Indian racing has ceased to be national in nature and maybe its time that names carried a parenthesis with the centre name in it to signify where a horse is based. Racing Against Aged Junk [MYS], Age Group Sprint Champ [BLR], Quota King [HYD], etc. would give us a far better idea about a horse’s ability. Since racing was and hopefully still is about who is the fastest horse one fails to understand the system created by Hyderabad Race Club, the dreaded, “Quota System.” The reasoning behind this was that it would protect the local owners against better horses from other centres. At the same time the system would be used to allot their limited stable space for the fresh inflow of 2 year olds into HRC by giving quotas to owners. Over a period of time the system has become a way for the powers that be to flex their muscles and has become very arbitrary in nature. Added to this is the fact that these quotas are alloted to owners, rather than trainers and then there is a cap on the number of horses a trainer can bring into his stable as well. As a result of this benami ownership flourishes and it limits the growth of genuine owners who want to buy horses, since quota holding owners hold onto their slot for dear life, resulting in them buying or taking on contingency cheap horses of a lower standard. What this has managed to achieve is a false bearing on what the true merit of a horse is, since a large chunk of very mediocre horses find their way into the system, racing is supposed to be about straightforward unfettered competition where the fastest and best win, whenever or wherever there is straightforward competition, over a period of time everything including the system will find its own level. Protectionism is a very retrograde system which leads to negative results whereas competition brings about positive results a recent example of this is Calcutta.
When Calcutta boosted its prize money levels, many outstation trainers decided to take “B” licenses over there and set up shop with decent sized strings. Pesi Shroff, Imtiaz Sait, Darius Byramji and Arti Doctor all took horses to race at Hastings. Arti Doctor realised that she would be better suited to shift to Calcutta on a permanent basis, a move that in hindsight was a very good decision as she is regularly among the winners there. They all brought horses from other centres, ie Bombay and Bangalore. To start with things looked great for these outstation trainers and they won often but soon the local trainers figured this out and stepped out to replenish their stock with better quality horses from Bombay and Bangalore too. The local trainers got far more conscientious regarding the quality of babies that they were buying as well and soon the local boys started to regularly beat the out of towners. The result has been that Byramji, Shroff and Sait have shut shop and gone back to concentrate on their parent centres. Rather than protect mediocrity all that the authorities need to do is to make sure that what comes into their centres is stock that is superior to what is currently based over there rather than take pity on their own. Clubs need to license better professionals and to make sure there is enough stake money being paid out in order for professionals to earn a good living. Meritocracy has died in Indian racing and slowly but surely the sport is descending into being all about punting and less about quality competition as stake money vis a vis costs is not keeping pace. The quota system is detrimental for growth too as younger trainers who are starting their careers get a smaller quota, vis a vis established license holders who may or may not be competent. Its about time that clubs started to de-license non performers to make room for younger talent. There are trainers who haven’t won races for 5 years, who still get to keep their license. Non performers in any field get weeded out but in racing getting a license is akin to holding a government job, its held in perpetuity. There are trainers whose monthly commission earnings over the past 9 years are less than a syces wage, how are they making ends meet? These are questions that all clubs need to address and ask trainers. Hong Kong for one kicks out trainers if they aren’t cutting it, the main reason being space restrictions, we have a similar problem, we too need to take Hong Kong’s lead.
