During the 20th Century Karl Marx, The Soviet Union and the Left promoted the utopian doctrine of Socialism which ran its course in many parts of the world. While it did indelible harm to the racing and breeding industry in so much that it curbed the natural growth of the sport which was funded by betting. Gambling is a perceived vice in socialist thought but yet an essential part of the human state is the urge to gamble. Times changed, the Soviet Union crumbled and India began its march towards full blown capitalism and right wing thought. Along the way in racing a socialist mindset evolved which promoted a thought process by which to curb excellence, the system of, “Quotas.” Its very easy to justify this system unfortunately when it comes down to sport there is no place for it. Yet racing chooses to embrace it. The evolution of the quota system took a while and as such become detrimental to Indian racing.
The first sign of this becoming a part of the racing industry was during the days that India’s premier trainer Rashid Byramji dominated Indian racing. He was based out of Western India and his domination of his contemporaries was such that it was RRB first and the rest simply making up the numbers and fighting for the minor placings. Every owner of consequence at the time was either training with him or after getting a whupping from one of his horses, wanted to train with him. The fallout of Rashid Byramji’s success was that his domination was found to be effecting the overall competitive nature of the sport. As a result the Committee of RWITC first mooted the proposal of limiting the number of horses that he could train. Mr. Byramji, never the sort to take things lying down, in protest moved lock, stock and barrel to Bangalore which was otherwise his summertime base. Bangalore’s gain was RWITC’s loss as RRB was better placed in Bangalore to raid Hyderabad, Madras and his old home Mumbai at will, something that can be seen in his record number of classics won, it also helped to establish Bangalore as a full fledged racing centre, not just where you spent your summers because India’s best trainer with the best horses was based there. RWITC on the other hand has never had and from what is on display nowadays will never have a trainer of his calibre based in their centre. Mr. Byramji for a long period of time was refused a license by RWITC as a result many of his assistants from that period all find their names on the Indian Derby Roll of Honour as RRB dominated his country’s home Derby.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and as Indian Racing continued to stay stagnant or regressed in my opinion as the administration of Indian Racing never kept up with our burgeoning racing and breeding industry. Madras Race Club was first shut down and then destroyed by the greed of one man as a helpless and emasculated industry remained silent onlookers. The result was that the Indian breeding industry for the first time reached a point where supply outstripped demand and we were overproducing. One of the solutions albeit a short term one was that Mysore was launched as a racing centre in its own right to absorb Bangalore’s overflow. This did indeed work for a while but soon Mysore was overcrowded too. Hyderabad Race Club on the other hand, had money, space and owned their own land and they chose to restrict the open nature of racing. They imposed quotas on how many 2 year olds can be brought into their facility. This system was originally created to safeguard their local owners and trainers who notwithstanding the occasional exception were performing at a lower level than their counterparts in Bangalore and Bombay. As if to compound an already bad idea they decided to hand these quotas to owners rather than trainers. The result of this policy was that owners who could genuinely buy good horses had to limit themselves, while many who could ill afford to buy a horse suddenly found themselves in a position of power, since they had the golden ticket a, “quota.”
Hyderabad is possibly the worst centre when it comes to payment defaults because the horse must come into HRC with a sale or lease form whether a breeder has been paid or not. Yet, year in and year out these defaulting owners get quotas to bring horses into HRC. There are people who genuinely want to buy more horses in Hyderabad and can afford to do so but perennially they find themselves running out of quotas. Similarly a couple of people who have quotas have decided to become breeders since the junk they produce is their own junk and they have the brahmastra: a, “quota.” Year in and year out quotas are handed out to these blokes without looking to see how their previous allottees did. Yet towards the end of the annual sham sale that we conduct in Pune you find the bottom feeders of Hyderabad racing come around looking for horses on contingency. Helpless breeders are left with little option but to get rid of horses in this way as there is a glimmer of hope that you’ll get a return or else there is a good chance that your horse will not even find a stable at any track as you are unable to, “arrange” a quota. The general performance level at Hyderabad has improved considerably as trainers like Vittal Deshmukh, Shehzad Abbas and Laxman Singh have upped the quality of their stock and now the local horses more often than not hold their own against all comers, in fact last week’s 1000 Guineas saw local horses occupy the first two slots, once again performance based quotas to trainers would go a very long way in improving the quality of horses at Malakpet immensly. Currently there is a very distinct divide whereby the better quality stock will hold their own on a national level but there are an equal number of horses that can only be classified as junk and those that are rated below 25 at Hyderabad are very possibly the worst horses racing in India.
