The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on every sphere of activity. As far as racing is concerned, it has come to a standstill. The racehorse owners and the professionals are worst hit with no prospect of any income. In the midst of the crisis, the Bangalore Turf Club which thrives on the income generated by the activity of horse racing is hesitant to lend a helping hand to the beleaguered owners and professionals.
The Basic Maintenance Fee is given as credit from times immemorial and this has become the accepted practice. Subsidy and credit are all the more necessary in these crucial times but BTC, in its wisdom, for reasons best known to it, is playing with fire by refusing to extend the BMC till such time racing resumes. BTC is not releasing BMC as a subsidy but as an overdraft which is to be recoverable when the activity resumes. Banks are hesitant to lend loans these times and the professionals cannot be left to the lurch. The BTC has tried to play politics by releasing the part payment of BMC pertaining to the salary of the syces but the other component which is paid to the trainers has been withheld. This has resulted in a crisis which threatens to blow out of proportion. There is a human factor involved well.
There is no denying the fact that it is the credit which drives the economy. Without this crucial component, no activity can prosper. The BTC cannot escape its responsibility of bailing the sport out of a crisis using all the resources at its command.
The syces work on an extra horse. Since most of these syces are from Bihar, the salary component is sent home for the maintenance of their family while the money they earn extra by working on an additional horse is what keeps them going. This sort of arrangement has been upset as many of the trainers have been unable to pay this component with BTC playing hard. The trainers are at their wit`s end as many racehorse owners have defaulted. In these circumstances, the onus is on BTC to step forward and pay from its reserve fund however small it may be to ensure that the present lockdown does not lead to a lockout.
Interestingly, the Bangalore Turf Club is spending about Rs 25 lakhs per month as a rental for OCBC centres. The rent for four months works out Rs 1 crore. The club has made no attempt to negotiate the rent during this crisis nor has it closed these centres for the time being. Hyderabad Race Club has reportedly closed certain OCBC centres in order to save money and re-negotiated the rent with the others but that wisdom is not there with the BTC who believe that money to be paid for critical functioning should be denied while being generous with its spending in other spheres. Why has the managing committee not taken up this issue when there is an urgent need to curtail expenditure in non-essential areas? This is strange because, by the look of things, these centres may not be operative at least till December which means the non-productive amount to be spent would work out to Rs 2 crores.
Insiders who are privy to the happenings say that BTC releasing a part of the BMC is because of the politics playing within. The Stable Welfare Society Chairman was Vinod Sivappa before he became the Chairman of the Club. Aravind Raghavan is the man who commands the shots and he has a good equation with the chairman and possibly with one or two powerful members in the committee who are against giving any BMC. Aravind Raghavan has reasons to be upset with the trainers for not backing him in a recent issue. The society has not taken up the issue of release of BMC because it is happy that the syces component is released and the trainers are left to fend themselves as a punishment for their independent action not conforming to the dictates of the powerful elements. Though these persons may deny that they have no role to play, the chain of events clearly demonstrates the complicity.
The turf club recently mandated that all the trainers and their assistants must compulsorily undergo a COVID test. The Karnataka Trainers Association arranged for a test through a government agency which also is said to have upset one of the committee members. He put a strong plea in the committee against giving the premises of the club for the testing procedure. Interestingly, when the club conducted the test of about 60 odd syces who had returned after the lockdown, it was conducted in the club premises. The trainers were being denied the same facility before wiser counsel prevailed. The trainers` test results are awaited and till such time the results are out, the turf club premises are out of bounds for them.
On Thursday morning, the agitated syces collected in front of the BTC office to protest the non-payment of the money for the extra horse. This was done at a time when no trainer could be present. The timing itself suggests that something is amiss. On its part, the BTC has kept its head buried in the sand without being alive to the crisis and the politics that are playing out. As someone wisely put, the ostrich burying its head in the sand does at any rate wish to convey the impression that its head is the most important part of it!