The Invitation Cup just got over and I planned to write about everything at the gala event of Indian racing but what I saw got me thinking. Murioi stumbled and fell in the Invitation Cup, whatever the reasons may be for his fall, I’m not definitively saying it was the surface. Generally speaking its about time our horses got to run on well conditioned safe surfaces on a daily basis something that is not happening in our various racetracks all over India.
Not one of our tracks have a professional looking after our grass or exercise surfaces on which our horses run. I have been a regular race goer at Bangalore for well over 30 years now as such I have a fair idea of the problems trainers face over there. Lets start with the main turf track; this is supposed to slope inwards with water draining out towards the rail. Unfortunately BTC has gone on for years dumping tan on the track which has disintegrated over the years to completely ruin the surface. The grass track is almost a foot higher than the outer sand, the extra foot is all disintegrated tan bark, which has now become tan dust. Whenever it rains rather than become soft, the surface becomes very shifty and as a result very often racing ends up getting cancelled. Further to this no levelling has been done either as a result instead of sloping inwards, the track is higher on either side and low in the middle as a result of which it is shaped like a tea saucer and instead of water running off it stagnates on the track thus causing further unevenness in the surface.
A majority of horses in Bangalore do their exercise work on the outer sand track, the preparation of this surface too leaves a lot to be desired. Currently the system is that a cultivator behind a 35 or 45 HP Massey Ferguson tractor runs over the surface in order to prepare it. First of all the tractor is way underpowered, this causes the tractor to pull in an uneven manner as wherever the sand is heavier the tractor struggles. Secondly the cultivator’s prongs (in Punjabi we call them “Phallas”) are not symmetrical, this causes the surface to be uneven and creates ridges, which is dangerous as horses can take a misstep because of the unevenness of the surface. When it rains all the sand near the bend which is the high point of the track washes away. This has never been addressed, one wonders how many horses have damaged themselves during morning work. I’m sure the vets are kept much busier than they need to be with lameness issues. The solution is very simple use a more powerful tractor like a 75 HP John Deere with a proper implement attached. I have seen chain harrows being used to very good effect in America to prepare dirt surfaces. After every race three huge tractors working in a line go through the track before which water is sprinkled in order to keep dust to a minimum and the surface at just the right amount of moisture without making it slushy.
While I have first hand knowledge of Bangalore since I am closely involved with racing over there, other clubs too have problems with their racing surfaces. The Calcutta track looks very patchy and one doesn’t quite understand their system of trackwork either, I have heard from various professionals over there talking about the quality of the exercise surface and most of them do say that it is not up to the mark. Their racing track looks very worn out and considering the fact that they get plenty of rain in the City of Joy, I am pretty sure that the surface can be much sounder.
From the first race of Invitation weekend it was rather apparent that the track preparation left a lot to be desired. Divots were flying all over the place and jockeys too came back saying that conditions were not optimum. Its unfortunate that it rained which caused the postponement of the Invitation Cup, The Super Mile and Marty’s Million to the following Saturday. It rained in the ensuing days too and the Invitation day’s races were run on the Monsoon track which is made of a packed layer of sand with grass on it, honestly its the closest we have to the American dirt tracks in India. While one understands and empathises with HRC regarding the situation that they found themselves in one couldn’t help getting the feeling that the track wasn’t prepared quite well enough.
RWITC’s Mahalaxmi track is one of the flattest and fairest in Indian racing, here too the surface that is produced for their daily races is too firm. A couple of years back the track had been resurfaced in some sort of way, the trainers here were quite critical over how the track was playing. The problem all over the country is that we have people with no knowledge of turf maintenance and conditioning in charge of things. This has become a very well researched field in recent times, with a proper mix of different kinds of grasses for different times of the year and seasons as well as soil types. Whereas in Indian racing its treated as just grass. Golf courses have taken the lead in India over the conditioning of their surfaces for optimum playing conditions. A stone’s throw away from the BTC is the Bangalore Golf Club, I remember when I was a kid one saw more red soil than grass whenever one drove past here. In the last decade or so they have figured things out and now its lush green right through the year. Similarly there was a time when our cricket stadiums had patchy surfaces as a result of which Indians weren’t very well known for diving for the ball for fear of injury, in recent times a quantum improvement in the quality of the turf has seen top quality fielders like Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and the like emerge and they throw themselves all over the place. Proper watering systems need to be in place at all tracks so that safe, good going is available most of the time. Further to this I have noticed the safety railings that HRC first introduced in India, Calcutta has followed suit. These rails collapse on impact as a result of which they are safer for both horse and rider. The jockey’s association must demand that every track have these in place rather than the reinforced concrete railings in use at some tracks. These are an accident, simply waiting to happen. For the sake of safety of human and animal life we need these collapsible safety railings made compulsory, c’mon Jockeys Association of India and Animal Welfare Board lets see you take up this worthwhile cause.
