Poonawalla race at Mahalaxmi racecourse is under a cloud

Deadlock between trainers and Royal Western India Turf Club puts high fashion event in jeopardy

The more immediate worry is that the the high profile (Gr 1) Poonawalla Breeders' Multi-Million race to be run tomorrow at the Mahalaxmi racetrack may be washed out. Pic for representation
The more immediate worry is that the the high profile (Gr 1) Poonawalla Breeders' Multi-Million race to be run tomorrow at the Mahalaxmi racetrack may be washed out. Pic for representation

The high profile Poonawalla Breeders Million race, to be run at the Mahalaxmi racecourse tomorrow and one of the last big races of the Mumbai season, is under a cloud.

Horse trainers in western India are up in arms against the managing committee of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) Ltd over the Benevolent Fund, a separate kitty that looks after the welfare of jockeys involved in accidents, and trainers retiring from the profession. The deadlock is that the race club wants to dissolve the Benovelent Fund post March 31, while the trainers oppose that.

The trainers have boycotted the March 1 race card, resulting in cancellation of races. But the more immediate worry is that the biggest juvenile race in the country, the high profile (Gr 1) Poonawalla Breeders' Multi-Million (PBMM), to be run tomorrow at the Mahalaxmi racetrack, may be washed out as trainers may resort to a flash strike by not saddling horses for Sunday's races.

Dr Cyrus Poonawalla and (R) Zavaray Poonawalla
Dr Cyrus Poonawalla and (R) Zavaray Poonawalla

Open defiance
"Everyone, including my colleagues on the committee and horse owners who are the chief stake holders in this game, view this as open defiance," Vivek Jain, chairman of the race club, told mid-day. "I am shocked by the trainers' stance as I had given them a personal assurance that this matter will be resolved before March 9, but they insisted on a written commitment."

The trainers' grouse
Ivor Fernandes, chairman emeritus of the Western India Trainers' Association (WITA), said referring to the Fund, "This is our money, it has come from our fraternity, by way of licence fees and fines. We have an account of every penny; they owe us Rs 83 lakh."

There are several technicalities about the fund, but Fernandes claimed that the "club has been giving away our money to the Delhi race club trainers", he revealed. "A sum of '33 lakh has been disbursed to them to date. For what?" Trainer Mansing Jadhav, present chairman of WITA, pointed out the disparity between the RWITC and the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC). "I will be due to get '13.5 lakh when I retire after over 40 years," he said, "A trainer with similar number of years at BTC recently got Rs 48 lakh!"

PBMM under threat?
The immediate threat is the Poonawalla race where the accent is on fashion and horse racing action. "If they attempt to disrupt Sunday's racing," Jain added, "it will do great injustice to the Poonawallas, racing's most respected family which has done so much for the sport and the club."

He said he had spoken to the sponsors — the Poonawalla brothers, Cyrus and Zavaray —and they had given him a free hand to deal with the situation. "They told me to deal with this matter in the interest of the sport and the club."

Asked if the trainers had any plans to disrupt racing tomorrow, Fernandes said, "We are meeting today to discuss the issue. We hold Dr Cyrus Poonawalla in the highest esteem and it is he, we believe who should take the reins of this club in these troubled times. We will certainly hate to disrupt the "million" race of a man who they have a faith in.

Personally, I see a situation where we will have to request him, and I am certain he will intervene on our behalf." The Poonawallas were unreachable for comment despite repeated attempts.

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