Its been a great month for our industry, the Karnataka High Court ruling regarding the dreaded Tax Deducted at Source was a huge shot in the arm for everybody in the industry, whether its owners, breeders, jockeys, trainers, syces etc. The Honourable court quashed the demand of the Income Tax Department that 30% of our stake-money earnings should be deducted as TDS as the IT department wanted to treat the same as a windfall gain like in a lottery. The boost from getting back 30% of our liquid capital is huge. At the same time we need to make sure that as an industry we start taking ourselves seriously, so that in future an ill informed babu who sits in an office, crunches numbers and tries to subvert Supreme Court rulings cannot put us through the hell we have gone through as a whole. The industry must engage the various state governments and communicate what we bring to the table so that such unfortunate situations do not occur in future. As a result of what happened many stud farms have had to shut shop, while this can be glossed over it means lost jobs and redundancies and it isn’t the bosses of the Stud Farms who have suffered, its the staff. Many people from Jharkhand, Bihar and other such states, leave home and come away to work at farms located in other parts of India. These people send money back home so that their families get three square meals a day and so that their families are looked after. For too long the semi pro fashion this multi faceted and multi crore business has run has hurt everything and everybody involved in it. Nobody realises it but we’re always a hair’s breath from impending doom and disaster.
While the breeding industry has kept up with the times, unfortunately our racecourses have not. Simply put we haven’t increased the number of racecourses in India post independence. The Turf Authorities of India (TAI) since they are the custodians of the sport need to stand up and take responsibility and start running the sport along professional lines. We have missed every chance of getting on Mass Media, first it was radio, does racing have a footprint? The answer is no. Then came Terrestrial TV (Doordarshan) we contrived to miss that boat too. Next came cable TV and yes once again another opportunity is being missed. We can see no name cricket reruns from 2010 but live racing? Yet another big fat no. An attempt was made by Procam Sports to package the product professionally but it appears that the chaotic structure of Indian racing cost them too much and that too disappeared. The only presence racing has on TV today is the weekly show; The Winning Post, that too on Neo Sports (a channel not carried on TataSky; India’s largest DTH platform). One hopes their TRPs are good but I doubt they are.
We need to take a page out of the recently concluded Pro Kabbadi League that was on Star Sports. The organisers decided to promote and package the sport sparing no expense, glitz, glamour, movie stars, HD quality cameras, proper camera work, a large number of different views etc. were used, as a result they got superb TRPs and the entire exercise was a big success. On the flip side was the Punjab Government which took a call to promote Kabbadi and started hosting the Kabaddi World Cup. Big Stadiums, foreign teams, the best players etc. etc. but their TV coverage on a channel called PTC fell somewhere between bad and really bad, the result; most Kabbadi players want to be playing on Star Sports in the Pro Kabbadi League rather than in the World Cup. Its all about exposure and we have nobody running our clubs that understand that. The most unfortunate thing about the way that our sport is packaged is the slap dash way that the content is put together. It wouldn’t cost much to hire a proper presenter and put out a broadcast that at the very least engages the off course audience. Interviews with connections, a more interesting format for presenting previews and proper experts giving their opinions would go a long way. RWITC did have some decent coverage when Rajesh Narredu and Nial Sadh were presenting racing at Bombay. Unfortunately this was stopped, what the reason was I don’t know.
The quality of race calling or commentary as we call it in India at RWITC is abysmal. One of their race callers seems in too much of a hurry to finish off the race, though his diction is decent and then we have the guy who called the St Leger, he struggles with English in the first place, his spoken English is heavily accented and he messed up calling the Leger big time. RWITC got Jim McGrath down for a few of their big races a couple of years back and his commentary was a real treat to hear. Calcutta on the other hand is fortunate in the fact that its Cyrus Madan’s hometown, in my opinion he has been the gold standard of Indian commentary for over 3 decades now. He knows the sport at a far deeper level than most and speaks very fluent English something that carries through in his race calls. His call of The Stayers’ Cup was possibly the best we have heard in the past year. Anit Casyab who is the regular caller at Hastings is very good too and is getting better as he gets more experienced. The Bangalore Callers are very clear but very boring too. They use the same expressions for every single race, such as “Back To The Leadaaaa….” I love the Delhi caller, Deepak but thats because he has me in splits all the time, where else would you hear somebody say, “Brrrusting through the rails.”
And…… then there is Hyderabad! There was a time when Ali Khusro Jung was doing commentary over there, he retired a few years back. He was top class, crystal clear and his delivery was impeccable. It will be tough to replace him, the guy who does most of their races is quite decent but then they have a couple of guys who should not be doing this, their calls are the worst in any English speaking jurisdiction, anywhere in the world. One of them always calls the last horse as,” The lying last one.” Another term he gets awfully wrong is,”cruising” you do not get excessively whipped and “cruise” into third place. Lets not even get to the level of competence in spoken English as these guys really struggle with that. Clubs should be recruiting the best debaters and dramatics youngsters from universities, maybe hire them to do other work alongside commentary or offer these youngsters to come on weekends and holidays and pay them a stipend, anybody in college always appreciates a bit of pocket money. Recently Tom Durkin retired from being NYRA’s race caller, I would recommend to our fellows to listen to some of his great calls on youtube and learn rather than put out the same mundane drivel day in and day out. Honestly nobody cares how many,”classics” a certain owner has won and the next time a commentator is obliged to give us the tally I hope a cat gets his tongue!
The camera work needs to improve a lot too and its about time High Definition coverage became the norm. HD would also help the stipes do their jobs much better, similarly in objections and enquiries HD coverage will help greatly in coming to the correct decisions as the images are crystal clear. The hardware is available very easily nowadays and costs far less than one would think, its about time we upgraded its not at all difficult. Similarly the sound system at every track needs to improve too, microphones which produce less echo and better speakers would be a good place to start. If racing is to attract good crowds it needs proper publicity and packaging. We desperately need to hire full time pros who look after promotion especially for our big events. Racing is a lifestyle sport and we need to understand this and get on board to make sure that an owner who spends Lakhs to buy a horse gets a good bang for his buck! They need to feel special and be put on a pedestal, the more exposure they get the more like minded people will want to get involved. Page 3 has become ubiquitous in our City Newspaper editions as the place to do some shameless self promotion, racing would fit in beautifully over there. Simple little things can make a huge difference; how about a dedicated hospitality area for those owners that have a runner in a particular race, making it like the VIP room at a nightclub. Similarly a pre and post race press conference for any big event should be compulsory for connections of various contenders and in case a representative doesn’t turn up a fat fine would make those who miss out think twice before missing out again. The sponsor should be roped in for the publicity of a race carrying their name in print and media this would be of direct benefit to them as they get more coverage.
Web presence and social media is another must in the 21st Century. RWITC takes the lead in this and their website is engaging and very informative. Similarly RWITC has a very active twitter handle @rwitcmumbai and they are always available to answer fans’ questions. Calcutta too has a good and informative website updated on a daily basis, they have a Facebook page too. While BTC and HRC also have pretty extensive websites its quite apparent that these need to carry more information and need to be far more interactive. Presence on Facebook which can be updated in real time is a necessity in todays day and age. We must engage our audience and market racing as a really cool thing to be involved in, I for one enjoy racing immensely as a fan I doubt there is any sport that has so many layers whether its pedigree, training, jockeyship, medicine, luck, tactics and a myriad of other variables. The motto of my alma mater The Doon School is, ” Knowledge our light.” Simply put the more information that we put out in the open the better the experience will be for punters and fans alike. Its about time we wake up and smell the coffee or else our shrinking base will reduce even further.