Sunday, December 02, 2007

indian race horse debut

debut run of the raCE HORSE ???

It's a multicrore industry in which fortunes are made or lost at the toss of the genetic dice. Owning a racehorse appeals to vanity and there is glamour surrounding the sport, but it all boils down to a question of breeding. Well-known horse-racing commentator Cyrus Madan offers some expert advice for those with an eye for the fillies.Les Carleon, one of Australia's leading journalists, has defined horse racing with typical Aussie common sense: ``If you insist that two and two must always make four, if you cannot dream a little, forget about the turf and horse racing. Put on a white coat with a beeper in the pocket and go find a laboratory somewhere. To enjoy the turf and horses you have to accept that two plus two is often five or nine or, more commonly, nought.'' Horse racing is all about drama rather than probabilities. It's about risks--physical, financial and moral. It's about man with all his vanity, his commonplace greed and his occasional nobility and an animal called the thoroughbred which can be exquisitely beautiful but is born with a congenital tendency to self-destruct. The thoroughbred is one of the most regal and magnificent creatures in the world with an exclusivity that makes him truly blue-blooded and a breed apart. To be labelled a thoroughbred, a horse has to trace back his ancestry to one of three founding sires--The Byerly Turk, The Darley Arabian and The Godolphin Barb. These are the three stallions from which every thoroughbred in the world descends. And if a horse's bloodlines do not go back to that trio, he is simply not a thoroughbred. The sport itself, however, is nowhere near as cut and dried and that age-old axiom which said that horses were born to make fools out of men, still applies. It is the only sport in the world where lords and ladies, sheikhs and queens, celebrities and tycoons rub shoulders with the common man in an endeavour to prove who is truly the shrewdest judge of horseflesh and who truly understands the horse.So, who are the players in this enigmatic game? What is the fascination and mystique attached to the sport, and how does one go about buying a racehorse--or even part of one? For that, there is one crucial requirement: hope. Hope that when the sun dawns, the next day he will have bred or owned or bought or trained or ridden or backed a potential champion. But before that, the basics, or the beginning. The starting point in the horse-racing game is the place where the thoroughbred is born and nurtured--the stud farm. Horse breeding is in itself a science and it's not a simple case of hit and miss. It's an intricate and difficult process. In fact, there is probably no other sport in the world where the approach to produce an athlete begins even before the athlete is actually conceived which makes it one of the most advanced of its kind. In India, horse racing is gradually coming of age and the day when it can be compared to international levels is no longer a mere pipe dream. An Indian champion like Astonish which was owned by J.P. Goenka, Deepak Khaitan and Ross Deas, became the first Indian thoroughbred to ever win a race outside India. He stormed home at the Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong on his debut, taking on horses of the highest class based there to show that an Indian bred one could hold its own. A little later the Vijay Mallya-owned Adler won a race in the USA to bring even further laurels. Both the horses were well past their prime when they travelled abroad and the stringent, antiquated and uncompromising quarantine laws that are there from the days of Queen Victoria made their task even more difficult. Astonish, for instance, first had to travel all the way to the West Coast of the USA, spend six months there in quarantine before being allowed to ``step hoof'' into Hong Kong! Thanks to this sort of red tapism and constraints, the Indian racehorse finds it virtually impossible to compete in the major invitational races of the world despite being nominated for them. Thus, a horse like Elusive Pimpernel, arguably the greatest champion the Indian Turf has seen in recent times, had a chance to participate in the richest race ever run in the world, namely the Dubai World Cup. However, thanks to the quarantine laws, he could not leave Indian shores. A similar scenario repeated itself when, despite being eligible to participate in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, an invitational event in Hong Kong, Elusive Pimpernel was once again denied an entry. He had to stay on in India, where the only opposition was records in stake money. In his last few races it became a straight case of Elusive Pimpernel first--the rest nowhere. For such a champion to have been denied a chance to compete at an international level was nothing short of criminal.Despite such setbacks, the Indian thoroughbred industry is flourishing. In 1969, Indian stud farms produced 391 foals which would eventually come up for sale two years later at the annual auction sales. In 1996, a total of 1,807 foals were registered. Moreover, studs are importing a host of stallions and mares each year and, this has, over a period of time, bettered the quality of stock that comes up for sale. Descendants of some of the most illustrious equine families in the world of breeding are now represented here in India. Thus, you find sons of the legendary Northern Dancer, one of the greatest progenitors in the world, standing at farms in India. So, too, are sons of Saddler's Wells, Mr Prospector, Danzig, Sir Ivor, Blushing Groom and Busted, to mention a few. Their offspring sell at well beyond the million-dollar mark in the USA.
