Whenever I visit Western India the general refrain over there seems to be that breeders with vested interests have ruined racing. Honestly this is far from the truth in fact its bad management by successive committees that has caused ruin and if its breeders who’ve caused damage I’d love to know who these guys are. In my opinion its us BREEDERS who are keeping racing going. There was a time when the various Race Clubs had to breed their own horses in order to fill their stables and their once a week racecards. The riskiest and most expensive part of the Indian Racing industry is the process of breeding racehorses. Its a commitment, its very capital intensive and believe me its a heartbreaking profession, its extremely stressful and it tests your resolve more often than not. A friend of mine entered the breeders community a few years back, a happy go lucky sort he had high Blood Pressure within 6 months of opening his farm.
At the cost of being repetitive as the club system has gradually decayed the racing industry, its the breeders who have helped prop it up, as good owners who used to buy horses are disappearing at an exponential rate. Today due to the profession of training becoming less viable as a career choice we’re getting a lower level of professional being licensed by our clubs who couldn’t give a damn as far as competence is concerned, it’s heartbreaking as a fan of the sport to see literally every new trainer being licensed set up as extension counters to sub par gambling based outfits. Its the breeders who in most cases race clean, their main drive being to see their stud’s produce performing well.
Arguably the Gold Standard among the owner-breeders in my opinion is United Racing and Bloodstock Breeders of Vijay Mallya, a mammoth operation under the management of Zeyn Mirza that at any given time has over a hundred horses in training all over the country. I’ve had the privilege of seeing them operate closely as I train with quite a few common trainers. Its an operation that exists with one purpose alone and that is to win, nobody in their op cares about odds or punts. The majority of the stock comes from his Kunigal Stud, which was earlier run by BTC. In those days Kunigal was synonymous with corruption and substandard stock. Since Mallya has taken over Kunigal has become one of the country’s leading Stud Farms.
Recently the Burgundy with Gold epaulettes silks of Shapoor Mistry have become a common sight in Indian Racing with a large number of horses in training in Western India, Bangalore, Mysore and a few in Calcutta and Hyderabad. All their horses are bred at their own Manjri Stud. Phoenix Tower has done really well in his two crops as a sire and Manjri Stud has augmented this with some really top end got-abroads that carry the Manjri Silks which shows that here is a breeding operation for racing rather than for profit. A big plus here is that Shapoor’s son Pallon looks to be an avid racing enthusiast too and is usually on hand to lead in his winners alongside their enthusiastic racing manager Sarosh Mody.
RWITC Chairman Khushroo Dhunjibhoy owns Nanoli Stud and at any given time his silks are carried by a minimum of 150 horses, give or take a few. KND as he’s fondly known is a keen racing man and is a regular at Royal Ascot as a fan of the sport. He too has an all India presence, though most of his stock races in Western India where he currently serves as Chairman. A majority of the stock he races are bred at his Nanoli Stud.
The Poonawalla family and more specifically Cyrus Poonawalla is another who races on a pan India basis and has recently expanded his racing operation. I doubt very much there is anybody in our industry like Cyrus who comes across as a hardcore racing fan. One hopes that he keeps owning horses in India as he’s tasted blood at the highest level abroad with top sprinter Gordon Lord Byron who races in Cyrus’s colours.
Equus Stud of Shyam Ruia is yet another owner/breeder operation. Mr. Ruia’s Dark Blue silks are extremely well known on a national level, incidentally he had them as his silks decades before Sue Magnier of Coolmore took them on as her racing colours. You can rest assured his horses are running to win and are run clean. Mr. Ruia is a hellishly enthusiastic owner and its rare to see a winner of his not led in by him in person anywhere in India. It appears his son Amay too seems into racing and is a common sight at various racecourses in India alongside his nattily dressed dad.
Usha Stud has had a consistently good run ever since they’ve been breeding horses, recently Multidimensional has been doing extremely well. One thing to notice is that many top runners from Usha have the Stud Owner as a partner. Similarly Ameeta has increased her interest in ownership and has runners in her own colours in every centre in the country. Once again here is another breeder who doesn’t bet and her horses always run on merit.
Sans Craintes Stud run by S Pathy is another breeder with lots of horses running in their colours. One doesn’t see the affable Mr Pathy as often as one ought to outside of Coimbatore but his racing manager Subbu is at BTC every morning. Most of their stock races in Bangalore but they have a good number in Hyderabad and Calcutta too and off late the odd horse in Bombay too.
There is another big Owner/Breeder in Tamil Nadu but I don’t like him and I don’t want to get abusive about him but for the record he’s a breeder too and if you follow racing you know he’s the guy who gulped down a whole race course.