Anyway enough of all that and lets look at whats been good in racing recently. Hyderabad hosted the Invitation Cup at Malakpet, with rain delays notwithstanding, one must give credit where credit is due. HRC has constructed three floors of top notch lounges, which were opened to the public (rather to delegates) for the first time. One hopes that HRC uses these on a regular basis and bring more people from Hyderabad to the races regularly. They should sell tickets at say ₹ 2,500 a pop for people to come racing and use these spaces by offering a day at the races with top notch food and beverage and hospitality services like the luxury boxes at Football stadiums in England. I must say these lounges are very well made and whoever has been involved in the process has really got into the details of things. The one thing that really stood out for me was the quality of sound coming from the speakers, for the first time in the history of Indian racing a good quality sound system has been used, unlike at every other club the sound was crystal clear and every word that the race-caller said was audible. Cyrus Madan’s call of the Stayers Cup was my favourite of the weekend. He has now been India’s only world class commentator for over three decades, the only other top notch commentators we have had have been Ali Khusro Jung and possibly the late SN Harish who at least tried to make his race calls exciting. I like Anit Casyab from Calcutta who is a work in progress but the rest of them are boring and mundane and really need to improve on their delivery. In my opinion sponsors need to insist on the use of Cyrus for their races and its about time he became the voice of the Invitation Weekend as well. Racing needs to have everything around it to become posh so that we attract a better quality of person to the races. Anyway full marks to Mr Surender Reddy and HRC on the hospitality we received on Invitation weekend, thank you sir. Next year the event is in Mumbai c’mon boys lets see if you can keep pace with Calcutta in 2013 and Hyderabad this year. In 2016 its Bangalore and the way things are I doubt I’ll get that coke after the fourth race.
The Bangalore Turf Club keeps heading further into the abyss of mundane and crap racing, check out the terms of this race and I quote Pearcey of indiarace.com, “… The last race of the afternoon. It was a unique event, in which, horses that had run twice this season but failed to win a race, were allowed to participate. Furthermore, these runners belonging to the lowest category were to be ridden by those who hadn’t won a race since the month of November.” C’mon BTC what next? How about a special race for horses with blown tendons, a race for horses that plant at the gate or for jockeys who have never sat on a horse ever or for fat breeders (I’d win that). Mr Shivaprasad its a shame that you continue on a rampant path of destruction. Its really sad that racing at this once prime centre has descended into the mediocrity of age group racing. BTC had 5 of their 8 races on Friday for horses aged 5 years and over and one of the open company races was the crapfest I just described WHY? I would love to see an argument in favour of this reservation style of racing, its a sport where the best should beat the rest. Its about time the system of age group races was scrapped as has been done at RCTC and let these older horses beat younger horses on pure MERIT.
Mysore Race Club has now been deemed to be an independent Turf Authority, many congratulations. Their Chhota seasons (Summer and Winter) need to improve their quality of racing. One wishes Mysore Race Club the very best and one hopes they clean up the sport in what has become a gambling den. Understandably Kanthraj Urs will be involved in lifting the sport in the princely city out of the morass it is in. He is a highly respected figure in Mysore and from the little bit that one has seen of him he comes across as a person who doesn’t take fools lightly.
In the meantime the much maligned breeders are now well in to the breeding season, missing from our ranks this year are; Mare Haven Stud, Track Supreme, Arabesque, Aikdeep and Doaba Stud. One hopes others too restrict the numbers to more manageable levels because overproduction is rogering every aspect of the sport.