirk) Trainer: Sulaiman Attaollahi Jockey: Trevor Patel.  A late maturing type, Sea Lord has been given plenty of time to grow into his large frame.  After running second on debut over 7 Furlongs, he won his maiden over the same trip next time out very impressively.  After this he was put away with a winter campaign in mind.  He took out a conditions event in Bangalore on his winter reappearance in impressive manner.  He next lined up in the Golconda 2000 Guineas, he went under to Golconda Derby winner King Charles by a neck, it was a funny race where everyone finished in a heap.  Chris Alford rode one of those brilliant races on King Charles, where in all honesty he schooled his younger contemporaries.  Sea Lord was immediately loaded up and headed to Bombay for the Ruia Cup, he ran a good third, looking like a horse who would benefit greatly from that experience. On raw form he needs to improve a couple of kgs to be in the mix.  His trainer and jockey are so hot right now that merely touching them could give you third degree burns.  Looking at him he looks like the mile and a half is right up his street but a lack of seasoning might cost him in a race where one is going to find plenty of subterfuge. URBB racing manager Zeyn Mirza is two for two when he’s worn a hat for a Derby so you can expect him to wear a nice Panama on the big day.  Sea Lord’s broodmare sire Selkirk has a good connection with the Derby having thrown Starsky as a sire and Velvet Rope as a broodmare sire.  His sire Admiralofthefleet was in my mind one of the best bred horses to land in India in recent times. He had a curtailed career as a stallion due to health issues because of a neurological disorder.  He was the moral victor in the race for leading first season sire last year as the winner Arazan had 72 starters to Admiralofthefleet’s 25.  Sea Lord belongs to a top class family that has had immense success at the top level in both America and England.  Further to that he is inbred 3X3 to top stallion Danzig through a son and a daughter.

Brilliant Cut (Burden Of Proof-Clear Cut by Tejano) trained by Irfan Ghatala, ridden by S John.  This fiery tempered and flashy chestnut comes into the Indian Derby as a final entry after a runner up finish in the Bangalore Derby behind Angel Dust.  Known to be a slightly temperamental sort this chestnut son of Burden Of Proof has been putting in very consistent performances during the monsoon and winter seasons.  He was a little bit unlucky not to win the Mysore 2000 Guineas, a great ride by Trevor on Bold Command and an inversely inferior effort by his jockey cost him dear.  Similarly in the Mysore Derby on very firm ground both Desert God and he sat too far back while the race developed in front, he was still beaten less than a length by Mogadishu.  The real deal was seen in the Bangalore 2000 Guineas when he came with a searing last to first run to win under wraps.  He went off as favourite in the Bangalore Derby but just when he was being hailed as the winner he was cut down in the shadow of the wire by Angel Dust.  He’s suspect for stamina and has a bit of a temper, one has to see how he handles the Derby day crowd and the wide open spaces of Mahalaxmi. Irfan and his team have worked very hard to calm him down and his last two efforts have been great. He deserves to take his chance and its good to see his connections’ faith in him.  He is suspect for stamina and is seen to best effect when he’s switched off in the rear, his siblings have been best at a mile and thereabouts.

There are others that will take their chances in the big race as well; the two Arazan colts, Bold Command (Arazan-Indian’s Feather by Indian Ridge) and Bold Appeal (Arazan-Bold Bird by Razeen) will show up with fair form behind them. The statistical leading freshman sire has been blown out of the water by his late contemporary Admiralofthefleet once the racing’s got amped up with Bold Command’s Fourth being his only showing in any classic run this winter but then again in racing anything is possible and redemption, however unlikely could always be just around the corner. The Karthik Ganapathy trained Bold Appeal was among those that laboured home in the Pune Derby among the front bunch his Bombay campaign has been less than stellar with poor efforts in the Morvi and 2000 Guineas.  He is a course and distance winner last time out in a Class two set in a poor timing, so he needs to improve quite a bit to be in the mix in the Derby, he looks a ploddy staying type and these sometimes go better over the extended mile and a half. Bold Command was the hype colt in Bangalore until he almost got beat by Brilliant Cut in what was supposed to be a cakewalk in the Mysore 2000. Ridden well up with the pace by Sandesh in the Mysore Derby on very firm (read unsafe) ground he just knuckled under to Mogadishu.  Since then it doesn’t look as if Bold Command has made the requisite step up and he was a well beaten Fourth in the Indian 2000 Guineas, he is entitled to improve on that effort though as it was his first run at Bombay.