Owning A RacehorseThe breeding industry is faced with one serious problem--there are not enough buyers for the total number of horses produced. If you want to own a racehorse you have to be registered and accepted as an owner by any of the five turf authorities. The first step is to decide on your budget. Horses are available for anything between Rs 25,000 and 25 lakh, quite like paintings. The only difference is that while paintings are a somewhat sound investment, there is no guarantee whatsoever that the thoroughbred for which you have coughed up a million will turn out to be a champion. Few horses ever recover their cost price and, remember, there is a monthly expense of at least Rs 7,000 by way of a basic training fee which keeps adding up on your meter once the horse has been purchased. So, if it's not a viable proposition, why do people own horses? Well, that's a difficult one to answer, but let us face it, you can't own a racehorse unless you have the bucks. At least you can't own one yourself. What you can do is form a partnership, or a syndicate, or a private limited company or a racing club which are all recognised forms of ownership worldwide. Thus, instead of being an individual owner you can be part of any of the above and that would not only cut down on your investment and your expenses but it could also allow you to own more than just a few reasonably priced horses with whom you have some chance of making a go of it (see box). Remember, depending on how you handle them, a racehorse can race from the age of two years until the age of seven or eight. This is on an average. There have been quite a few who have continued to race at the highest level until well past the age of eight but they are at their prime between the time they are four and six.
The Best of the BreedersStud farms have mushroomed all over the country but only a handful hold centrestage. The current racing year, for instance, appears to belong to Major Pradeep Mehra's Usha Stud and Mehra Farms. The latest chapter in their success story revolves around the farm's resident stallion, Razeen, a recent import. Razeen is a son of the great Northern Dancer and in his first crop of horses he has already produced a host of champions including the winner and runner-up of the McDowell Indian Derby and the Kingfisher Indian Oaks, two of the most important classics run in India.The Usha Stud and the Mehra Stud which are located next to each other are not far from Delhi, in Haryana. Here, Major Pradeep Mehra and his daughter Ameeta have produced remarkable results from a small beginning and the Usha and Mehra studs are today considered to be one of the best in the land. They enjoyed their most heady moments in the late '70s and early '80s and now those glorious days of the past seem to have returned with Razeen's horses in full cry. In fact, it's amusing to note that in the McDowell Indian Derby this year, Pradeep was in that enviable position where he could not lose since he had a share in both the horses that were fighting it out at the finish, namely Indictment owned by Khushroo Dhunjibhoy and Arabian Rose owned by Vijay Mallya. When Indictment got the verdict by a narrow margin, Mehra was asked: ``Whom were you rooting for in the finish?'' Mehra smiled and replied: ``Neither. I was yelling for the horse who sired both of them--Razeen. What mattered most was that one of his offspring win the Derby from his very first crop.'' In the cantonment town of Pune is the Poonawalla Group of Farms, the home of a conglomerate of champions. Astonish and Adler, for example, were both bred at this very farm which is managed by the Poonawalla brothers, Cyrus and Zavaray, and together they have taken the Poonawalla Group of Farms to the very pinnacle of success in recent years. Horses bred by them won the McDowell Indian Derby five years in a row from 1988 to 1992 and they were denied a record sixth successive victory by a whisker when Astronomic just edged out Summer Dust in a pulsating finish. The Poonawalla Group of Farms is home to Malvado, a champion sire in his own right here in India and to the late Riyahi, a son of Red God. Riyahi, like Malvado, has been a champion sire in India. So is Placerville, the winner of The Prince Of Wales Stakes and himself a son of the top international stallion Prospector. Al Nassr Alwasheik, the most recent import, is also bred in the blue and has quite a record and finally there is Exhilaration--son of Malvado--a champion racehorse who was unbeaten in all his nine starts. Together, they represent awesome potential and with the track record that the farm has built up, it appears that they will continue to be at the top.The former Punjab chief minister H.S. Brar and his family are yet another set of high-profile individuals who have established a successful operation when it comes to breeding horses. Their Dashmesh Stud in the Muktsar district of Punjab has had its fair share of champions and Elusive Pimpernel, arguably the greatest racehorse seen in recent times, was born and raised there. Did they know that he was destined to become a legend? Well, that is like asking Pete Sampras' parents whether they knew their son would be the world champion before he began playing tennis. Elusive Pimpernel had the breeding and as he grew he acquired the build but after him none of his brothers and sisters came even remotely close in comparison.
