Last week’s races at Bangalore threw up a couple of startling facts, Indian racing today is set up to cater to inferior horses. I went through the card for Last Friday’s races and found that the way the prospectus (conditions book) is being written is way off the mark. Indian racing as a whole caters to mediocrity, there is very little done by the turf clubs to reward excellence. Bangalore Turf Club is a micro-chasm of how something that is good and successful can be destroyed by myopic men with myopic policies. 8 races were carded on Friday; there is a very nice conditions race for 3 year olds which ought to be interesting and might even throw up an unexposed classic contender for the winter season ahead. There are two races for horses rated 0-25, 4 year olds and over, two races for horses rated 20-45, another race for horses rated 20-45, 5 year olds and over a race for horses rated 40-65 and another race for horses rated 60 and above (a relatively new innovation at Bangalore). In other words there are three races which are reserved for horses rated below 45 who are above the age of 4 and are confirmed to be runners of inferior quality. You can pluck out any race day at Bangalore through the year and the racecard will look very similar to this. Now look at the open company races in which Three Year olds are eligible, there will be older runners who are just going in for, “runs” so that the handicapper who incidentally writes this shit-sheet can drop them in the handicap. Its simple, make a lower class and the lower you go, certain trainers and owners will figure out a way to reach there. Yes, one can understand that if we had a shortage of horses being supplied into the industry then just to card races we need to cater to the lower rated horses but we have a glut. Today our tracks are bursting at the seams and there is a huge shortage of stables being faced by every single club. Due to poorly structured quota systems inferior horses can get into the system easier than superior horses as they sell much cheaper. Since our racetracks cannot cater to the numbers of horses being produced and don’t throw out aged and inferior runners fast enough, the knock on effect that this is having is that many stud farms are going out of business, this equates in a loss of jobs and livelihood for a large number of people like syces, farriers, suppliers etc.
Apart from Bangalore this is an endemic problem in each and every racing jurisdiction in India. At RWITC for example more than 50% of the stock is rated below 33, this in itself is a very shocking statistic. Over and above this there is no cap on the age of a horse that is allowed to race irrespective of its rating. One keeps on hearing from Western India owners and trainers that so and so horse isn’t Western India class, when 50% of the stock is rated at an international rating of 5 there is something very very wrong in the way that the sport is structured. When you consider that every race day in Western India has numerous divisions for horses rated from 1 to 26 you actually realise how poor the bulk of racing at this centre is.
Mysore is another place where inferior quality horses dominate, they recently started showing live races on the net so out of curiosity I tuned in to see their baby race, the winner takes home a solid purse but the quality of horses on display was abysmal. Apart from one horse that weighed in at 418 Kg the balance of the field was south of 400 Kg with the earth shattering weight of 330 kg carried on the frame of a horse called Vroom Vroom, now 330 Kilos is a weight that a good weanling would weigh in November not even a yearling, a weanling, ie a horse that is about 9 months old! The prize money on offer at Mysore is very remunerative, yet the quality of horses are possibly the worst in India and from what one hears about the level of fixing at this centre its truly shocking. A couple of years ago one of their trainers was busted for putting stones under a horse’s saddlecloth in order to stop him, if I’m not mistaken the bloke has been granted his license again and the show goes on.
Hyderabad has races for horses rated 25 and below, these races have got to be the worst category of races run in India today, slow banged up horses are being given a chance to earn money when they would be of better service in a riding school. Hyderabad with its overly protectionist attitude has caused their racing to dip to abysmal levels as a whole, a huge exception being trainer LVR Deshmukh. For the first time since JS Dhariwal left Hyderabad to set up base in Bangalore almost a decade ago, a trainer truly broke through on an All India level. Deshmukh has always been ambitious and targeted many of the plums at other centres but with sporadic success. In 2012-13 he had the stock and he had them firing on all cylinders, he travelled them to Bombay, Pune, Bangalore and even as far as Calcutta with immense success and he bagged many of the country’s plum events. You’d expect him to sail away with the trainers championship every winter season at his home centre but he has to fight very hard, why? His horses find themselves in the higher classes and as such winning or rather running opportunities for them are few and far between. His closer pursuers on the other hand have plenty of horses rated below 50 or even 25 and the opportunity afforded to these nags is much higher than is available to Deshmukh’s top end runners. Hyderabad does have a fair terms system too which one must say is better than most other clubs but one is seeing more lower class races dividing nowadays and shorter fields in the terms races.
