Since racing is a lifestyle sport or rather its supposed to be, wining and dining is supposed to be part of it, I thought I’d cover catering services at the various facilities in India.
RWITC (Mumbai): This lovely piece of property is huge and when space is available its possible to do things the right way. A day spent racing at Mahalaxmi is undoubtedly one of the coolest things to do in a city that can be best described as an urban slum. One thing the administration and powers that be at the helm of affairs understand is that good food and drink should be available at the races. I have spent a couple of days racing at the WIRHOA lounge and I must say its very comfortable. In Shiven Surendranath the WIRHOA have a boss who understands what racing is about and what comfort is. The Coffee churned out by the Lavazza machine is easily the best hot drink available at any track in India. Lots of juice and cold drinks are available as are munchies like chips and stuff. The Air conditioning works well and the lounge is well located, close to the paddock as well as close to tote counters. One finds an eclectic mix of racing aficionados in the lounge and there is always something happening there and the conversation is quite stimulating. Alternatively there is the trainers, “Hamara Bajaj” lounge which though quite zany in its decor is very comfortable too.
The catering facilities at Bombay have always been quite good, whether its the chicken sandwiches upstairs in the cafeteria or the Sev Puri and Chaat guy. The cold drink stand is efficient and the cold coffee has always been very refreshing on a hot day. Recent additions to the food repertoire at RWITC has been a counter run by the quite popular mill area eatery Cafe Zoe and a hand churned Ice Cream counter. If one wants to sit down and eat there is always old Gallops where the food has always been quite good and their Chicken Liver Pate and Lobster Thermidor has been good for ages. Yours truly hasn’t been to Gallops the last couple of years as a matter of principle since they’re at war with the Club. Another nice eatery called “Neel” is just to one side of the main gate and it serves up pretty decent Indian grub. Overall people in Bombay take good food for granted and why not its the way it should be. Racing at Mahalaxmi is comfortable and good fun, one wishes the RWITC was earning money from it rather than some illegal bookie with whom the majority of the crowd at the races punt with over the phone even for small amounts.
RWITC (Pune): though the racing facilities at Pune aren’t a patch on Bombay, they are still fairly decent. During their Derby week they have the Oktoberfest which is great fun. The German guys serve up top class beer and some really tasty bratwurst and sausages. Even on regular race days while they lack the space that Mahalaxmi offers, they do have the basics in place. Whether its the Biryani place on one side of the bookie ring or the bare bones chai and cold drinks set up near the trainers room. Overall a day at the races in Pune is an enjoyable enough experience. The local sponsors lay it on and work quite hard, racing in Pune is fun whether one is a hardcore race goer or a casual atendee.
BTC: Bangalore Turf Club is my home centre and I’m sorry to say I’d be ashamed to invite a friend to the races there. I have an open invite to the members lunch room upstairs and the food they serve is quite decent as is the service but do keep in mind this place can cater to a maximum of about 100 people efficiently. Avoid this place on Derby day as there isn’t room to walk without shuffling and the floor shakes, god forbid they have a fire here as the place doesn’t look as if its safe. The “Frans” (Prawns) that are served up as snacks are quite tasty, always follow up your meal with a generous helping of curd rice or pardon the language for the lack of a better term but your arse will be on fire. Come down to the owners stand and hell the service and food here can only be described as SHIT, now don’t say that its not that bad since you can’t have good and bad shit; shit is shit. Their Cokes run out inevitably after the fourth race, the plastic seating at the cafeteria is uncomfortable, I’m not a fan of Bisibele Bhaath though some people say its not bad. The food, the setting, the crowd and eating habits of the majority around are terrible, I’m sorry for sounding snobbish but I was taught to eat rice with a spoon and fork and chew with my mouth closed. All in all Bangalore Turf Club and the KROA ought to be ashamed over how badly owners are treated at this centre. Racing is a lifestyle sport and us owners pay the bills and finance the chips (horses) in your casino. It wouldn’t be difficult to give the catering contract to a proper company rather than to some committee member’s lackey. I shudder to think how bad things must be in the nosebleed sections in the Second enclosure. The rougher crowd in Bangalore is a bit too close for comfort and its common to hear the, “Rowdies” hurling abuses at the professionals in the paddock. In my opinion a wrecking ball needs to be taken to BTC and we need to redesign every bloody thing over here.
RCTC: Calcutta is a city where people take great pride in their food and a general populace who know how to look after guests really well. Last year’s Invitation Cup was held over here and their hospitality was absolutely top class. We were hosted in their newly renovated Clubhouse, the food was top notch (Apparently catered by the best caterer in town) and the bar service was awesome too. There was plenty of space to sit and the committee are very hands on and as a result the officials are on their toes. I received an email from their Racing Department asking as to how many of my family would be there and whether we needed to have any bookings done or arrangements made. When we arrived at our hotel all the invites and passes were waiting for us at the hotel reception. On the other side of the fence the food served up is very tasty too especially their,”Puchkas.” Once again open spaces and lots of old trees are the norm in Cal and overall racing is a very comfortable experience. I haven’t been racing to Cal very often but that is something I intend to change over the years.
