The recent travails of racing as a sport and breeding as a business have led me to a conclusion, of how we fall into a complete blind spot as regards the Government. Racing has failed and failed miserably at that to keep up with the times. The sport has been unable to cash in on its incumbent advantage as the only legal form of gambling on mainland India. I have spoken often about the so called, “Club” system and its numerous failings to administer a 21st Century sport.
The Racing and Breeding industry provides an estimated 3.3 Million direct man days of employment in India and most of that number is rural jobs. I haven’t taken into consideration all the indirect jobs that are created such as in the hospitality sector and many others. Yet we are unable to shake off the stigma of being considered a vice and being looked upon as a rich man’s indulgence. This attitude is far from the truth since I doubt there is a sport in the world that requires as much labour whether its a white collar executive all the way down to the guy who has to shovel horse-shit. As an example take my farm which is located in rural India in a village in Punjab, if I was farming rice and wheat, which incidentally is far more profitable under the current scenario we find ourselves in as an industry, I would need no more than 30 people to work on my farm since a lot of modern farming, especially in Punjab is done with machines but since I breed horses I require many times that number. Added to this are the intangibles that one never thinks about, the pursuit of breeding horses is a green industry. Utilisation of insecticides and weed killers is minimal as horses would be harmed by their use. The pressure on water resources is far less than if one was farming the land for crops. A paddock needs watering once a month vis a vis crops which need a weekly or at least a fortnightly watering. So here we are, a green environmentally friendly industry that hires a large number of people to work and gives extra revenue to the Government, sounds like a fail safe doesn’t it? We should get respect but we find ourselves on the oblique opposite side of respect, we’re looked down upon. We are neither treated as a sport, an industry or an agricultural activity. We are the orphan of Indian Policy making.
So here is an environmentally friendly industry that runs right through the core of society be it Mr Tycoon who buys a horse or Mr Syce who looks after a horse or Mr. Farrier who is a skilled worker or Mr. Trainer whose job is akin to that of a sports coach or Mr. Jockey who if good is as talented as any cricket player and yet has the toughest profession in sports as a whole as he must control his weight as well as retain his strength to control a 500 KG horse. To top all this we give the government oodles of cash from betting taxes for the privilege of running our sport and get fiddle all in return from them only more hurdles and hoops to pass through. We need to hold our heads high and be proud of what we do; breeding, training and riding is an art-form which is very nuanced and extremely difficult to master. See the regard greats like Lester Piggot, Sir Henry Cecil or Federico Tesio are held in, in their homelands they are revered as gods and books are written about their achievements, sadly its not the case in India. Whereas in most other countries around the world racing and breeding is seen as a major economic driver, in India we have been way off the mark when it comes to making a good case for ourselves in the eyes of the government or the public.
Racing has been deemed to be a sport by a landmark Supreme Court judgement in 1996. In other words we ought to be treated on par with other sports and should be getting grants like other sports such as Kabbadi and Kho-Kho get from the Sports Ministry, what do we get? Once again the answer is Nada! Instead we get our state government in Maharashtra tax the tote 27% and then wonder why everybody bets on the phone with illegal bookies instead of the Tote. Unfortunately we once again fall in a policy blind-spot while babudom orders us to bend-over even more.
Anyway enough of all that and lets return to The worst Bangalore Summer Season in history. After some good racing over Derby weekend despite a deluge of rain we return to reality. Saturday’s card is a repeat of the shitfest that we witnessed on the Saturday before Derby week. Though on the positive side it was great to see the track hold up really well despite some solid rain over the entire Derby week which turned into sheets on Derby Sunday. The going albeit soft was safe and every race on the card was gone through, well done BTC at least something deserves praise; the current management of the racing surface.
Going racing at BTC is akin to going to see a Formula One race but being treated to racing Maruti 800s instead and to add to that analogy Maruti 800s that are for good measure 5 Years old and over. Age group racing was encouraged when there was a shortage of horses for racing in the 70s, it was a way to encourage owners to keep their older and less competitive stock and card races for them to earn their cornbill and the quid pro quo was that they ensured that numbers in an era of horse shortage remained healthy enough to card a proper racecard on a weekly basis. In the same era BTC, RWITC and HRC ran breeding operations to populate their stables and clubs subsidised horse ownership. Now we have a glut of horses, so why continue with the boring spectacle of age group racing. RCTC has pretty much done away with it, its about time BTC smelt the Coffee and did so too. Carding races for lower class aged horses is causing racing to fall into a rut as since owning a 25 rated 6 year old is so lucrative, why attempt to buy a nice juvenile instead when no proper races are being written for them. The quota system that was instituted a few years ago now is bearing fruit, unfortunately the fruit is about as tasty as Snow White’s Apple. While genuine buyers are denied quotas or rather restricted, many trainers who do not have the clientele and as such funds to buy young-stock were given quotas which they have been obliged to fill since they were allotted. The result has been that they have brought in inferior stock which was available cheap and in most cases stock on contingency without any care about quality. In other words horses that shouldn’t be in racing have found their way into the BTC racing system and are going to be around for many more years to for the lack of a better word pollute the sport as a bad jockey or trainer would and these nags have taken a stable that could have been occupied by a superior horse. Currently racing is so far down the abyss that a race featuring the stray dogs of BTC would be more watchable than what is being churned out in the name of racing.
BTC has been plagued recently with a a lack of direction, deteriorating standards of racing, the complete lack of any policing of the sport to ensure fairplay, no consistency in decisions taken and a general apathetic attitude towards everything whether its a cup of tea or a Derby winning racehorse. In the the real world (read everywhere but BTC) the man at the helm would have been sacked eons ago for pure non performance but here there is nobody at the helm, so nobody to hold accountable; no professional CEO who is empowered to take decisions, expand business or generally manage affairs as a company with a ₹1600 Crore turnover should. The stiping levels have fallen to depths of depravity previously never seen. The department is today only competent to count how many times a horse is whipped. Jockeys give runs today with an impunity that I have never seen before in my life, its so bad that the handicapper doesn’t even change the rating of more than half of a weekend’s runners, in other words he feels that these horses are not running on merit. Recently Wayne Wood has been hired to hopefully improve the sorry state of affairs, one hopes he has had a dispassionate look at the sorry state of affairs and the competence level of those around him. I’m pretty sure that he is aware of the surgery required in the department and he should be empowered to take a cleaver to it if he so desires and make sure that racing officials know their jobs properly, currently pushing pens is the only place where there is excellence!