Sombre start to Mahalaxmi season

Updated: Nov 22, 2016, 14:17 IST | Prakash Gosavi |

Even the pristine atmosphere of the picturesque racecourse failed to lift the spirits of Vivek Jain as he faced a small gathering of racing journalists on Friday evening at Mahalaxmi

Even the pristine atmosphere of the picturesque racecourse failed to lift the spirits of Vivek Jain as he faced a small gathering of racing journalists on Friday evening at Mahalaxmi. Making a clean chest and Hiding nothing, the popular chairman of RWITC (Royal Western India Turf Club) listed all the serious problems which besiege horse racing in western India right now. Jain tried to put up a brave face despite admitting that he did not know what the future holds for the sport of horse racing, but hoping against hope that things will ease up as the 39-day Mumbai season gets underway on Sunday."

Problems galore
With the race club's balance sheet in dire straights due to unprecedented loss of crores of rupees, and the lifeline of sport of horse racing--hard cash--abruptly cut off due to the much talked about "note ban" in force, horse racing as an industry finds itself in deep trouble. Add to this the land lease problem that has been hanging like a Damocles' sword all the time and the exorbitant level of betting tax which drives even honest punters to illegal bookmakers, and you know why there is a sense of foreboding in the air.

"I must say I have the unanimous support of all my colleagues on the committee in these tough times," Jain said, "and we are going to give our best shot to try and turn things around. The show will go on." The timely start to the 39-day season is in itself a good omen as owners and professionals have agreed to race their horses despite a 50% reduction in stakes money for the first four race days.

Evening racing to stay
Evening racing, which was started last year and was deemed to be a success, forms a major chunk of the overall racing action what with 21 of the 39 racing days devoted to it. Nicknamed "Moondust" for branding and marketing purposes, the action under the floodlights will begin on Thursday, Nov 24. "There are some interested sponsors lined up," Geoffrey Nagpal who is on the committee specially formed to promote racing under the lights, told mid-day, "the infrastructure is already in place, and we hope to at least break even."

He went on to explain that the idea of initially reserving Thursdays exclusively for evening racing was borrowed from Hong Kong's Happy Valley racecourse where it is a standard fixture for Wednesday nights. "If it's Thursday, it's racing under the lights, that's how we want our patrons to remember," he added.

Dates at a glance
November 2016: Sun, 20; Thu, 24; Sun, 27.
December 2016: Thu, 1; Sun, 4; Thu, 8; Sun, 11; Thu, 15; Sun, 18; Thu, 22; Sun, 25; Thu, 29.
January 2017: Sun, 1; Thu, 5; Fri, 6; Thu, 12; Sun, 15; Thu, 19; Sun, 22.
February 2017: Sat, 4; Sun, 5; Sun, 12; Sat, 18; Sun, 19; Thu, 23; Sun, 26.
March 2017: Wed, 1; Thu, 9; Sun, 12; Thu, 16; Sun, 19; Sat, 25; Sun, 26.
April 2017: Sat, 1; Sun, 2; Sat, 8; Sun, 9; Sat, 15; Sun, 16. [Total: 39 days]

Did you know?
*The 39-day Mumbai season starts today with an eight-race card, and ends on Sunday, April 16, 2017. The opening day's card is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Bombay, and nearly 10,000 of their members are expected to attend the races today.

*One interesting and unique fact about this season for the sport, which was once rightly described as the 'sport of kings', is that the descendants of the royal family of the maharaja Harisingh of Kashmir will sponsor the prestigious trophy named after the late maharaja, and will attend the race in person to give away the trophy to the winner.

*For the first time in this country's history, the RWITC will initiate credit/debit card betting to minimize the effects of cash crunch due to the note ban. The race club is in talks with various banks to enable credit and debit card betting for the punters, and hopes to put the facility in place in a week's time.

*As usual, the Indian Derby (Gr 1) will be run on its traditional date, the first Sunday of February (Feb 5, 2017).

Book Thief may prevail in the feature
The Rotary Club Of Bombay Trophy is slated as the main event of the opening day's eight-race card, and there will be 11 class IV runners in the fray contesting over the trip of six furlongs. The main contenders appear to be Book Thief, Motherland, Celestial Light, Naumee and Kitty Hawk. A close finish cannot be ruled out, but I expect the first-named, a winner at Pune in last start over this trip, to get stronger at the finish and attempt to catch the judge's eye first.

First race at 1.30 pm.

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