Bangalore Turf Club is the one racecourse which turns over more in betting handle than the rest of Indian racing combined. Unfortunately due to a lack of space and rampant benami ownership the quality of their racing product has been on a very steeply declining curve. A poorly written racing programme as well as draconian winning penalties have encouraged the concept of bringing horses down in handicap by giving them runs, to strike for an annual or seasonal gamble. Not only has the quota system encouraged the setting up of benami owners but here we have benami trainers too and there are a minimum of 300 horses that are controlled by these stables as well as dubious elements. Its an open secret as to who actually trains horses with certain licensees. The saving grace for Bangalore has been the fact that day in and day out the public turns up and splashes the cash at the tote counters. The better trainers are restricted as none of them have extension counters while at the lower end of the spectrum this practice is rampant and worst of all an open secret. Cancelling licenses is the only way to sort things out as rather than handing out quotas through a system which makes no sense at all, the club ought to ask trainers how many they would like to train along with the names of the potential horses as well as the owners’ name and then hand out quotas through a merit based system.
Its about time that the clubs looked upon handing out extra quotas to the top trainers at their centres. By that I mean the trainers with the best strike rate, highest per capita earnings per horse, the highest earners of stake money should all be handed extra quotas for excellence. Similarly the reward for winning graded races ought to entitle trainers to an extra quota for say every 3 Group 3s won, another extra quota for every 2 Group 2 wins an extra quota and one extra quota for every Group 1 race they win. Not only will it spur trainers to improve their tallies it will also encourage them to attempt to win big races, something sorely lacking nowadays. Similarly poorly performing professionals should be the ones losing their quotas. Trainers are the ambassadors of the sport, better pros will attract better owners to get involved with the sport. The quota system and the extension counter system is so rampant now that often the RWITC Twitter handle ends up sending congratulatory messages to the de facto trainer rather than the trainer on record. So why must we have this charade?
As of now a huge problem is the arbitrary nature by which these quotas are allotted to various trainers. Trainers at the top of the ladder are treated the same as trainers of inferior quality simply because the latter are perceived to be big trainers since they train a large number of horses. Since when was this a sport about quantity? Its supposed to be all about quality and the best must face each other and may the better one win. Nowhere is this chasm more evident than in Hyderabad where this concept of quotas has mutated into something thats about everything but excellence. A cursory look at the statistics will give you a clear idea as to how many trainers there and similarly a segment of owners too ought to find a different game with which to involve themselves. Similarly There is a trainer in Bangalore whose monthly commission earnings over the past 19 seasons are less than what a daily wage labourer would earn per month in Punjab. Rather than weed out incompetent professionals clubs keep on handing these people quotas. When there is a situation where there is a shortage of space at their racetracks the Turf Authorities should be culling trainers who aren’t performing at a basic level just as breeders are forced to cull inferior mares and stallions. I understand that no system is perfect and must evolve over a period of time, many of my ideas might be right or wrong but I’m sure they’ll be a step in the right direction. The current system has unfortunately turned into a Frankenstein and the monster is eating up the upper end of the sport and digesting it and throwing out a waste product at the bottom end which is growing bigger and bigger but benefits nobody; not owners, trainers, jockeys, breeders or even the clubs. Its about time we awoke as a racing nation to the fact that this is a sport that is based on excellence not a quota system which restricts it.