The fact that the Royal Western India Turf Club has been in the throes of a financial crisis is something everyone is aware of. A combination of circumstances plus the pandemic gave a body blow to the institution as its income dried up and the club faced a stark future. Thanks to the fact that many of the RWITC members are true lovers of racing, they rose to the occasion and came up with a generous contribution to the tune of Rs 5 crores to ensure that racing is conducted with the same vigour.
Leading the generous donors has been Zavaray Poonawalla who has offered Rs 3 crores to the stakes besides keeping his commitment to the other routine sponsorships that he does every season. K N Dhunjibhoy and his friends have chipped in with Rs 1.5 crores. There has been support from other members in numerous ways. Such generous help from members is unthinkable elsewhere with the possible exception of Madras Race Club where the powers-that-be have no hesitation in opening their purse for sponsoring the races besides taking up developmental works. That Madras Race Club has a sound financial base is another matter. Hyderabad Race Club is another club which is run with a vision that has ensured that they are insulated from any crisis man-made or otherwise.
One dreads to think of what the scenario would have been if there was a similar scenario in Bangalore. The Bangalore Turf Club members pay a subscription of Rs 350 per year and enjoy facilities to the tune of Rs 20,000. The authorities can never get the general body to vote for an increase in the membership fee. If BTC had been in the situation where RWITC found itself, we would have seen a Sri Lankan type of crisis, with the club becoming a deserted ship. One doesn`t visualise any member breaking the bank to come to the rescue of the club.
Fortunately for BTC, the patronage of racing is pretty decent at the moment despite the fact that racegoers are getting the wrong end of the stick both in terms of the enormous entry fee that they have to pay each day and the racing that they have to endure. Racing has defied logic this summer season. With the administrative system in shambles, there is very little hope of any mend in the near future.
The race track has been messed up so much in the last decade that those in charge don`t how to restore things. The club discarded the use of the tan bark last decade but did not replace it with any other substance. This has resulted in the track not having a bottom. The grass cover is only a deception. Red earth is underneath the grass track. Such a track is conducive when there is no rain. If it rains, the track becomes slippery and unsafe. Topsy turvy results are only to be expected as the track doesn`t play uniformly. The use of sand to cover soft patches has also made things worse. Ignorance is often bliss because you don`t have to tax yourself to find a solution!
The racing administration has suffered immensely in the last few years due to meddling by the elected office-bearers. The officials don`t know how to do their job except to float in thin air, drifting in any direction that the wind may blow. In-and-out running has also become the name of the game and not surprisingly punters have been at the receiving end. The results more often than not, have defied logic. When the officials put up professionals with the serious charge of malpractice, the charge sheet is diluted by the Stewards making one wonder to who knows the job better. If the answer is in favour of the Stewards, then god helps the club.
Punters are charged in excess of Rs 300 every day for merely entering the first enclosure. They have to pay much more if they want entry into the stand for basic amenities. There has been a decline in the number of people attending races each day. An attendance of 7000 was par for main race days. Last week`s Derby Day attracted a crowd of about 6000 which is way below 14000 to 15,000 which was the norm.
The club may claim that it is happy with a lesser crowd as it keeps all sorts of people away from the race course. The club reportedly collected about Rs 16 lakhs by way of entry money because the tickets were exorbitant for Derby Day. The club is getting a big chunk of money. One is not sure whether the club is paying GST on the entry fee. According to the previous Secretary, the club is benefiting because GST is not levied on the entertainment industry. If the GST authorities were to realise the club is collecting more than Rs 10 crores a year and not paying any service and how much the government is missing out, there would surely be a demand in the near future.
The other danger of charging so much entry fee is the fatigue factor. How much money can a punter bring in and day out because the way racing is conducted, there is very little chance of keeping the neck above water. This will force more people to keep away. The pandemic had made people restless and they wanted to move out of their houses. Once things normalise ultimately, the entry figures are bound to fall and the club would then have to plead for people to come back. The club will have to fight with other gaming options as well that the punters would look for if they find that horse racing is a continuously losing proposition.
Unfortunately, the mandarins of the club are least interested in the promotion of the sport. The Kingfisher sponsorship was lost after it ran for a record 32 years because the sponsors felt that they were not getting the mileage for the money spent. The club authorities may be happy that there is still considerable patronage. The government has been kind in not enforcing its claims on various grounds. Things may come to haunt the club when these claims are pursued aggressively. One doesn`t see much hope in the way the sport is being administered. As the Racing Monitoring Committee appointed by the government itself had said: ``Public confidence in the way racing at BTC is at an all-time low.
The BTC is also tasked with the running of the Indian Turf Invitation Cup weekend races in March next year. The two-day event will require the club to spend huge amounts as the hosting clubs compete with each other in events outside of racing to arrange fabulous parties during these two days.
Unless BTC puts a concerted plan of action and makes every effort to woo all sections of the racing fraternity, the club could find itself in hot waters. The nimbus of trouble is hovering around.
To develop a positive action, you need a positive vision. Sadly, one doesn`t find this quality at BTC anymore. Self-patting exercise is the name of the game.