There was a time in the 60s, 70s and 80s when racing was a moving carnival, starting with Ooty in Spring/Summer, followed by Bangalore in the Summer then during the Monsoon; everybody split towards, Pune, Mysore, Hyderabad and Calcutta (for their lower end stock), in the winter racing took place in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. With the demise of proper racing in Madras; Bangalore and Hyderabad became full on winter destinations. Unfortunately when the sport grew there was no attempt to increase the number of tracks, as a result of a glut slowly space became an issue and racing became more and more localised and Indian racing lost its national character and became regional in nature. The only survivor has been the Bangalore Summer season which is India’s only national season. This too is not by design but more due to the fact that from May to July until the Monsoon hits the only place in Indian racing with temperate weather is the garden city. There was an attempt in the 80s led by Suresh Mahindra, RM Reddy, General Kumaramangalam, Mr Shivlal Daga, my father Sonny Brar and a few others to revive racing in Lucknow, they raced under rules for a few days but had to pack up due to a lack of capital. Its a different India now and with capital available more freely a proper attempt to expand racing would be very viable, considering its the only legal form of gambling on mainland India and our clubs have thoroughly wasted their incumbent advantage due to the lack of foresight, petty politics and general apathy. Our clubs are islands unto themselves and are run as little fiefdoms with little or no cooperation amongst themselves. The time is ripe for a national body to run the sport, akin to Japan Racing Association, France Galop, The Jockey Club and the like. The need of the hour is to give racing a corporate structure and have a national consensus on things like marketing the sport. We also need to lobby state governments as well as the central government regarding the good done by the racing and breeding industries. We provide in excess of 20,000 permanent jobs many of them rural, we provide revenue from betting taxes and also provide green spaces in congested cities. Breeding horses is an activity directly related to agriculture and animal husbandry but while the rest of theses fields get sops galore we fall in a blind spot. India has changed, unfortunately our sport has not. We are attempting to start racing in Punjab, so far talks have been very positive and we have our fingers crossed that soon we are able to give India its first tote only racing setup. The idea is to have a racetrack that is run along corporate lines and not by a club. Bookmakers have become the bane of racing wherever they are found in the world. Here in India we still allow them to take licenses and operate at our clubs by paying stall fees. They damage the integrity of the sport and cheat on revenue but we still allow them to exist. Here in our upside down system we are allowing them to be competition for our gambling rupee by licensing them ourselves! Imagine having a virtual monopoly on a product but allowing a parasite to not just feed off’ve us but to bleed us dry. Would this be allowed in a run for profit business? I think you all know that the answer is a vehement no.
An average horse racing in Hyderabad as a rule of thumb will earn a lot more than an average horse racing in Western India or at Bangalore, since racing is restricted only to horses based in that centre. In a catalogue style pedigree write up Hyderabad based horse always looks good, take my horse Cape Ferrat as an example, here is a horse that has run at the top of class one for the past three years of his career, his earnings are somewhere in the region of approximately 25 Lakhs, despite wins in Western India, Bangalore and place finishes in added money races in Hyderabad. On the flip side lets look at a Hyderabad horse called Young Soldier a horse that topped out at a rating of 102 in Hyderabad, this horse has cleared 48 Lakhs in Stake money earnings. All earnings have been accumulated in the Hyderabad structure. Run the two against each other and at level weights Cape Ferrat will beat Young Soldier, 10 times out of 10 but when one looks at the Catalogue who looks better? Unfortunately Indian Racing has made its own set of rules as we go along, most of them detrimental for the Indian breed and as a result racing as a whole.
Lets take a look at our pattern system, first of all in most racing jurisdictions there is supposed to be a pyramid structure, with Listed races at the bottom, followed by Grade 3, 2 and 1 all decreasing in number as we go higher up the scale with Grade 1s being the dearest as they are supposed to signify the pinnacle of our sport. The pattern system was created so that a yardstick could be provided for our cataloguing standards. The name of a pattern race winner gets to appear in a sales catalogue in bold font with capital letters, while the name of a second or third place finisher appears in bold font but in lower case characters. The idea being that we can objectively read the pedigree page of a horse with better horses having more black type on their page. The pattern race committee is supposed to upgrade and downgrade races every year depending on the quality of the races run. Unfortunately this is not being done in India in an efficient manner, certain norms must be followed, take the example of Hyderabad once again. The Darley Arabian Stakes, Byerly Turk, Godolphin Barb, Alcock Arabian Stakes and Golconda Juvenile Million have always carried graded status yet the quality of these races have been sub par for time immemorial. As a result these races are going to throw up 15 black type horses who aren’t quite up to the mark, therefore compromising the cataloguing standards. HRC doesn’t allow final entries, neither does the Poonawalla Breeders Million, yet the Deccan and Golconda Derby as well as the PBM get to be Grade 1 races. Did you know that Set Alight never ran the PBM because she wasn’t entered. Similarly entries for the Hyderabad Classics close at the end of November when 90% of the intended runners in those races are still unraced, entries are done more on hope rather than on known ability, now think about it are these necessarily being won by Group 1 horses? In my opinion for a race to be within the pattern, there must be a proper system of final entries so that these races truly reflect the very best rather than the best of what is entered. In India the various clubs decide which of their races should carry the graded monicker, this is wrong as it is against the tenets of why the system was created, the running of the pattern system needs to devolve upon the breeders rather than the racing administrators, since it was created for them and their stud values not for the clubs. Currently we have no Listed races in India and the grading of other events too is very haphazard.
