Horse racing in Hyderabad has been around almost since the late 1800s, with races taking place at the Moula Ali Racecourse as far back as 1868.

Hyderabads tryst with horse racing From a leisurely sport to a multi-crore businessAll images: Nitin B
news Human Interest Saturday, August 11, 2018 - 15:54

"Many like to believe that it’s a matter of luck or skill but the possibility is that every person here, including me, has lost more money than they've won. However, it doesn't matter as many people come here for the thrill of watching the horses," 34-year-old Appanna shares. 

For over 20 years, Appanna has been one among many sincere patrons of the horse racing track at Malakpet, which is run by the Hyderabad Race Club (HRC).

The HRC hosts various tournaments during two seasons – monsoon and winter – with fat cash rewards split between the owner of the horse, the trainer and the jockey; several crore rupees exchange hands in legal betting.   

Horse racing in Hyderabad is far from a new sport and has been around almost since the late 1800s, with races taking place at the Moula Ali Racecourse as far back as 1868.

"Though the sport was conducted by resident Englishmen, it was run systematically and stiff competition prevailed amongst them. The oriental sports magazine talks frequently of the Parimutuel betting and in 1873, quoted the winner of the previous years’ 'Melbourne Cup', 'The Quack' taking part in the Hyderabad Gold Cup and getting beaten into second place," the HRC says on its official website.

History

It was under Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad from the Asaf Jah dynasty, that racing really found its feet in the city.

The Nizam was a fan of horses, evident as all his palaces in the city had stables, and he would ride almost every day. In fact, Mahbub Mansion even overlooked its own private race course, the very same one used today by the HRC.

The Malakpet race course also had a Polo ground in the middle; one out of the total 16 grounds in the city that would frequently hold matches. 

In 1886, the race course shifted to its present grounds at the Nizam's request and flourished there till 1896.

The Nizam's Gold Cup, which exists to this day, also began in 1886 and is probably one of the oldest events in India's racing calendar, with the Nizam personally sponsoring it and handing out a prize money of Rs 600.

"The season in Hyderabad was always conducted in the Monsoon and the Nizams Cup was the focal point. Later, a regular racecourse was constructed on the land belonging to the Cantonment at Secunderabad. Encouraged by the healthy state of affairs of the sport in the city and the formation of the South India Turf Club in 1956, the 7th Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, as a gesture of goodwill, sold to the Hyderabad Race Club, 126 acres of the present land, at a nominal price," the HRC states.

As a result, HRC is the only turf club in the country which owns the entire property where races are held.

How it works

Races are decided well in advance and on the days that races are conducted in Hyderabad and other turf clubs, any person above the age of 12 can enter the HRC complex and place their bets at the designated counters. 

Even if a race is being held at any of the other turf clubs across the country, it is displayed on a screen and bets can be placed. 

While some races specify that only certain types of horses can participate, like Colts, Geldings and Fillies, for example, others are open to all.

Depending on the weight of the horse and some other factors, a handicap is decided and the jockeys and their saddles are weighed to ensure that all horses start on an equal footing. 

Besides being able to place bets at the race track in Malakpet, the HRC also has several registered 'off-course totes', where people can watch the races on a screen and place their bets.

The HRC has totes at AS Rao Nagar, Musheerabad, Lower Tank Bund, Tolichowki, Uppal, Balanagar, Khairatabad and even outside Hyderabad in cities like Vijayawada, Kurnool, Visakhapatnam, Guntur, Kakinada and Kurnool. 

According to the HRC's rulebooks, "No bets for less than Rs 60 on races conducted at the Race Course in Malakpet shall be accepted by bookmakers while no bets for less than Rs 40 shall be accepted by bookmakers on inter-venue betting conducted at the Race Course in Malakpet."

Trainers get paid more than jockeys for each race because as one of the employees put it, “Jockeys are like the driver of a car while trainers are like the mechanic. They understand what the horse wants and needs. While being a jockey requires a lot of skill, so does being a trainer.”

The Grand Stand at Malakpet

The crowd rises as horses turn the corner

However, it is the horse owners who take home the most amount of money and since they often own more than one horse, it becomes a lucrative venue to capitalise on. 

For example, if the owner of a winning horse in a race gets to take home Rs 2.67 lakh, the proportional ‘professional fee’ for the trainer would be Rs 32,400 while the jockey would go home with Rs 24,300.

Economics

For perspective on how much money goes around, the five turf authorities at Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore and Hyderabad had a combined turnover of Rs 110.25 crore in just betting and gate money alone, and this was in 1984.

In July this year, HRC Chairman R Surender Reddy told reporters that the 28-day Monsoon season alone, while handing out trophies and cash prizes worth Rs 14.74 lakh, would involve a total stake money of Rs 9.89 crore, roughly amounting to Rs 1.88 lakh per horse.

However, many say that much larger amounts exchange hands illegally as bets are placed inside the stands with unlicensed bookies, to dodge paying taxes on the amount that they lose or win.

The turf clubs are also facing another hurdle with the recently passed Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, which puts horse racing in the 28% tax bracket.

In the same press meet, Reddy also lamented that the latest move would only promote illegal betting, resulting in the turf club and the government losing more revenue.

"Racing in the olden days used to be a leisurely sport enjoyed by the connoisseurs, where horses were owned by enthusiasts. Racing as an activity was indulged purely for the pleasure of the game and the love for horses. Unfortunately, today it has become rather commercial and most horse race owners have little knowledge of racing. Racing is usually seen as a business opportunity and owning horses is mostly associated with social status. For many owners, the goal is to be seen on the race track receiving trophies and their photographs appearing in the newspapers. Hence, it’s important that we do everything possible to bring back the lost charm of racing for pleasure and not for gain," one observer notes. 

But this has not stopped Hyderabad from loving the races. Horse racing in Hyderabad continues to thrive and attracts thousands of people in the city every season.

 

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