Monday, October 15, 2007

todays post about indian breeding mystical

DUBAI: Like most former British colonies, India was left with a passion for horse racing. But while countries from Canada to Australia to South Africa embraced the sport wholeheartedly, developing racing industries that produced world-beating horses, India struggled.
Prohibitive taxes to discourage gambling, miniscule purses and overall poverty left the racing and breeding of thoroughbreds confined to a small circle of wealthy devotees.
But on Saturday night, more than 200 years of patience, dreams and hard work will be put to the test as India finally introduces one of its thoroughbreds on the international stage.
A horse called Mystical will carry the hopes of Indian horse breeding at the Dubai World Cup meeting, the richest thoroughbred races in the world. Mystical, a five-year-old bay, will run in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free, a $5 million race over just under 1,800 meters, or a mile and an eighth, on the turf at Nad al Sheba racecourse.
"All of India will be watching," said Mystical's owner, Zavaray Poonawalla. "This is absolutely huge for us. Our racing industry could be changed completely. The world will recognize the Indian horse."
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Poonawalla realizes the odds are against him. The field of 16 includes a pair of Japanese champions and the American winner of the Santa Anita Handicap. While no betting is permitted in Dubai, British bookmakers quote Mystical at odds as long as 33 to 1.
But Poonawalla said Mystical was the best product of Indian thoroughbred breeding so far, and he was hoping for a big race from his horse - a gelding ("sadly," he added) bred at his stud farm in Pune, 100 miles, or 160 kilometers, from Mumbai.
Poonawalla, who owns one of the largest producers of vaccines in the world, the Serum Institute of India, keeps about 375 horses at his stud farm. He stands three stallions, including the sire of Mystical, Alnasr Alwasheek.
He estimates there are about 5,000 thoroughbreds in India - a small fraction of the world thoroughbred population, which grows by about 110,000 every year. There are only nine racetracks in India, with only a handful of racing dates.
But Poonawalla, 63, is determined to lift Indian racing into the world spotlight. He said he had been involved in the sport since he "was in short pants," growing up on the stud farm started in the 1940s by his father.
He has been lobbying the government for years to reduce gambling taxes and support the racing industry. "We have zero support," he said. "We survive on our passion."
He said that high taxes on gambling drove many betters to illegal bookmakers. He estimated that if the government would lower the taxes and establish a nationwide tote system, the Indian betting market could rival that of Hong Kong, one of the most lucrative in the world.
To bolster his case, he is crossing his fingers for Saturday night. Mystical came to Dubai in late December to run in the annual racing carnival that takes place from January through World Cup night. The horse ran two races during the carnival and won them both, already a first for an Indian-bred horse. But Mystical has suffered his share of troubles. His trainer, Subbaiah Ganapathy, had a heart attack after Mystical's first Dubai victory, in February, and his regular jockey, Ryan Moore, broke his shoulder in a fall in Britain two weeks ago. Martin Dwyer will ride him on Saturday night.
The Duty Free is one of four Group 1 races on Saturday, crowned by the $6 million Dubai World Cup, the richest race in the world. U.S.-based horses have taken home $42.2 million of the nearly $130 million that Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum has put on the table since starting the meeting 12 years ago. The home team has hung on to $45 million, and the rest has been won by horses from 15 other countries. India is not among them - yet.

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