"I would like to conclude with a joke," said Vivek Jain at the end of his 30 minutes at the podium at the 36th Asian Racing Conference (ARC), "what's the difference between praying in church and praying at the racetrack? Answer: At the racetrack, you really mean it."
The audience broke into loud applause, acknowledging the point Jain wished to make that the fact that horse racing is so difficult to beat makes it even more difficult to market it to the public.
The former chairman of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) has also been the chief of its marketing committee for many years. Jain was at his candid best on Wednesday morning when he opened the discussion on "How to market racing". With help of some audio-visuals and a speech that covered a broad spectrum of his efforts to sell horse racing to the masses, Jain was honest about the fact that despite working almost 24/7, his task was far from finished.
Jain talked about everything he has tried so far, from contests of skill (even offering the Mercedez as prize) to media alliances to creative ads to sponsorships to starting a website and initiating live streaming of the races. "We even invited Bollywood superstar Salman Khan to ride in a special race, and pitched him against some of our ace jockeys who had to work really hard to make sure he won the race," Jain said, as the audience erupted in laughter.
The Good Doctor
Dr Cyrus Poonawalla, chairman of the organizing committee of the ARC, displayed almost boundless energy in discharging his duties as a host-par-excellence. The opening ceremony on Sunday evening made it apparent that great thought was given even to the smallest detail as over 500 delegates from 20 different countries around the world filed into the National Sports Club of India (NSCI) dome.
"I and my team have done our best to make this experience a memorable one for each of you," he said when addressing the august gathering, "and still if any of you have any problem—be it with your stay, movement or even food—I request you not to hesitate even for a second and to contact me at once," said Dr Poonawalla, "and I will personally see to it that it is taken care of."
True to word, this correspondent spotted the good Dr, with his son Adar and daughter-in-law Natasha in tow, checking out the dinner arrangements, carefully making note of the elaborate culinary spread and its presentation.
95 percent? Make it 99.95 percent!
Illegal betting was one of the hottest topics of discussion at the ARC. The practice of big punters sending their bets to illegal (read 'unlicensed') operators to circumvent the betting and income tax is a global phenomenon. However, almost all the experts this correspondent spoke to were aware that in India this problem has acquired monumental proportions thanks to the state's greed for unreasonable level of taxes, though not many of them dared say it openly.
Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, chairman of the Asian Racing Federation [ARF], however, was the exception. In a small break between the sessions, Winfried was seen chatting up with some Indian racing writers who tried to tell him how widespread was the problem of illegal betting in their cournty. "Almost 95 percent of the betting money in our country finds its way to illegal channels," said one of them, to which the ever-so-sharp chairman of the ARF, quickly responded, "Make that 99.95 percent," before walking away with a mischievous smile.