In 1920, Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, then Maharaja of Mysore State, ordered the establishment of the Mysore Race Course. The iconic structure is spread across 152 acres of land in the heart of the city and overlooks Chamundi Hills.
Now, 98 years later, the Ministry for Tourism and Sericulture headed by Sa Ra Mahesh has proposed to move the Mysore Race Club Ltd 20 km outside the city limits.
Addressing the media at the Central Sericulture Research and Training Institute in Mysuru on Wednesday, Sa Ra Mahesh said, “The government will not renew the licence and the MRC (Mysore Race Club) property will be taken over by the government. The government is planning to build a world-class botanical garden on the land. We will not allow racing activities within the city limits and instead will utilise the space to promote Mysuru as a tourist hub,” he said.
The Minister said that he has convened a meeting with the administrators of the racecourse on Monday to discuss the proposal.
Mahesh had taken up the issue of relocating the racecourse to the outskirts of Mysuru in 2017. However, the MRC had approached the Karnataka High Court and obtained a stay for the same.
At the time, Mahesh had contended that the racecourse land should be handed over to the Mysuru Zoo.
History of the racecourse in Mysuru
In 1891, the then Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wadiyar, began the sport of horse racing in the kingdom’s capital. Back then, the structure where racing activities took place was called the Kebbe Katte Bungalow, where Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering is located today.
“Races were held during the birthday celebrations of Chamaraja Wadiyar. The king was very fond of horse riding and and regularly rode in the old Hinkal Race Course within the Vijaya Sripura Grounds for an hour every morning. He often brought horses to add to his stables,” said Historian, Professor PV Nanjaraje Urs, who has written extensively about the Mysore Royal family.
He says that the sons of Chamaraja Wadiyar too were fond of the sport and also set up ‘The Gymkhana’, where races were held between 1897 and 1901. “Sir M Kantharaja Urs, their uncle, was also a racing enthusiast and gymkhana was set up under his supervision. It is popularly known as Urs Gymkhana now,” Prof Nanjaraje Urs said.
However, racing also continued at the Kebbe Katte Bungalow until 1920 when a new racecourse was built by the late Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar.
“This racecourse, which still stands, has a huge stand, an office building, a paddock complex, several enclosures, a polo ground and an oval shaped race track. Over the years a golf course was also added to it. In those days, all race clubs in south India were affiliated to the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, which in turn was affiliated to the Jockey Club of England,” Urs added.
It was in 1968 that the club was made a public limited company.
Currently, the land on which the racecourse is situated belongs to the government and was leased to the turf club. Its members are not happy about the possibility of the club being relocated.
What insiders in the club allege
According to one member of the club, the standard procedure was for the government to extend the lease once it lapsed. However, the current government is unwilling to do so.
There are 250 members and new members are inducted into the club as vacancies open. The new members are elected after the existing members cast their votes in a secret ballot. Only those who win majority of votes will become members.
“Being a member of the Mysore Race Club is a matter of prestige and many businessmen and politicians of the region aspire to be a part of it. Some time ago, when Sa Ra Mahesh was an MLA, he too wanted to become a member. He had issued threats of causing trouble for the club if he was not made a member. Initially there was no vacancy but when the vacancy came up, he did not receive votes to become a member. Now he is trying to extort a membership in the name of relocating the club,” the member added.
With the stay order still in place, the MRC is mulling over approaching the court once again and contesting the Tourism Ministry’s proposal.