The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

When I started writing this blog, the intention was to put down on record my thoughts on a sport that is also my business and a way of life for me. The response has been overwhelming so far and one hopes that I am able to convince some of the powers that be in Indian racing of the many ills that plague our sport. At the same time most of the time I come across as what we boarding school kids call a,”Sheddy.” Well I am far from that and In this blog I intend to mention a few things that our sport can say are world class.

Lets start with the Indian Stud Book; here was an institution that was very poorly run until Major Srinivas Nargolkar walked up to the plate as the registrar. Major as we fondly call him brought about a radical change in an institution that was as poorly run as the rest of the sport. I doubt many people know this but our Stud Book is a model that most countries in the world come to see when they want to find out how things are done. Major, computerised most of the data that the Stud Book kept. He started maintaining proper statistics, organised in such a way that the Stud Book took over a lot of stuff that breeders were being made to do such as the responsibility of doing their own write-ups for the annual sale. I remember one year in the 80s when Major Pradeep Mehra and my father, Sonny Brar messed up their deadlines and both of their sales entries were rejected and we conducted a separate sale at Delhi Race Club, so if you wanted to buy a Grey Gaston one hoofed it to Delhi and incidentally out of this sale came the year’s champion filly, Chaitanya Ratham (TV Sunday-Urvashi by Everyday II) not only did she wipe out all the Southern classics in her year but went on to produce an Indian Derby winner in Astronomic.

Major would come around to every stud farm at least once a year with lots of test tubes to collect blood samples for Blood Typing of our yearlings. Proper rules were set, proper deadlines were made and the breeding industry followed. He humanised the Stud Book and personally knew every single breeder. Whereas the previous registrars would talk down to most breeders, Major was like a good housemaster in boarding school, fair yet firm. Our Stud Book kept up with every single innovation that the world came up with and he was very instrumental in helping set up our DNA testing lab in Pune. One rarely hears of anybody ever felicitating him for the service that he provided, after he retired and after two registrars who weren’t in the same mould as him, later the reins have been handed over to Satish Iyer who worked very closely with Major.

A person I find to be in a similar mould to his Guru, Satish is a person with his roots in computers and he was responsible for undertaking the computerisation of the Indian Stud Book. Since he has taken over, the Stud Book has been brought up to scratch keeping in mind more modern systems of computing as earlier the Stud Book ran on DOS programming. A great idea has been the adding of a CD ROM in the sleeve of every Stud Book publication so that one can access data in pdf format. The latest innovation was the launch of a website which provides data on every Indian thoroughbred and the site is updated on a weekly basis. One understands that Gautam Lala played a large role in conceptualising this and at an annual subscription of a Thousand bucks you get proper information on every mare, stallion and foal in India, its not just the best value in Indian racing but I’d dare say its the biggest bargain in the world’s breeding industry. A recent innovation has been a breeders’ portal for the registration of foals as well as maintaining accounts. Recently Satish gave a very well received presentation on the Indian breeding industry at a session at the 2014 Asian Racing Conference in Hong Kong, the session was chaired by Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla. Our Stud Book is one of the industry’s only world class institutions and thank god we have it or else maybe we too would head the way of Pakistan which has lost its status as a country that produces thoroughbreds. The staff at the Stud Book are what one could call helpful facilitators and the entire team are very well marshalled and know their jobs. That is indeed testament to the man at the helm, keep up the good work.

Keeping in the positive mode one must mention the new Monsoon track that has been laid in Pune. I remember in the old days Pune racing would often get cancelled when the ghats were over-run with torrential rainfall. At that time part of the racing surface was converted into a Monsoon track while another part of it was still the old black cotton soil based surface. The old monsoon track it seems had run its course and a refurbishment was required. Recently RWITC has converted the entire surface into a track that holds up well under wet conditions but at the same time plays fair in bright sunshine too. As if on cue it poured during the opening week of the Pune races and the track as well as timings held up extremely well one hopes the entire exercise is a massive success and the surface plays fair and is safe for the horses that race on it. Apparently the Bangalore track is set for a refurbishment at the end of the Summer Season, this is urgently required and one hopes it all goes off well.

Now lets get to the bad and ugly of Indian racing and unfortunately nothing typifies it better than the soon to be concluded Bangalore Summer Season. As outstation horses return to their home bases, BTC is struggling to fill their cards and races have been going void, this week Thursday’s card has an abysmal lot of 6 races. I couldn’t but help notice two horses in Friday’s first race which are racing off a mark of ZERO! Yes Sifar, Nought, Nil. What has gone wrong with racing at BTC? This club handles more betting on their tote than the rest of India’s tracks combined, yet its been sliding like a freight train going downhill. This is my home centre and I have seen the heydays of the Bangalore Summer Season. The days when Rashid Byramji would become champion trainer after giving his pursuer a lead of six maybe eight into the last week of racing. The days when Vasant Shinde would say, “Baba Sollid” and then get beat by Pesi Shroff, Aslam Kader, Warren Singh and Karan Singh. The quality of trainers was top notch and the jockeys were a different class to the riders of this era. I will never forget Vasant’s ride on Nine Carat in the Bangalore Derby when the filly stumbled out of the gates; in one smooth motion the man had the filly on her feet and moving as if nothing happened when moments before her nose was on the turf. Similarly Pesi Shroff’s ride on Brave Dancer in the Maharaja’s Cup where he stole a march on Divine Light at the top of the straight and held her off in an epic battle to the wire versus Vasant. This was Elusive Pimpernel, Adler and In The Spotlight’s home centre. India’s best trainer S. Padmanabhan is based out of Bangalore. Yet their big races have been plundered by raiders from Bombay and even Hyderabad. Things are so bad that even the best Three year old in Karnataka; Fink is based 3 hours down the road away in Mysore! As it stands the best 3 year old in Bangalore is Bold Majesty with a Fourth in the Derby and a poor runner up effort in the mile million on Sunday.

Bangalore was homestead to Rashid Byramji who was head and shoulders above the competition. The best would come from Bombay, Haskell David brought his A Team from Calcutta and a whole lot of horses arrived from Madras and Hyderabad too. This was our national season, our Saratoga. What happened? This year The entire season has been a train wreck! I hope those in-charge take my comments and suggestions in the right spirit. My intention is to be constructively critical for the betterment of sport and nothing else. I will go into details regarding all this in my next blog so that I don’t get too verbose as many of my readers have said so. Just a synopsis of what I intend to discuss as regards Bangalore, the Prospectus, the human element, an ill conceived Quota System and the lack of opportunities for superior stock and inversely too much opportunity for the lowest third of the stock in training. Similarly a Socialist attitude for a Capitalist sport has led to a destruction of merit and excellence isn’t rewarded while incompetence isn’t punished.

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