The stables have turned at the Turf Club


Once the cynosure of all eyes, the Bangalore Turf Club now struggles to set hearts racing; for its many patrons and dependants, it’s a struggle for survival

They could well be unicorns, the mythical animals that exist in fairy tales. Because the 850 horses at the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC) seem to have been relegated to the recesses of our memory.

Like everything else, Covid has cast a shadow on this big-ticket sport. Since the lockdown was first imposed in March, no races have taken place. How are the horse owners managing to feed, maintain and pay the veterinary bills, particularly the small and syndicate partnership owners? How are the professionals, trainers and jockeys dealing with the massive financial crunch that has put the sport on life support? Bangalore Mirror decided to dig deep and find answers to these questions that have been so far only discussed within the racing community.

The small owners are the worst hit. Many who had invested in the game, buying horses in four-legged partnerships are looking to sell their shares at half the cost but there are no takers. It costs a minimum of Rs 30,000 to keep a horse in training and racing every month. And over the last five months, owners at this premier centre have lost more than 20 crores and the losses look like they will get bigger over the next few months.

A couple of trainers revealed that owners who would visit the stables every day to look at their horses have not turned up for months, fearing that they

will be asked to clear their dues. “Horse ownership is no more a passion or a fashion sport. Many have called it quits un able to handle the pressure from the pandemic,” said S Padmanabhan, a horse trainer.

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The managing committee of the BTC in their effort to reboot operations, offered a two-month Basic Maintenance Cost (BMC) to the owners. But it was hardly enough. The BTC think-tank drafted a proposal hoping to gain permission for an eight-day mini racing season starting next month before the full-fledged winter season scheduled to start in the first week of November.

Horse ownership is no more a passion or a fashion sport. Many have called it quits unable to handle the pressure from the pandemic

– S Padmanabhan, horse trainer

But that is unlikely after 10 jockeys out of the 50-plus who took the mandatory swab test have tested positive for covid-19.

The front office of the BTC has been sealed because there were many primary and secondary contacts.

The other worry is that even if the game resumes, many owners may face a ban from racing since they have not paid their Basic Maintenances Costs for a few months. Though the managing committee wishes to support the owners, it’s rendered helpless due to its financial condition.

Racing apart, the breeding industry is hard hit too. More than 1500-2000 horses are born every year in farms spread across the country. Many top breeders and a sizeable number of small farm owners have said that they have not received enquiries, and sale of horses is a distant dream. This means that the blood-stock this year will have very few buyers and a major portion of the stock will be stuck with the breeders at the farms resulting in huge losses. “First it was the high GST slab, and now the pandemic has delivered a knock-out punch,” says Prasanna Kumar, another trainer.

As many as 1,500 horses at an average price of Rs 12 lakh each have no takers. Is this the beginning of a long and difficult course for the breeding industry and the racing sport? Can the big players, trusted and elected to run the show address this issue? Will they be able to present a new alternative for the survival of the sport? Your guess is as good as ours.



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Sagar Biswas

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