Further to this we have another huge problem in that we have a critical shortage of races for our above average stock. Most conditions races fall in the domain of juveniles, as a result we are in a quirky situation where there are too many nondescript Million races carded for 2 and 3 year olds. Racing fans come to the races to back high quality racehorses whose form is well known, as a result of which our big race days attract more action at the betting windows. There is a far better connect among punters for high class older horses like Atlantus, Sprint Star, Dandified, Onassis, Optimus Prime etc. we need to card better quality terms or conditions races for these types of horses who give off their best on a more consistent level. Currently there are very few opportunities given for our 4 year old and over horses that perform well and find themselves unable to run races carded for horses 80 and above. If you win a maidens race a horse has to either step up into the top level races or get driven into the handicap system where manipulation is possible to a great extent, in fact its the norm rather than an exception. Opportunities in Bangalore for horses of the ilk of Rock With U, Chulbul Pandey, Cape Ferrat, Esteban are few and far between, the only option they have is to run at the very top against horses like Speed Six who are just that slight notch above them and most of the time will beat them. We need more terms races and more races over a trip, unfortunately Bangalore racing is all about sprinting as a result of which Winged Foot wins their Oaks off a rating of 43 and Applejack the Stayers’ Trial off a rating of 79. Both horses are very ordinary over 6 and 7 furlongs but put them over a mile and a half and they are top class. Its akin to asking Mo Farrah to run only in the 100, 200 and 400 metres at the Olympics! Since such few races are carded at a mile and a quarter and above, jockeys are forgetting the art of riding over a trip. Take the example of Arshad Alam, a bright young talent among the Bangalore jockey colony, when he rode Keturah in the Bangalore Oaks it was the first time he was riding a mile and a half race in his career. Consider the fact that he has ridden 40 winners in his career to go through his allowance claim without ever riding a long distance race, since our Derby is still run over 2400 metres shouldn’t our jockeys have had experience over that distance? Trainers are forgetting the art of training over a trip, even mile races are going void as trainers are chary about their ability to train over anything above 7 Furlongs. Stallions like Tejano, Brave Act, Ikhtyar, Carnival Dancer, Sedgefield and a host of others are better suited to race over longer trips. While in Hyderabad, RWITC and Calcutta there are opportunities to race your horses in Staying races, in Bangalore there is the odd race more often than not, over 9 furlongs. We should encourage longer races as the propensity for malpractice also reduces, think about it one bump in a sprint and its hard to recover, whereas in a longer race there is ample time to recover from any such mishaps. Further to this longer races are far more nuanced and cerebral from both a handicapping point of view, tactics as well as training it needs to be encouraged for the betterment of the sport, its the difference between test and one day cricket, ask Dravid or Sachin whats the pinnacle of their sport it will always be Test cricket.
So its on to Hyderabad for the Invitation weekend now, where we get the opportunity to see our best Stayers, Sprinters and Milers square off against each other at weight for age terms. The piece de resistance off course is the Invitation Cup where Our 4 year old crop will take on the best older horses over a mile and a half. HRC has carded a nice lot of Millions around the big races for the handicap variety but as is their wont they snuck in a clause which is against the rules of Invitation weekend where horses rated below 46 will not be permitted to race in these handicap events, I guess the reasoning behind this would be a fear of getting exposed against horses from Bangalore where the quality of stock is considered to be superior and a 45 rated horse from Bangalore would be about 5kg superior on the scale vis a vis a similarly rated Hyderabad horse. So its Chalta Hai for Indian racing as the carousel stops in Hyderabad for our annual get together. Boring dinners, meaningless meetings and a little nostalgia for times gone by. Invitation day at Hyderabad was the last day of racing I attended with my late father before he got seriously ill, we miss him greatly and maybe we get a proper racecourse going in Punjab to honour his memory. A good friend of mine said in the 19th century Calcutta was the centre of the Indian racing world, in the 20th Century it was Bombay maybe in the 21st Century it will be Punjab but then again a wise man once said, “Its a long way to Tipperary!”