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:

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.

Hey Chor!!! Yes you with the mobile phone!!!

An extremely common sight at RWITC is lots of people with mobiles on their ears asking,”Kya Bhav?” So what are these guys doing? Well the answer is simple, they’re betting with an illegal bookie. Yes they’re breaking the law while we look the other way for a fee; the mobile charge.
The tax regime for betting in Maharashtra has created a system that costs every citizen of the state money. While a smaller place like Bangalore Turf Club gives the state exchequer well in excess of ₹ 100 Crore annually, the Maharashtra State Government gets under ₹ 20 Crore from RWITC in betting taxes. In other words the myopic policy of the Maharashtra Government has caused a multi thousand Crore loss to the state over the years.
There is empirical data available worldwide and in India that a lower and sensible tax regime creates an exponentially higher turnover and as a result the government takes in a much higher revenue due to higher volumes of legally placed bets. Not only that, the bookmaker especially the illegal bookmaker has no skin in the game. The Turf Club on its part gets a percentage of the betting turnover to finance the entire process of the sport of horse racing. Out of their take, the club has to dole out stake money, pay their salaries, maintain their facility as well as pay for promotion and expansion. So everytime an illegal bet gets placed everybody loses including the idiot on the phone. Since, as a result of rampant illegal betting and a one way income flow in the favour of the bookie with little or no cost, the power of dosh leads these cretins to fix and manipulate things to suit themselves even more.
The Maharashtra Government on its part is letting every single citizen of their state get robbed. When cheating in alcohol excise takes place, hooch dealers find themselves in the clink when they get caught, policing of the same is strict too.  Money earned the right way by the government on tote betting could help finance a myriad of welfare schemes. The worldwide standard for takeouts from betting pools is somewhere in the region of 20% with the government and racing facility getting an even split. Here, RWITC is left with very little wriggle room as the government wallops 20% straight up. Totalizator pools are never static they either spiral upwards or as is the case with an asinine tax regime downwards. As the vicious cycle continues the sport dies, the Club can ill afford to pay better stakes as a result owners have a lower probability of return on investment from earnings. Trainers and jockeys get lower commissions trying to do things the right way and as a result must resort to gambling and the resultant malpractice that goes along with it therefore the rot runs right through.
Tote only monopolies are the modern way to run the sport of racing. The Brits left us a great sport but they also left us their 18th Century business strategy to run the sport, clubs like BTC and HRC were able to adapt but would do well to go the whole hog to ban bookies altogether. Unfortunately RWITC with their tax regime need the income that they get in stall fees from their on course bookmakers to keep afloat despite the fact that they cheat on revenue declaration right under their noses. The leading bookmaker by turnover for the whole season, yes the whole season from November to April declares a lower turnover than a single race run at Bangalore and we honour the guy with a prize at season’s end, guess he steals marginally less than the other curs in his business. How does one become a bookie? It’s simple, the club licenses you. You’d think you ought to have some proper way to license those who are handling such large sums of money, like stockbrokers are but here you get guys with with names like Xyzji and Abcbhai depending on which part of India one is in with no real qualification in money or gaming management.
It’s about time the Government of Maharashtra instead of having a negative attitude towards the sport understand that it’s a business that creates thousands of permanent jobs. Most of these jobs are for those who their broken state education system has let down, the labourer. Horse racing is a labour intensive sport, just see one of Pesi Shroff’s leading in pictures and see how many of his staff are in them. Each and everyone of those men have an integral role to play in the running of the stable; the jamadar, the riding boy, the farrier, the feedman, the syce, the faltoo, the assistant and so on. Most of them don’t have formal education but are vocational experts in their fields. Our sport was mandated as a game of skill by the Supreme Court in a landmark judgement in 1996 by The Hon. Justice Kuldip Singh. That puts us on par with cricket, hockey, football, kho kho etc. so understand that we are in a game where gambling is allowed and legally so. In other words screw you and your pseudo moralistic attitude that my sport must be looked down upon. I’m proud to be part of a great sport and yes my family is in politics and we find that we have nothing to hide as far as our involvement in the sport goes, in fact its an integral part of our identity in fact we wear it on our sleeves.

Its a no brainer Maharashtra Government follow Hong Kong’s example come up with a sensible betting tax rate and structure and use the money to repair your potholed roads, your broken education system, your dilapidated infrastructure, your overstretched local rail and bus network. We’re a green non polluting industry, the process provides lots of jobs, a lot more than your subsidised Cricket stadiums do and most of all its fun! Wake up and smell the fresh air around Mahalakshmi racecourse!

Next time you’re trying to save a few betting points by betting tax free with an illegal bookie just remember you’re bringing yourself down to the same level as a petty pick pocketing thief, you just stole from that jockey, that trainer, that owner and the club its as simple as that you thief!

Too Much!  Way too much!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vanishing Art of training and other musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….and then one day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breeders! Keeping your sport alive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lights On!!

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

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

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

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

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