So Summer has arrived, while we suffer 40+ Celsius up North, the more temperate climes of Bangalore enable us to have Indian racing’s only national season, the Bangalore Summer Meeting. The racing world of India and the cream of the crop among 3 year olds congregate at the Garden City for high intensity action every weekend. There was a time when the season used to actually be top class but the recent and unfortunate developments at Bangalore Turf Club where racing is now mainly about low level age group handicaps and the authorities cater more to the basal part of racing ie gambling, this has in my opinion taken the fizz out of Bangalore Summer and the sport of it. There exists a small cherry on racing’s cake which is about excellence and winning big races. This segment of Indian racing has been in very steep decline recently, something our racing administrators have failed to see and as a result racing has been becoming less classy over a period of time. The handicapper in Bangalore has more often than not only seen the business side of racing and rarely ever cared about racing as a sport. While this apathetic attitude is one of the reasons for the decline in the top end of our sport, there are a myriad of factors that have contributed to this phenomena.
First of all there is the Turf Authorities of India and their associated bodies. One of these is the Pattern Race Committee which is supposed to work in order to assure that the integrity of the pattern system is upheld. They are supposed to push races up and down in the pattern depending on the quality of the races concerned. Unfortunately they haven’t ever been doing their job properly. A good example is the Poonawalla Breeders Multi Million, here is a race that is supposed to be the juvenile Derby. Breeders have to enter their yearlings for this race at the same time that they enter their stock for the sales. No final entries are allowed, now this race carries a Grade 1 tag, yet if the top horse of the crop has not been entered for the race a full year and a half before it is to run this race it cannot run. A good example of this would be Set Alight who would have won this in her year but simply couldn’t run. So is the winner a truly deserving Grade 1 winner in our catalogue? Similarly there are the 7, “Classic” races run in Hyderabad where horses have to be entered before they even run a race, once again no final entries are allowed. Now is the winner a true Grade 1 winner or just the best entered? The new thing that many of our racing jurisdictions have figured out is to slam the owners with a massive entry fee and then have negligible amounts cut at each forfeit stage, recently Bangalore Turf Club and our new Turf Authority Mysore Race Club who have followed this formula for many years have also done this with their classics. The Bangalore Summer Derby which is considered to be India’s biggest race notwithstanding the Indian Derby costs a whopping 2 Lakhs to run. The result has been that fewer and fewer horses are being entered for these races. Hyderabad Race Club has recently extended this concept over to their terms and graded races too. The President Of India Gold Cup which is a Grade 1 race over 2400 Metres designed to be along the lines of the Arc De Triomphe in France with weight for age terms, the race has its entries close in January for the September race date. What is amazing with this step is the fact that entries close before any of the mile and a half Derbies are run. This travesty has gone largely unnoticed and the owners and trainers have largely kept quiet as regards this, the reason being very few in racing are effected by it. What it does effect is the top end of our sport which goes into the annals of history.
Further to this the grading of races is very arbitrary, for example the Grade 1 Stayers Cup and Calcutta’s Indian Champion Cup historically get a field that is inferior to the Maharaja’s Cup a Grade 2 race run during the Bangalore Summer Season. Another race that gets a top field is the BTC Anniversary Cup another Grade 2 terms race for horses that are four years old and over run over Seven Furlongs. Compare the Sprinters Cup and Super Mile fields with this race and once again you’ll find that the fields in theses races are usually inferior or on par. Hyderabad has recently launched a myriad of Millions for their juveniles Four of these races carry a graded monicker, the Darley Arabian, Alcock Arabian, Byerly Turk and the Golconda Juvenile Million. Historically these races have thrown up winners of inferior quality, who rarely make the top grade in the future. In many of these so called Million races, the swing in weights is so mammoth that one juvenile has to give away more than 10 KG to another, as a result rather than throw up winners in the name of excellence, they tend to throw up winners that are better placed on handicap.
Another reason for all this is how Indian Racing has descended into a rat race over shorter distances. Rarely do we find races beyond 7 Furlongs, yet most of the pattern races cater to horses that race at a mile and beyond. We must create proper racing opportunities for horses in every stream whether it be sprinting, middle distance or staying races. We need to get away from the over dependance that we have on handicap racing, while there is a definite place for handicap racing in the sport, there needs to be a parallel programme that caters to our superior stock. Currently if you win a Maiden Special Weight (Level Weights) race with your debutant runner, the handicapper gives the horse a rating. Now either you take the plunge and run into the top tier of races against more seasoned runners or run in a handicap race against older runners who have been given a mandatory 6 point drop at the end of winter season. A good example of this was Carlton who had to take on Classic placed runners like Arrogant Approach and Ambitious Reward in an open company 60 and above race, Carlton found this high rating because he won 3 races against horses of his own age group at Hyderabad. We need more terms or as they are called conditions events abroad so that our better horses get a better opportunity to get more experience before they take the plunge against the very best. The concept of giving the older horses a mandatory drop at the end of the racing year is acceptable but this drop doesn’t apply to 3 year olds. Many trainers in Western India use this swing in weights to a huge advantage during the Pune season. The Turf Authorities need more cohesion and uniformity in the way they go about their business. Our racing has ceased to be a quality product and unfortunately the Turf Authorities must bear the blame for this. Overall the system is never exact since the handicapper is a human being and it simply takes a little bit of time before the professionals have his number. Take the example of Bangalore, one often finds a 0-25 race won by a wide margin, why is this? This should never happen with good handicapping, finishes should theoretically be closer, it would be interesting if one were to study the winning distances in handicap races, especially the age group ones. Trainers have got smart to the current incumbent’s method, while he penalises heavily for, “trying” your horse he is far more lenient to non triers especially among 3 year olds, all you got to do is give your horse 3 runs, he’ll start you off a mark of 28 for colts and 25 for fillies. A couple more runs and you’ll shave off a few more points off your horse’s rating. Finally declare a good jockey, prepare a horse properly (which in a fair system ought to have been done from the first start itself) and fancy your runner and even if its not a champ, watch it come home clear of the field. Bet heavily on your horse and viola Bob’s yer uncle! Amazingly in Indian racing declaring a bad jockey on your runner gives you license to give your horse a, “run.” Whereas the world over this would land a trainer with a suspension. Similarly incompetent jockeys must have their license revoked since the public is betting and where money is involved, incompetence always leads to big trouble.
