A storm in the offing

BANGALORE Nov. 1 . What was thought to be a mere tempest in a tea-cup is holding out ominous signs of a full blown storm. There is plenty of talk and mounds of correspondence but neither the Bangalore Turf Club nor the trainers and the owners have come to terms with several key issues that have surfaced in the last few weeks.

The Bangalore Summer Season is scheduled to start on Nov. 8. More importantly, the final entries close on Nov. 3 for the opening day, ironically the one chosen by the BTC for a meeting with the trainers!

Ahead of this meeting the trainers have sought postponement of the final entries. The club is yet to respond. It may not be a major problem since it is a matter of administrative adjustment. But of greater significance is the outcome of that meeting.

The trainers are clearly looking for something more tangible than reassurances on the revision of Medication rules. In common with the owners, the trainers are also campaigning for a hike in Stake Money.

The owners and trainers contend that the stony silence on the part of the club is indicative of its intransigence.

The advance prospectus released by the BTC covering the first three days of the season has already been scoffed at by the trainers. The Karnataka Trainers Association has expressed concern that the BTC has finalised the prospectus without giving the KTA an opportunity to make its stand clear on the issues pertaining to re-framing of the programme and to tackle the perennial problem of numerous races going void.

Interestingly, the BTC points an accusing finger at races going void as one of the reasons for reducing the number of racing days this season.

Apart from its displeasure over the prospectus condition in respect of oats subsidy being made available only for 40 racing horses and 20 two-year olds as against the KTA request for a ratio of 60-20, the trainers body is also pursuing its campaign for a fresh look at the medication rules. The KTA charge is that the BTC has failed to act upon its own assurances given in May last year by the then Chairman, Mr Marilingaiah.

In a related development, the Karnataka Racehorse Owners Association is also vigorously fighting for more stake money. The KROA has categorically stated that BTC's continued silence is as mystifying as it is painful for the owners who are undoubtedly the `back bone' of the sport. The KROA Secretary Ashok Raghavan is pulling no punches. He says the KROA will stand firm till the row that has arisen meets its logical end.

The KROA stand is that the advertised stake money being offered for the ensuing season is Rs 4.93 crore as against Rs.5.42 crore last Winter, resulting in a reduction of about Rs.49 lakh.

The number of race days has been fixed this season at 35 as against 39 last season. This means that the number of advertised races have come down from 254 last Winter to 229 this term.

The KROA dismisses out of hand the BTC assertion that the number of race days had been reduced keeping in view the numerous races that had been going void. The KROA line on this is that the BTC stands to gain when races go void as the stake money relating to these races is totally saved. In fact the only one who loses out when races go void is the `owner'.

Outlining several `cardinal' points in its response to the Draft Prospectus, the KROA maintains that the actual quantum of stakes proposed to be reduced will be in excess of Rs.70 lakh after taking into account the division of races and incentives given to the owners.

The KROA points out that the Basic Training Fee has gone up from Rs.6,495 per horse per month to Rs.7,450. There has been an increase in stake money of 10 per cent in Hyderabad, 15 per cent in Mysore and 10 per cent in Madras. As a result of the increase in Hyderabad, the difference between the level of stakes offered at Bangalore and Hyderabad is just about five per cent.

Taking the Hyderabad example further, the KROA points out in its newsletter that is being circulated among its members that Hyderabad during the financial year 2002-03 held 487 races for a stable strength of 600 horses for a ratio of 0.81 while during the same period for the 1000 horses stationed here Bangalore had 486 races and taking into account that Bangalore based horses run in half the races of the Mysore season — that is 85 — the total number of races run involving Bangalore horses would be 571 for a ratio of 0.57.

Though the stake level at Hyderabad is lower than that of Bangalore the per capita stake per owner at Hyderabad will be much higher than that of the owners in Bangalore.

All the three sides concede that the proposed meeting between the BTC and the trainers on Monday is crucial. Unless an end to satisfy all parties is achieved through means of diplomacy and give and take, there could well be an impasse that may threaten the start of the season. It is reliably learnt that the Managing Committee of the BTC is in no mood to relent, a stubborn stand that many in the opposing camps are attributing to an `ego trip'.

From last Summer to this, owners and trainers say, there is a lot of difference. This time, owners claim, they are not going to budge.

The day of reckoning is Monday. The day of final entries, the day racing community hopes will bring a touch of finality to this unsavoury row and ushers in a new Summer.

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