Racing is a game that traces its origins to agrarian societies around the world. Horses were the equivalent of what cars are these days and were the chosen beast for transport or burden, its only natural that its inherent running ability was harnessed and used for racing as sport. It became a pastime of the wealthier landed gentry, the lords and landed gentlemen of I would think mainly European countries started running an organised system where you could place bets against each other or with professional bookmakers who became vital for racing to start getting treated as a business. This encouraged many like minded individuals to form clubs which would conduct meetings where horses would race against each other. While other sports have moved on from the system where sports were run as clubs whether it be Cricket, Hockey, Tennis or Football, Indian racing has continued to conduct the sport under the aegis of clubs. Golf is a great example where individual spread of the sport was nurtured through smaller local level golf clubs but when it came to becoming a proper tour affiliated with world golf, it was run by an association. Furthermore the sport has boomed all over the country as more and more privately run courses have opened up all over India. Our various racing clubs come under the banner of the Turf Authorities of India, I might have written about them but the TAI are a toothless body which actually has no real enforcement powers.
Clubs in the earlier days were the best way to pool your resources together since it was cost prohibitive for any individual to attempt such a large endeavour except maybe royalty who encouraged the pastime and were involved themselves in most cases, ergo the monicker, “The Sport Of Kings.” Soon betting became the vital financial fuel that the sport required and clubs would charge bookmakers on course to take bets on the races. This is the system that we still use in India, the stall fee that bookmakers pay, clubs like Delhi Race Club derive almost their entire funding from here, an antiquated business principle, not years from its sell by date but possibly a century. While clubs were good for the growth of racing in the earlier years, over a period of time they have become inefficient quasi-governmental organisations. Along with that come inefficiencies in their system of functioning, such as arbitrary decision making and the impression that vested interests indulge in favouritism and nepotism in the system. In India we elect committee members and stewards by a process of elections, these people are from the general body of the club which may or may not have the correct candidates with the requisite experience to administer the sport. Most of the time the people who do get elected are more or less in an honorary capacity and most definitely not on a full time basis.
As it stands today not one of our clubs has a professional Chief Executive Officer who takes decisions on behalf of the club. The defacto head of the club is the secretary who isn’t qualified at all in running administration, marketing, finance etc. for a sport. There is a general feeling that a level playing field does not exist for all when it comes to punishing wrong-doers and corruption in the sport. Another huge problem under the club system is the fact that there is no proper profit motive. As a result of this nobody’s pocket gets effected and that leads to poor decision making with no consequences to any individual. If the Club loses money nobody’s life in the committee or general body gets effected. Take the case of the RCTC which was at one time THE premier club under the British Empire, their asset base was awesome and India aside they owned very valuable property in the centre of London too. Corrupt officials in connivance with a corrupt committee got rid of this property for a pittance. Apart from this scam, officials in the system pilfered money from the club’s reserves the result was that racing almost ceased to exist at Calcutta. What has happened to the perpetrators of the fraud committed earlier, absolutely nothing, they still roam around as respectable members of society, without so much as a censure. Fortunately there has been a huge revival over there of late because the biggest owner in Calcutta Mr. Deepak Khaitan took over the reins of the club recently. He negotiated a good deal to develop property owned by the club in the centre of town, this corpus fund was used to increase stake money, facilities and to stabilise the finances of the club. They are attempting to streamline the running of the RCTC along the lines of a professional company.
Unfortunately most clubs in India are run by mediocre men with absolutely no experience in running any sort of business, leave alone a multi crore business which effects the livelihood of thousands of people, directly or indirectly. The red tape within the system is an absolute shame and unfortunately even the various officials of the clubs are hellishly mediocre and would struggle to hold jobs under more organised and better run racing jurisdictions. The quality of stiping has been on the wane recently and many decisions taken by stewards have been absurd, I am pretty sure many of them aren’t even aware of the rules that they race under. Would this be acceptable in a professionally run setup, I doubt it very much. Since the bottom line doesn’t effect any individual person’s pocket there is a complete lack of proper forward planning, neither is there any liaising with the government at the local or central level.
Think about it Hong Kong started their racing under RCTC rules today the Hong Kong Jockey Club which is under professional management handles over ₹ 60,000 crores in betting money. Most countries around the world have professional bodies run by qualified people running their sport such as the Japan Racing Association in Japan or France Galop in France, similarly in The USA you have NYRA running the three main New York tracks; Saratoga, Belmont and Acqueduct or Stronach Racing which runs Santa Anita in Southern California, Pimlico in Baltimore and Gulfstream Park in Florida among a host of other tracks. Churchill Downs Racing operates Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, Louisiana Downs in Louisiana and Calder in Florida once again with professional management in place and a public listing on the stock exchange. Churchill Downs has turned their showpiece event the Kentucky Derby into the hottest property in the sport of racing. The buck must stop with somebody and when somebody’s pocket gets effected they will take care whenever they make a decision.
On the flipside we have Indian racing; One of our premier racing centres Madras has been taken over by one owner because he controls the club. Similarly Delhi Race Club is run by a very old President who too controls the politics of the club and despite the fact that it sits in the capital of India, Delhi has a shameful racing setup. Rumour has it that many years ago the Delhi Race Club was offered ample land in a different part of town called Dwarka near the airport to make a modern racing facility, no professional sports body should have rejected such an offer but Delhi Race Club did because the committee is too comfortable to stay where they are since none of them are going to profit personally from a move, who loses? Only racing.
All in all the club system is well past its sell by date. While one can get good regimes like RCTC has, more often than not the sport gets damaged such as in Madras and Delhi. Jurisdictions like Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai have both pros and cons associated with the club system. Further on in another post, I intend to address problems faced in each separate racing jurisdiction in the country.