Inside the dome of the National Sports Club Of India (NSCI) at Worli in Mumbai, the 36th Asian Racing Conference, under the leadership of Dr Cyrus Poonawalla and his organizing committee, kicked off to a grand start yesterday night.
The 500-plus delegates from over 20 nations around the world, all stake holders of horse racing in their respective countries, were transfixed by the keynote address delivered by princess Zahra, daughter of Agha Khan, whose family has been involved passionately with horse racing for nearly 250 years. The princess, dressed in a traditional, black Indian saree, talked about the values and ethical practices her family, right from the times of her great, great, great grandfather scrupulously followed when breeding and racing all over the world, including India, where horses in their silks win almost all important races between 1926 and 1966.
Zahra Agha Khan, without mincing words, also expressed her displeasure about the current domination of commercial considerations dictating the breeding market, pointing out that her family always believed in doing what was right for the species of the thoroughbred horse, and wondered if the idea of decent broodmares (read mares used for the breeding purpose) making a beeline to be mated with the "champion last year sire", when statistically it has been proved repeatedly that most such champions are one-drain wonders.
On a lighter note Dr Vidyasagar Rao, governor of Maharashtra, referred to the fact that once his predecessors in office used to maintain a stable of over 70 pedigreed horses, adding, "But poor me today came to this horse racing function in a car." Dr Rao also urged the delegates present to work towards cleaning the sport of horse racing, saying, "Efforts should be made to cleanse the sport, and not allow a few undesirable elements to ruin its image." He also appealed to the racing industry leaders present at the conference to work towards making horse racing "inclusive", instead of continuing to project it as an "elitist" sport.