The Vanishing Art of training and other musings

Indian racing is at a very serious crossroads, there was a time when becoming a trainer was a very sought after profession.  Unfortunately our sport and incomes derived from it haven’t kept up with the times or with inflation.  The result has been that there is a general lowering of quality of the sort of person that wants to train horses.  Its about time we woke up and smelt the Coffee and rectify the situation or else this is something that is going to have major ramifications for the sport in the next couple of decades when many trainers who are currently in their prime are going to start retiring.

Racing should be structured in such a way that professionals involved with it are able to earn a fair living off’ve it without having to resort to underhand means.  The commission earned for winning stakes by a trainer in India is set at a very fair 10% unfortunately when a race is worth 200,000 the trainer’s cut is a measly 20,000, in today’s day and age unfortunately that is an abysmal sum of money in the horse business.  The low stakes on offer have a domino effect on the sport as to make ends meet trainers are forced to pull off gambles and similarly in some cases even lay their short priced favourites.  This has a detrimental effect on the overall perception of the sport.  To put things in perspective last year’s champion trainer in USA; Todd Pletcher cleared stakes of $22,476,736, now 10 Percent of that is a cool $2.24 Million, that amount compares very favourably with that of an American with a posh job, it would buy you a nice apartment in mid town Manhattan and a Maserati every year.  Our top man in India will clear about Six Crores in stakes, or a commish of ₹ 60 Lakhs, would that buy you an apartment in suburban Mumbai? In other words the lucrative American game attracts top end people like our sport did in the 80s and 90s, something that is not happening today.

Unfortunately as distance races get fewer in number and age group sprint events dominate our sport (thanks BTC Handicapper), the application required and the skill required to train a horse is not needed anymore either.  It takes a lot more effort and thought plus skill to train a stayer and the number of Indian trainers who have that ability are falling exponentially.  Furthermore a big part of being a trainer is the social aspect of dealing with their owners, a minimum level of education ought to be required but when many committee members at clubs lack the same, what do you expect?  Trainers must be in a position where they can make a fair living doing the right thing.   This would make them think twice before they think about doing something underhand as it would mean jeopardising a comfortable life for a one off gain.

Indian racing has descended from being a “sport”on which one gambled into a dirty gritty casino game.  Clubs haven’t quite kept up with the times and are decades behind the world when it comes to concepts and business organisation.  While money wagered on racing has moved from on track gambling to off track in the rest of the world, backward India still harbours the concept of packing in the crowds into their overstretched facilities.  A good example is South Africa which has 92% of wagering off course and only 8% on track.

The lack of clout with governments among the various committees at our clubs means that the government treats our sport worse than shit, (at least they have sewers to dispose shit!).  Not one club has a person at the helm who can understand properly how to run a very complex and layered sport and a business.  Neither does any club employ a proper professional to administer the business aspect of the game.  We are the only legal form of gambling on mainland India but with casinos legalized in Goa and Sikkim its just a matter of time before our mothball laden industry loses its incumbent advantage to the perceived coolness of casino gambling.  I’ve been to casinos and honestly they aren’t cool but the image that they create among mass media is.  Its not James Bond sitting on a Baccarat table with a vodka martini, “shaken not stirred.” Its more like fat old redneck woman blowing her welfare cheque on a slot machine swigging cheap flat beer out of a Dixie cup.  Racing on the other hand is indeed cool, go visit Saratoga, Royal Ascot, Longchamp and many other tracks and you’ll understand what I mean.  We are a sport which is supposed to be a lifestyle event but when clubs are more into cramming the janta into their gates into their inadequate facilities there is little thought for classiness.

It boggles my mind as to how the Maharashtra Government charges an insane 20% betting tax and drives all gambling underground to illegal bookies.  This causes a multi crore loss to their own exchequer and successive committees at RWITC aren’t able to make a convincing case to show them how the government will earn more money by simply having a sensible tax structure as prevails in most successful racing jurisdictions.  The empirical data is out there but then again a good Powerpoint presentation will have to be made and I doubt RWITC has a single employee in their admin department that can make one!

During Bangalore Derby weekend, Calcutta racehorse owner Joydeep Datta Gupta gave us some really good food for thought.  Think about this; on a Monday afternoon at the races who is your audience?  Well the answer is simple, its the jobless low end punter who has nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Yes siree we are catering to the dregs and plebs instead of quality people.  Our focus is almost extortionist where the Auto driver is our audience rather than our burgeoning middle class. I’ve been racing in many parts of the world and sadly our racing is by far the most banged up, the riff raff is uncomfortably close as seen by the riot at last year’s Invitation at Mahalaxmi.

I’d be amiss if I wouldn’t mention this year’s impending Invitation Cup weekend at Chennai.  Does the non existent organisation called the Madras Race Club made up of emasculated lackeys have the ability to host such an event?  Will the racing surface be safe for the poor horses? Last time around the sand flying around on ground like a road made it look like a scene from Lawrence of Arabia.  Why did they chicken out the last time around when they were to host it? Why is their racing still recognised? In the words of a senile nut-case crook I know very well down South, “GOODLUCKGOODLUCKGOODLUCK!”

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