Horse racing in India

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The release of Lynn Deas’s “Horse racing in India – A Royal Legacy” (published by Niyogi Books) was held as part of AKLF2017 at the RCTC.

The book was released by Chief Guest Naresh Kumar, iconic sports personality. This was followed by the author in conversation with veteran sports journalist Kishore Bhimani and well-known jockey Robin Corner at RCTC.

In writing this coffee table book Lynn Deas tells us about some interesting facts:-

  1. In the early days of Indian racing it was, without a doubt, the sport of the ‘white man’, royalty and the privileged and it was not until the introduction of the tote, that the common man had easy access to placing a bet.
  2. Horse racing is concerned with both horses and gambling, for it is more than merely a lottery. The central role gambling plays in horse racing is immediately obvious. For most people who go racing the day’s enjoyment lies in making decisions, placing bets and then being proved right or wrong. The excitement of the sport lies in its immediate and competitive nature. With the introduction of gambling, the gate numbers swelled.
  3. The system of classifying horses into four divisions was introduced in Calcutta. No horse could run other than in the division in which he or she was classified. Horses were promoted or demoted as their form dictated. The system evolved over a period of time, getting more defined and eventually perfected
  4. Racing started in Madras around 1777 and by 1799 English horses began to appear on the racetrack. The Bengal Jockey Club was established in 1803 and the Calcutta race results were published in England.
  5. One of the most famous names, the world over, the Aga Khan family, first began racing on the Indian race tracks in 1846. The Aga Khan family is the only family to ever win ten Epsom Derbies. His horses raced against those of the Maharaja of Darbanga who had a trophy named The Darbanga Cup. Along with the Viceroy’s Cup and the Turf Club Cup these races formed a highly prized nucleus of races, with victory much sought after by the biggest names in racing.
  6. In 1889 there were as many as 52 racecourses in pre partition India and in 1894; the number had increased to 73.

RCTC was obviously the most suitable place to release the book as it holds pride of place in organised racing in India.

At first, racing in Kolkata were held in the suburbs at Akra in the Garden Reach area where, at that time, the king of Oudh, deposed by the British, and his descendents lived in their palatial garden houses. The Race Course at Akra was to all accounts, a rudimentary affair.

As a result of the governor, Lord Wellesleys’s narrow outlook and reformist attitude, racing in Calcutta came to an abrupt, but temporary halt in 1798 and it was only five years later that it was resumed by an organization called the Bengal Jockey Club which had been formed with the sole object of keeping the sport going on a sound basis. In 1809, the venue shifted from Akra to the Maidan area which is now virtually the centre of the city and there it remains until today.

In 1812, the new course was laid out in Calcutta roughly where it is located today and interest now moved to this major centre.

In 1847 when the Calcutta Turf Club was officially born. It’s important roles were those of regulating all matters concerning racing and protecting the interests of the turf in Calcutta.

Later the Calcutta Turf Club would be called upon to administer the sport throughout the country, other than in Western India.

Also, Calcutta was the first center in the subcontinent to stage a Derby race called the Calcutta Derby Stakes.

The session was interesting.

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