Where to BuyAll thoroughbreds in the northern hemisphere share a common birthday--the 1st of January. Hence, on New Year's Day they all turn one year older irrespective of when they were actually born. As a result, most of them are foaled prior to March. They are up for sale just after they have turned two, at which juncture they have not even stepped onto the racetrack. Of course, a lot of them are sold from the stud farms even before they have completed 18 months, but the majority come to Mumbai where the Royal Western India Turf Club conducts the major auction sale of the year. You can buy either prior to the sale by what is called a private sale or you can buy in the auction ring itself and after that all you can do is hope that your newest equine acquisition turns out to be a champion or at least wins you a couple of races when he starts racing approximately nine months later. After the horse has been purchased you have to entrust him to a trainer who is licensed by the turf clubs to look after your horse and train him to race. Your selection of the trainer is almost as vital as your selection of the horse, but if you are a relative newcomer to the game then it would be better to opt for one of the two options. Approach an acquaintance who is already involved in the game to a large extent and ask him for his advice and to introduce you to a few trainers or else go to the turf club and seek the advice of one of their racing executives. Ask them to provide you with their performance statistics and then you can decide.
Earning Against the Odds What would the average racehorse earn in a year for his connections? Well, if you have that Midas touch and owned a horse like Elusive Pimpernel, he would have earned you over Rs 1 crore in a span of a little over two years. But he was no average racehorse. His full sister and his brothers put together did not earn what Elusive Pimpernel won in his first four months of racing, and they must have been purchased for mind-boggling prices since they were so closely related. On an average, however, horses could win a race a season or two a year. Of course, stake money has risen dramatically, thanks to corporate involvement in the sport by way of sponsorship. Back in 1977, Squanderer won the Invitation Cup in Bangalore and earned about Rs 1,40,000 for his efforts. In March this year, when the ITC-sponsored Classic Indian Turf Invitation Cup is run at the same venue, the winner would have earned over Rs 24 lakh for his pains. An increase of over 1,614 per cent in 20 years. Similarly, when Squanderer won the Indian Derby that year in Mumbai, he earned Rs 1,50,000. In 1977, Indictment won the McDowell-sponsored McDowell Indian Derby and earned his connections Rs 20.5 lakh.Major stud farms have introduced races of their own where the guaranteed stakes are well over the million rupee mark not to mention a host of other corporate concerns like Eveready Industries, the UB Group, Castrol India Ltd--all of whom have joined the corporate sponsorship bandwagon having found horse racing the ideal platform and medium to be associated with. A race like the Poonawalla Breeders Million sponsored by the Poonawalla Group of Farms has become the richest race on the Indian racing calendar and it attracts the crowds as well with marketing gimmicks such as contests where the first prize is a Maruti 800 car. With these sort of attractions the chance that you might recover something of the cost price of your horse is always there, but you have to remember that in every race there are only five or six horses which bring in the money or earn stakes. The other 20 have given it their all but returned penniless. That's the way the cookie crumbles, but of late even the crumbs of that cookie are incentive

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