Colombiana (Noverre-Wonder Smile by Lend A Hand) After a sub par 2000 Guineas rebounded to score in the RR Ruia Gold Cup under a positive ride from Yash Narredu where he went to the front and held off Phoenix Tiger. He’s been close to Desert God and Costa Del Sol before too so it would be prudent to keep him in the mix as he did win the Ruia a bona fide Derby lead up akin to the Dante Stakes in England. He will be ridden by top Irish jockey Pat Smullen as confirmed by the rider on twitter. His owner-mate Setaflame (China Visit-Set Aside by Steinbeck) a half brother to the celebrated Set Alight comes in of a decent effort in the Calcutta Derby where he ran a respectable third behind Desert God.  A final entrant, he ought to be a Derby winner but for quite possibly one of the worst rides of 2014-15 by Shailesh Shinde aboard him in the Calcutta Monsoon Derby. His trainer perennial Calcutta champion Vijay Singh has trained many a top horse at a national level though Setaflame does appear out of his depth here, Suraj Narredu takes the ride.  Arun Nanda will have a third representative in his silks as Ostwind (Holy Roman Emperor-Ertiyaad by Sakhee) His few seconds of fame came when he beat Phoenix Tiger at Bangalore albeit receiving weight and Phoenix Tiger getting a rank bad ride.  He ran poorly in the Ruia and on that run he’ll be making up the numbers.

The gutsy Pune Derby winner Bullrun (China Visit-You Are My Miracle by Razeen) will also take his chance in the Indian Derby but he was given weight and a sound thrashing by Costa Del Sol in his last start over a mile and a quarter. He was in deep distress after a grueling Pune Derby and I’m sure Cooji Katrak will have been quite easy on him since to freshen him up, so he is bound to improve quite a bit on his last run.  Jefferson (Ravel-Crystal Slipper by Burden Of Proof) ran a very decent Fourth in the RR Ruia Cup despite being off the racecourse for 5 months or so.  He’s a son from the first crop of the Fusaichi Pegasus horse Ravel who has had a fair start to his stud career.  He won the SA Poonawalla a major lead up for the Pune Derby but was sidelined since with a niggle.  His run in the Ruia was good and he will improve from that as he was bound to be ring rusty as a result of the layoff.  Dashrath Singh will take the ride on the Sunderji trainee.  Magnificence (Arazan-Burning Fire by Polish Precedent) is a horse who shows up in every big race, he runs respectably but isn’t good enough to match strides with the best though, he’s a notch below this level on all evidence.

Gestapo (Mastercraftsman-Dajolie by Auenadler) He was one of the talking horses of Western India and was impressive in his first two starts.  By Mastercraftsman a son of Danehill Dancer who has got off to a stunning start at stud, the unfortunately named Gestapo comes from a German family which would normally mean lots of stamina but his broodmare sire was a sprinter, further back there are plenty of stamina influences and he races like a horse that should stay.  Jim Crowley will most likely be aboard him but didn’t give him the best of rides in the Ruia where he finished off board though he was beaten only Four and a half lengths.  If he’d won that he’d go into the Derby as one of the prime contenders but he’ll have to find a lot on that run

Oaks Fourth placer Shivalik Heroine (Orpen-Ifni by Bering) is also in at the handicap stage but will find it tough to step up and improve that much in two weeks since her Oaks run. Shadowfax (Multidimensional-River Memories by China Visit) named after the grey horse from Lord Of The Rings was an impressive winner of his last start but he’s never looked Derby material then again I guess when owners pay through their nose in many cases for their horses they feel they should run the Derby, conventional wisdom says no chance but hope is a lot of what this sport is about.  Chris Alford who rides him might need to ride like Gandalf the Grey and wave a magic wand to win here.  Star Formation (China Visit – Prevalence by Razeen) has run well through the year with runner up finishes in the 1000 Guineas, Bangalore Fillies Trial and Golconda Oaks but she ran dead last in the Oaks, on that run one wouldn’t see her in the mix. Another final entrant is B Fifty Two (Phoenix Tower-Bailey’s On Line by Shareef Dancer), named after two pretty lethal things, the American Bomber Aircraft or a tasty shooter that’s not advisable to knock back post midnight at a bar or else the results can be disastrous. Jokes apart this colt looks a decent staying type though a bit short on class.  He comes from a dour staying family and its surprising his connections haven’t put him over a trip beyond a mile yet, since RWITC has a good programme for staying horses.  Airco and Lavender Blue are likely in the field to set pace if they run.