Mysore: if you are paid to go racing here, take my advice and don’t ever go. The hospitality here is abysmal, I doubt you can get a decent bite to eat over here. The crowd that comes racing over here is the dregs. They have an Ice Cream and cold drinks counter which is sort of ok but they serve,”Joy” Ice cream, a decent brand from the 80s. The grandstand is uncomfortable as hell and the creeps that are hanging around smell of hooch. I remember many years ago one of Indian racing’s biggest owners almost got assaulted because he complained that somebody had sat in his seat. There is no proper food available period. Thank god they’ve started to show their races on the internet because this is a really picturesque dump and is best avoided.
Delhi: However bad the quality of racing might be in Delhi the catering facilities at this dump of a toy racetrack bang splat in the middle of Lutyens Delhi are more than decent. Thanks to Shailendra “Chhota” Singh we have a pretty nice Coffee Shop called Craze at the track, which churns out a good cup of Cho and some pretty decent snacks but the really well organised catering services are behind the bookies ring. Ice Cold Drinks are freely available on demand at any time, the Cold Drinks seller has a minimum of 5 crates stacked up in his cooler and as one finishes its replaced with another and a proper cold drink is always available in Delhi. The Kababchi out back makes killer Chicken Tikka and Seekh Kabab Rolls, amongst the best in the Capital. Good Chaat and Pakoras are a given in Delhi and there is a good Dosa guy there too. If you want greasy Indian grub, there is good Chicken Curry and rice available as well. The real surprise over here is the Oriental Food guy who serves up a pretty decent Thai Green Chicken Curry and some Punjabi/Chinese style Chilli Chicken too. I’ll never forget how well organised things were once when Unitech sponsored a race at DRC, top class food, name it and it was there, Champagne, Single Malts and quality Scotch flowed, Cohiba Cigars were served on trays and it was swish. Even now when Racing manager, Kulwant Singh asks us to, “Come and Have A Tea” you can rest assured that you’ll be served good Samosas and Sandwiches. Moti Mahal sponsored their Derby this past Monday and they had a nice live band, hostesses, decent booze and since Moti Mahal was their sponsor, there were good kababs and food served up. While I wouldn’t say that Delhi’s swish set landed up, they had quite a good turnout of non racing people who were definitely enjoying themselves on a Monday afternoon. Its a pity that the capital doesn’t have a top notch track as I’m sure it would become a destination for the uber set of Delhi, unfortunately Polo scores over us and gets the top end sponsors and the fancy boys of Lutyens instead of racing.
Hyderabad Race Club: Hyderabad Race Club in Malakpet is one of the world’s only tracks where the approach is through a Gully. On their Derby Days, both Monsoon and Winter a huge lunch is served to all the invitees. The menu is pretty standard Biryani, Haleem and a Fish and Chicken dish apart from their veggie options. There was a time when my good friend Sanjay Reddy and myself would look forward to this bi-annual ritual but recently standards have dropped and the grub just isn’t that good. Further to this is how they’ve come up with a classless concept of giving out plates after one shows them a coupon. Just not done HRC, lots of big shots own horses and it doesn’t behove well for you to treat them like this, its just a wee bit shabby. As a facility for some reason despite having so much space available to them HRC has gone for a hardcore mortar and tar look. It has the look of an Orwellian concrete jungle where racing instead of being fun is this really serious, tedious and boring job. Somebody needs to tell them that the Pista green colour that they decided to paint the place looks awful. The only patch of grass seen is the racetrack and the paddock. Hyderabad could do a whole lot better, they seem to have the basics in place but overall lack imagination. A nice touch by them is to have reserved seats for owners who have runners in their big races such as the Derby. The Invitation Cup is in Hyderabad this year but in my opinion they will have a very hard act to follow after Calcutta’s stellar show last year.
All in all our racing administrators need to understand that when you have a captive audience as our clubs do on a race day, catering can and should be a solid revenue generator. Good facilities and a classy setting will attract more fans to the races, unfortunately there seems to be a disconnect among our Southern clubs as regards this. Food and Beverage is a very important part of the entire set up in racing, since people are going to spend a good three or four hours at the races, a comfortable and enjoyable experience will encourage people to return on a regular basis. While most of the time my blog talks more about the bare bones of racing one hopes our sport chokes up to the fact that this is the 21st Century and its about time that clubs realised that they are in the, “Entertainment business.” There was a time when Cinema Halls were seedy and basic, the recent boom in multiplexes at malls have changed the movie going experience from basic to enjoyable, its about time we took a page out of their book and change or else we will perish.