2013 is history and now we look forward to 2014, the real classics ie the Derbies, Oaks and St Legers are going to come thick and fast over the next two months culminating in the Invitation Weekend at Hyderabad. One of the best things to happen in Indian Racing recently was the opening of the Invitation Cup to older horses in 2013. We finally get to crown a true champion who can beat all ages and all comers over the mile and a half trip. Though I’m sure the Bangalore handicapper would love to see us run the Invitation cup over 6 Furlongs!
Its been a harsh year for the racing and breeding industry in India, while our racing slides towards mediocrity under the outdated club system, breeders and others connected with the sport too suffer. One of the worst things to ever happen in our breeding industry was the utter neglect of horses at Doaba Stud which got nationwide coverage on news channels and social media. It was truly pathetic to see how cruelly these poor animals were treated. Its a really bad situation at the erstwhile stud farm that stood a breed shaping stallion like Everyday II. The previous generation of masters at this historic nursery were the brothers Kr Ramkishen Singh and Kr Rajendra Singh, both men whom I knew ever since I was a little kid. Both these gentlemen conducted themselves with honour in the breeding industry and were well known the world over. Kr Rajendra Singh, the younger of the two brothers and father of the current owner was very well known internationally as a highly respected horseman, he was once requested by no less than Coolmore Stud to sort out Last Tycoon with whom they were having problems in the breeding shed, something that he did so successfully. Its really sad to see things come to this. While one doesn’t condone in any way the actions of the current owner, what happened there is an amalgamation of how things are getting from bad to worse for the breeding industry. A current glut due to overproduction caused mainly by certain farms which have ballooned up all over the country in the past decade, added to this are many farms who have increased their mare numbers to well over 150. I myself have decreased my mares at Dashmesh from a peak of 110 to 65 and might even consider reducing further in order to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. The worldwide breeding industry has rebounded after a slump when the world economy went into recession, fuelled to a large extent by the royal family of Qatar where the young princes have been bitten by the racing bug. Unfortunately India still remains far from the world’s vision when it comes to racing and breeding. Despite our horses excelling whenever they have got the rare chance to race abroad, India rarely gets a mention on the world stage.
What is the solution to all this? Its actually very simple but it takes guts to bell the cat which nobody is willing to do so. We must see to the business of how our sport is run today, since it is a state subject we need to petition the state governments to lower betting taxes on the tote and to go ahead and ban the archaic institution of bookmaking. All over the world wherever racing is successful and prize money levels high we find one thing in common, a totalizator monopoly, places that come to mind are Japan, USA, France, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. On the flip side is the United Kingdom with a glut of racing, bookmakers and abysmal prize money levels. Another thing lacking is the presence of a via media by which our Racing Authorities can liaise with their respective State Governments. Not one of the states which conduct racing and earn solid revenues from it have a state Horse Racing Board, on which members of the government, bureaucracy as well as stakeholders in the sport sit. Considering racing is deemed a sport, by the esteemed Supreme Court and the fact that our current minister for Sport and Youth Affairs Jitendra Singh is from a very successful horse breeding family which ran the Alwar Stud I don’t think any of the Turf Clubs have ever bothered to speak with him and discuss the problems that our sport faces. We are an industry that provides no less than 20,000 permanent jobs and many more ancillary jobs but we must get our heads out of our butts and understand the same. The previous generations were ashamed of our sport since it is linked with gambling which is considered a vice by our pseudo socialist attitudes. Gambling is something that is a fact of life in India and it is intertwined in our belief systems too, one forgets that in the Mahabharata, Yudhishtra lost his kingdom while gambling. Its about time we produced a product on which a person can bet confidently and legally rather than drive it underground to illegal bookies. Everybody loses when an illegal bet is placed, the government, the sport, the professionals and even the punter since bookies often shave points off what should be the true odds.
Anyway lets talk about the positives in our sport. Recently the Punjab Government has passed a law to allow racing and gambling on racing in the agrarian state. A superb piece of land has been identified by the government for the project, it lies on the banks of the Sutlej river only 8 Km from the municipal limits of Punjab’s industrial hub and largest city Ludhiana. A Punjab Horse Racing Board is to be formed and the intention is to have a tote monopoly as well as a statewide license to operate betting shops. The intended track will be operated by a Company and talks with a professional outfit with requisite experience are at a pretty advanced stage. The Punjab Infrastructural Development Board (PIDB) is the nodal agency for the project, things are looking very positive at the present moment and we hope to conduct our first race meeting, God willing by 2015 end. Since we feed the nation from our little hardworking state maybe we can teach India how a real racing business is run as well. So on that happy note as hope springs eternal in the new year a very happy 2014 to all of you and may God bless the horses!