Mumbai

Following dual passions, on the same turf

Multitasking:  Suhail Mohammed, estate officer, RWITC, has been providing commentary for races for 30 years.

Multitasking: Suhail Mohammed, estate officer, RWITC, has been providing commentary for races for 30 years.

Fueled by a passion for horse race commentary and making the tracks race-ready as estate officer at the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC), Suhail Mohammed plays two different roles on one turf.

As estate officer, also known as clerk of the course (COC), Mr. Mohammed is in charge of maintaining the tracks at the race courses in Mumbai and Pune. And in the commentary box, he has been keeping pace with the races for three decades.

Mr. Mohammed, who grew up in Hyderabad, began this journey in 1985 as a race day announcer at the Hyderabad Race Club (HRC). After graduating in 1987, he applied for the post of an understudy racing official at the HRC, and was appointed as the assistant COC. From 1988 to 1996, he was trained by his mentors N.N. Reddy, Koti Reddy and Col. S.L. Reddy.

His passion for horse race commentary was groomed by senior commentator Ali Khusro Jung, and soon he caught the attention of N.N. Reddy, the secretary of the HRC at the time, who made him sit in the commentator’s box.

The first race Mr. Mohammed called was in 1988. And though it was a close call between two horses, Vijay Dhara and Carl Lewis, he managed to pick the right winner to prove his mettle. He was promoted to COC at the HRC in 1997. In June 2009, he shifted to Mumbai and joined the RWITC as estate officer.

“To become a race commentator, there is no formal training or course. It’s a passion [that] should come from within oneself. When you do the commentary for any game, for instance cricket, football or hockey, there is a chance to correct yourself — if you misidentify Sachin as Sehwag, you can correct yourself in seconds. But here, we don’t have that chance as the pace is so fast, the horses have moved way ahead before you can fix the error. Even today, after 30 years of my career, when I do a race, I come out of the commentator’s box and I check the replay for where I have gone wrong and correct myself in future,” Mr. Mohammed says.

His main profession as COC is no less challenging either, and something he trained for hands-on. “Being a commerce graduate, I learnt more through experience under the guidance of N.N. Reddy and Col. S.L. Reddy. It’s more about experience than being an agricultural graduate or horticulturist, as [such courses can only teach you about] the vegetation part of it, like how to grow the grass, maintain the plants or to give an ethnic look to the race course. But the main job of a COC is to provide proper underfoot conditions for racing on the track. I have to walk on the track every race day to take stock of the situation, to check the ground conditions and weather pattern, and take a decision. There cannot be a set pattern, it differs from one race course to another.”

Before the racing season gets under way at the Mahalaxmi race course in Mumbai, where key races like the Indian Derby, 1000 & 2000 Guineas, Indian Oaks and Poonawalla Breeders Multi-Million are conducted, Mr. Mohammed talks about the groundwork.

“When the monsoon starts retracting in September in Mumbai, that is when we cut the grass, level it, put the organic fertilisers and trim the grass to allow it to grow up to the mark where racing can be conducted. Besides the track, we have to work on the stable areas. They are beneath the sea level, due to which there is a lot of waterlogging during the monsoon. We start cleaning up the stables after September to carry out civil repair, painting work, cementing and carpentry before the horses arrive from Pune in November. We also ensure that the grand stands and the public enclosures are done up for the start of the racing season.”


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Printable version | May 22, 2022 2:51:14 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/following-dual-passions-on-the-same-turf/article27585508.ece