The 36th Asian Racing Conference (ARC) will kick off today in Mumbai at the Mahalaxmi racecourse with a quality race card featuring eight races, the prime event being the grade 1, Villoo Poonawalla Indian Oaks. For more than 500 delegates coming from all over the world such top class racing, offered against the spectacular backdrop of the Mahalaxmi racetrack which easily competes with the best racecourses in the world thanks in to its aesthetics, would serve a wonderful opener, because immediately on Monday they will dive headlong into some very serious business which involves high profile meetings of the Asian racing pattern committee, international stewards’ conference and Asian Racing Federation (ARF) executive committee meetings.
In fact, this 36th ARC which has come to India after a gap of 20 years will, over the next four days, discuss many extremely vital issues which will decide not only the direction of this sport until the next conference is held after two years, but perhaps also the future of this sport that has a glorious past but is currently struggling to keep its fan base from declining further.
Horse racing is a unique sport in that it is forced to generate its revenue from the tax collected from betting. All the purses offered to horsemen and money spent on improving the infrastructure must come from the component of betting tax. However, barring Hong Kong and some other notable exceptions, the sport has failed to compete with the betting money being attracted by other sports like cricket, football, and minor and major leagues of other sports at all levels.
The very first business session, scheduled for the morning of Tuesday (Jan 26), will discuss issues like the trends and strategies of the betting industry, and how to adopt to the changing wagering landscape. David Eades will monitor this session which will also discuss the topics of how to distribute racing content and what innovations need to be made to wagering methods.
While there will be sessions that will cover a spectrum of topics like breeding industry in India and Japan, racecourse management, the media’s role in attracting the 21st century fan, the hottest topic will perhaps be how to have drug free racing.
The reason is there has been too much ambiguity both in the testing protocol and the interpretation of the zero-tolerance attitude adopted by the race clubs. The latest case in the public eye being that of trainer Pesi Shroff knocking at the door of a court of law to challenge the punishment meted out to him under the clause of vicarious liability. Not only the administrators of the Indian race clubs but also the Indian racing fraternity on the whole will be closely watching what conclusive stance emerges from this special business session which is scheduled for the morning of Thursday (Jan 28).
There will also be in-depth discussion about handicapping and rating systems. B Shivaprasad, one of the most respected handicapper in India who serves as chief handicapper for the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC) will make a presentation about handicapping in India. Nigel Gray will follow it up with his thoughts on the genesis of a rating system.
Interestingly, Shivaprasad will not be the only Indian who has been chosen by the Asian Racing Federation as expert to deliver his thoughts on a topic, there are four more Indians who have also been asked to grace the dais and share their thoughts about their areas of expertise. These names include our very own Vivek Jain, chief of the RWITC marketing committee, who will, with the help of an audio-visual, explain his efforts to market Indian racing to the masses; Zavaray Poonawalla, chairman of the RWITC, and Dr Farokh Wadia, a prominent Indian breeder, will talk on the breeding industry in India; while Cyrus Madan, former chairman of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, and one of the most loved racing commentator, who will talk about the media’s role in promoting racing.
Illegal betting and crime links
There will also be some thought-provoking debate on the topic of illegal betting and its connection with organized crime in Asia, and what the law enforcement agencies can do to curb the menace.
In all, the action-packed five days of the 36th ARC promise to set the ball rolling for many of the crucial problems the sport of horse racing is facing right now.