All these problems have arisen due to the protectionist, socialist policies followed by our racing authorities, without realising that “Racing” by nature is a capitalist sport, my horse is faster than your horse its as simple as that. Racing is broken into two separate streams the better quality horses compete against each other on terms according to races or prize money won or at level weights (after allowing a standard sex allowance). The other stream for inferior horses is the handicap route, the big problem with handicapping is that it is very open to human interpretation and humans as is their wont are never perfect and human frailty often gets the better of them and as such huge errors are committed. When a 0-25 race for horses 5 years old and over is won by a low level handicapper by 8 lengths! Then Mr Handicapper sir, somebody has played you and circumvented the system. The problem faced is that racing authorities have skewed the sport too heavily towards handicap racing, when they could at least fit in more conditions events for better quality horses rather than drive them towards the handicap system too. The current system by which things work is as follows; you can run your horse in three maiden special weight terms races where if you don’t win you get a low rating, usually 25 for fillies and 28 for colts. Very few trainers target to win a maiden race, most of the time the attitude is to run down the field three times and get a low rating get fitter and then target a handicap race off a really low weight. If you win a race the handicapper gives you a thumping penalty, usually approximately 20 points and then rather than get to run in a conditions race you get driven into the morass of the handicapping system. This is where unscrupulous practices start as well, trying to cheat the system by manipulating your horse’s performance to get a rating that is lower than your horse’s ability so that you can make a sure thing of your horse and have a thumping bet.
Another problem being faced in Bangalore is the lack of long distance races. Training over shorter trips is simple, run your horse a few times and it will reach a level of fitness where it can win. This is not so easy when you have to do this over a longer trip, training horses to go a distance is where the ability of a top trainer really gets tested. The ability to get your horse fit to run the Derby distance over a mile and a half really separates the men from the boys. How to space your fast works, what pace to canter every morning, how much to feed etc. these questions only arise when you got to go over a trip. Similarly jockeys learn how to judge pace, time their runs, settle their horses etc. when they ride over longer distances. Overall the Indian thoroughbred suffers as a breed too, since the Derby is still run over a mile and a half trip shouldn’t we offer some encouragement to breeders to breed for that rather than for a gamble for horses rated at 25 and below. I remember as a kid in Bangalore Summer season one got to see later developing stayers stretch out in trip and come into their own. More recently my filly Conceptual was trained into the Mile and three quarter St Leger off a mile prep race, absolutely unheard of anywhere in the world, testament to the filly and her trainer that she won. Another story relating to the same horse was when we were prepping for the Stayers’ Cup in Mumbai, Conceptual was supposed to have a lead up race in the mile and a half Stayers’ Trial which was approximately 40 days before the big race. Unfortunately only two horses accepted and BTC in their wisdom voided the race, as a result we ran the Stayers’ Cup off a 90 odd day gap, the slight lack of fine tuning cost us as we knuckled under to Maseeha in the last 50 metres of the race to go down by 3/4 of a length. The fine margins in sport are only understood by those involved in the sport as sportsmen and coaches not by somebody who spends most of his time behind a desk. Yes business is great at Bangalore but is racing a business or a sport? We must always look at the business aspect but we mustn’t forget that racing is a sport first and a business next.
My good friend Anil Mukhi is the only journalist in India that writes about the frailties of the current system http://www.indiarace.com/FullReview.aspx?ReviewId=3399 and as a person based out of Canada he is well versed in how the sport is run in North America. Handicap racing has been replaced there by claiming races. If you want to compete at the higher end of the sport there are plenty of graded and stakes races, if one isn’t good enough for these then there are allowance or in other words conditions (terms) races where one carries an assigned weight depending on races won. If a horse is not of that quality level then there is what makes up the bread and butter of the sport there, the claiming system. The claiming system by nature is self handicapping, claiming races run from a claiming value as low as $2500 all the way up to $ 150,000. The best thing about this system is that it prevents people from cheating, since if there is a horse that is run in a claiming race that horse can be claimed by any other trainer or registered owner for its assigned claiming price. In other words if I run my superior horse in inferior company, I run the risk of losing that horse to another shrewd trainer or owner who keep their ear to the ground and know that my horse is worth more than the value it is running for. This inbuilt check discourages people from giving their horses runs to bring it further down the scale as somebody might claim it. Further this system also keeps horses and money circulating, for example if I want to come into the sport as a new owner I can test the waters in a simple way with limited liability. Say there is a claiming race of horses worth Rs. 300,000 all one has to do to own any horse in that race is to pony up Rs. 300,000 and be the proud owner without any clandestine dealing as might be required today.
We need to change the status quo, unfortunately its very easy to get comfortable in mediocrity. Bangalore is attempting to weed out non performers but in my humble opinion they are giving a very long rope for duds to perform. Similarly inferior trainers and jockeys too are able to carry on in the system, see how Hong Kong does it, they have set a strict performance criteria which is adhered to and if you cannot cut it your license is revoked, something trainers like Peter Chapple Hyam and David Hill found out. In India currently we have state mandated hooking allowed wherein one uses a bad jockey on one’s horse and bring it down in the handicap and then wait 3 weeks and fancy the horse with a good jockey up, when you win by 8 lengths against similar level aged nags, nobody even asks a question. Theoretically shouldn’t every horse be on job every time? Think about it.