Marthand Mahindra of Broadacres Stud has a large racing stable too and it would be fair to say that he’s one of the bigger owners at Bangalore. Marty is a regular feature at BTC and his enthusiasm for the sport is infectious once again the focus is on winning and winning alone. He’s been on a great run recently and his famed Turquoise with Gold sleeves silks which he inherited from his father Suresh have been in the winner’s circle often. Suresh Mahindra and a group of breeders including my father attempted to revive racing in Lucknow in the late Eighties.
Lets turn our attention to the worst racecourse in India, Delhi Race Club. Who own the stock that races here? Once again its the breeders, take them out and you wouldn’t have a 100 horses racing in Lutyens. Sultan Singh of Sohna Stud and Rajesh Sahgal race a huge string there. Similarly Mukteshwar Stud’s Gurpal Singh and his son Angad race about 25 horses mainly in Delhi with a few at other clubs. They’ve been cleaning up of late at Delhi and both father and son are at DRC often. Shailendra Singh of AB Stud Is another big owner in Delhi, Chhota as he is known amongst friends regularly hands a hard whupping to outstation runners who come to run the North India Derby, this year’s raiders were handed their asses by Chhota’s Just Gold. Similarly the Bhatia family of Nakul Stud, Paramraj “Frankey” Singh of Tohana Stud and Vikram Singh of Vikram Greenlands too own large strings in Delhi.
Hazara Stud has been having a great run of late, the principal of their operation Nirmal Singh owns a large number of horses on a Pan India basis, many in partnership with Vikram Singh, yet another breeder and many in shares with others. He has large strings in Delhi, Bangalore and Western India and is a growing presence as an owner in Calcutta and Hyderabad too. All the Shivaliks and Himalayans running all over India are owned or were owned by him at some point or the other.
My family owns about 30 horses at any given time all over India. Our primary centre is Bangalore and recently we’ve been increasing our numbers in Calcutta too. I’d love to have horses in Hyderabad too but I doubt I’ll get a quota there but someday we will. At one time we raced a large string there as well as in Western India where I’ve recently started sending the occasional horse to race but the purse structure there is poor. Our focus is only on winning stake money and I personally haven’t had a hunner on a horse for at least two years now even though I cracked the exacta once and got paid out a Lakh and a Half on a ₹ 240 bet. I enjoy racing in Calcutta because as an owner RCTC makes you feel special whether its their big boys in the committee or their officials. On the flipside there is Bangalore where I race simply because its my home track and even though its a dump it is my racing home, my trainers understand that we are here to win and we race so that we can have big race runners. I’m always willing to give a new guy with a good CV a shot, which is something my late father always did but honestly I’ve been disappointed lately as the quality of professionals being licensed recently haven’t been quite up to the mark. Racing in Bangalore wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t for the breeders.
When I walked in on Saturday into the owners stand I looked around and thought to myself, “Why the F@*k do I own horses here?” Its become too much of a gambling den and that has started coming through in the appearance of BTC too. I’m a great believer in dress regulations, dressing well separates one from the riff raff. A jacket and tie or a National Dress is cool by me (in fact I once even wore a Sherwani to the races at Bangalore) but the Safari Suit has got to go. Yes, when Roger Moore wore it, it looked cool but a white polyester Safari with white sandals looks awful. Our clubs need to ban the safari suit. Ok I’m digressing here; back to what I was talking about.
Breeding horses is a tough business and every one of us have had their ups and downs. A decision taken today kicks you hard on the butt in three maybe four years time. You think you’ve bought a top stallion after paying a fat amount for it and when the progeny race you realize damn Local Talent is a shit stallion. You can fly high and come down with a thud in no time at all. I’ve always maintained that you’re as good as your last winner. When some buyer doesn’t pay me on time, they don’t realise that we are rearing living things which have to be fed, watered and cleaned daily its a 24X7, 365 day a year job. You might think 30 Lakhs is a fat price for a horse, compare us to the world market a similar amount in Dollars, Euros or Pounds are considered the bottom end stock. Contrary to belief apart from labour our capital cost on land, infrastructure and inputs is higher if not equal to our counterparts in Kentucky and Ireland. Selling a Million Dollar yearling while big isn’t necessarily a surprising outcome for my Western counterparts. Tapit brings in $35 Million a year for his shareholders, I doubt the entire breeding industry of India combined net that in 5 years. So the next time spare a thought for our community its a tough job and all we ask for in the words of Aretha Franklin is a little, ” R E S P E C T!”