I know that most of the time I write about what I perceive to be wrong with the way our sport is run but I’m happy to praise wherever praise is due. I had written about the abysmal surface at Bangalore, I must compliment BTC on what I have seen of their track so far this season. The track looks lush and there seem to be far fewer divots flying around, which is a clear sign of a poorly maintained surface. A better track is safer for our equine atheletes, Lets hope the surface holds up well for the entire season especially its ability to handle the copious amounts of rain that the Bangalore Summer seems to bring.
The other day I was discussing with a few trainer friends about how due to bad or rather pathetic administration of Indian racing, the sport hasn’t kept up with the times. There was a time in the Seventies and Eighties when a trainer with his earnings from commissions could buy a house in a good part of Bangalore and the profession was seen to be one of respect and a fairly good way to earn a living. This is not the case now. Poor planning and myopic men at the head of the sport have meant that Prize money hasn’t kept up with inflation and the result has been that the majority of the licensees must resort to earning their money from pulling off gambles. I doubt anybody in India has a story as good as Barry Hills and Frankincense (read about it after googling it, rather than me explain it). Gambling by nature is an unsure way to earn a living and horses being horses, the variables are innumerable and as such probabilities many. While every trainer has a good story of how he pulled off a punt, he won’t let on about all those failures. A couple of years back I noticed a certain trainer was doing well and banging in the winners, so I commented regarding him raking it in big time, the response from another trainer came back promptly, “then how come every other week he gets clobbered by some goon.” Point taken, just shows that gambling ain’t an easy way to make a Living.
I’ve been hugely disappointed by the fare churned out at Bangalore over the Summer Season. I doubt very much I have been as bored with the racing on Colts’ Trial day as I have ever been. For the first time ever I actually felt like my ass was numb from sitting and seeing a very boring card gone through. Don’t get me wrong, Be Safe was super in the Colts’ but racing is becoming dull and dreary and we just go through the motions in a mundane and boring manner. Bad food, bad drink, bad seating, bad commentary, bad television coverage, bad sound system, bad stiping, bad riding, boring hardcore gamblers, boring racing, boring card….. You get the picture bad and boring sums it up!
Recently a trainer and jockey went for the proverbial high jump due to what appeared to be a case of malpractice at Bangalore. The stewards handed the jockey a year’s suspension and the trainer a six month ban. Upon appeal, the appeal board overturned the decision completely and exonerated the trainer in question. While not taking sides and saying whether the concerned were guilty or not, either the committee of stewards is incompetent or the appeal board, one of them have made a mistake, since one gave the punishment and the other rescinded it. I leave it up to you to decide who.
9 new trainers’ licenses were approved by Bangalore Turf Club after many eons. Thanks to the Xenophobic nature that we encourage in India, leading Indian trainer S Padmanabhan’s assistant James Mckeown’s license has been kept pending due to red tape. The young man in question has an excellent CV and topped the written test, he has worked in America as well as Europe and comes from a propah horseman family, he has been at his boss’s right and overseen the training of many top horses, just to mention one, I think you’ve heard of a nice filly called In The Spotlight. There has been an attempt by a certain section of the polity of Indian racing to create red tape, loopholes and hurdles for him since he is a foreign citizen, which smacks of nothing short of xenophobia, shame on you all who are responsible for this and yessiree bob you guys are c@%ts.
The balance of guys who have been approved to train at Bangalore have been told that they must have a minimum number of twenty horses as one of the fulfilling conditions. In other words if one takes the average cost of a decent in training horse at about 5 Lakhs it means these youngsters have an entry cost of a crore. Considering only two of the nine guys have fulfilled the criteria, incidentally both sons of current trainers, why bother going through this entire charade? Its sad to see these guys get desperate and take absolutely any horse from any dubious person just so that they can reach that magic figure of 20. Its a very tough profession young men and there ain’t no pot of gold at the end of any rainbow in Indian racing today, so really think hard before you take the plunge.
In the interim off season of racing, things have been moving in the right direction as regards the proposed new racecourse near Ludhiana in Punjab. Hopefully by the end of the Bangalore Summer Season a contract ought to be signed and we will know who is going to be handed the reins of India’s first greenfield racing facility for over four decades. The track will be run by a private investor with a 100% Tote monopoly. Further to this the winning bidder will also get the right to run betting shops across the state of Punjab, another thing envisaged is a statewide bet along the lines of the Scoop 6 or the Tierce where the pool is humongous and the pay off can build up to many multiples of crores, in other words a real life changing bet! This isn’t anything new, its just new to unimaginative India, where its about time something of this sort happened. In order for racing to thrive, the business of the sport must do well. Higher revenues mean higher purses and racing must become remunerative to those involved or else the decline in the quality of owners and professionals will continue unabated. Racing needs its Oomph back and become the cool sport that it is at Royal Ascot, Breeders Cup, the Cheltenham festival, in Hong Kong, in Japan. It needs to be about Champagne not about that Chilli Bhaji available in the owners’ stand!!