I’m not going to hazard a choice because I think its an open Derby and a strong case can be made for many of the runners that line up, I’m rooting though for the Bangalore boys because that is my home centre and sometimes its nice to see the hype machine simmer down a wee bit as this is the Indian Derby and not the Bombay Derby! The Derby has thrown up some serious surprises, lets face it nobody really thought Noble Eagle or Super Storm would win. One can make a calculated guess but in what is a very layered and multi faceted sport there are a number of unknown variables that could come into play such as stamina, luck of the race, preference of ground, pace, traffic etc. There’s a reason our sport is called racing and its all about opinions. So come one and come all and please bet on the tote because that bookie steals from racing!

Change…..and we must!

Its appalling to me as to how dumbed down Indian racing has become. People whose livelihood is dependent on the quality of the horse that is owned, trained or ridden by them, rarely research pedigrees or any of the data available to make a discerningly correct choice as regards what they ought to be buying and racing. I’ve been going on and on about how the glaring lack of long distance races is creating sub par trainers and jockeys, the same malady also creates some amazing statements from jockeys and trainers too such as, “Do you think this will STAY Seven Furlongs.” I doubt thats a question that should merit a straight answer, a hard “Jhaap” is the correct answer in my humble opinion.

As we host the Asian Racing Conference over the week, lets face it our industry has regressed in the past decade. RWITC finds itself in the mire of petty politics and an ill informed and antagonistic government. BTC holds on through a court judgement as the government there has been slicing off bits like a ham slicer just to finger them. Madras Race Club is showing glimmers of making a comeback after two decades of simply put, rampant cheating in favour of one owner. Hyderabad Race Club though professionally managed and run business-wise churns out a product that on most occasions mirrors a visit to one’s proctologist, dull and dreary. RCTC after many years of theft by officials and committees alike still came back to some of its past glories due to the efforts of their Chairman the Late Deepak Khaitan and his committee members who provide what must be termed as a yeoman service to the grand old club but what next?

Our breeding industry which once featured creative men trying hard with knowledge of nicks and pedigrees to produce good horses has more or less been hijacked by traders rather than breeders. Launching a new stallion is tough in today’s market as 90% of the clientele pre judge the horses they buy by the price they pay for them. Its nigh impossible for a horse like Dare To Dream to emerge at Bombay or Bangalore despite his pedigree being a very well thought out mating design conceived by Gautam Lala. Check it out:http://www.pedigreequery.com/dare+to+dream10

Kudos to his owner and trainer who have campaigned this horse ambitiously and his body of work now even includes a Gr. 1 victory.

Finally lets come down to our officialdom, there was a time when there were men at the helm who knew how the sport ought to run. Today we’ve come to a level where questionable decisions are coming with a worrying regularity. Our industry is still pretty much where we were in 1970 as far as technological innovation and facilities go. I’ve said this often we have way too much racing and the product that we’ve been putting out is mediocre. The malady of low rated age group sprint racing championed by the Bangalore Turf Club handicapper has turned a multi faceted and fascinating industry into a dull and dreary casino game.  Furthermore our trainers play Russian roulette as we have impractical and antiquated medication rules.  These need to be looked at seriously as trainers have been testing positive via contamination.  Despite most of the time the quantities found being inconsequential, trainers must face harsh punishment, loss of income and worst of all a loss of reputation even though in many cases not having done anything wrong.

It’s an interesting time in our industry, Madras Race Club is showing signs of life again and we look forward to them hosting the Invitation Cup in March this year. Our racetrack in Punjab is within touching distance now and as a tote monopoly setup, it should show our industry the way forward. Since, all the seriously progressive nations in racing have no bookmakers operating.
As I sit here as a delegate here at the 36th Asian Racing Conference listening to the Turkish, Korean and Qatar industries talk about how they run things, one can’t help feel a mix of jealousy, anger and regret to see how stagnant things are in India by comparison. We have an old tradition of racing and breeding but the world is passing us by at an exponential rate. Change is the need of the hour and it needs to arrive fast.