The year 1985 proved to be one of the most controversial in the history of Bangalore Turf Club. Allegations of rigging of races resulted in the racehorse owners being banned from becoming Stewards. We are reproducing the story written by one of India`s top journalists Raj Chengappa in the year 1985 which highlights the inglorious past of BTC and the lead players in the whole episode which led to the eclipse of racehorse owners as Stewards in Bangalore. Read on...
Since August 16, the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC), the country`s biggest racing circuit, has been enveloped in a shroud of silence that is infinitely more deafening than the raucous reverberations heard on popular race days. What`s more, the shutdown has come right in the middle of the BTC`s bustling racing season, causing panic in the ranks of those responsible for the running of the races.
The panic is, however, somewhat self-imposed. In what is easily the most traumatic - and dramatic - setback in the club`s 23-year-old history, the state Government on August 16 suspended horse-racing at the BTC following investigations by the police into the alleged rigging of two races by none other than the club`s powerful stewards.
The investigation report indicated clearly that there was definite evidence of "rigging" by some of the stewards, but a lack of enough facts prevented the police from officially charging them.
The suspension order led almost inevitably, to a fierce fracas between BTC officials and the State Government, the outcome of which is likely to change character and face of horse-racing in the city.
The two government orders passed are controversial enough to ensure that eventuality. The first stipulates that "no race-horse owner should be a steward in the managing committee of the club" and the second holds that stewards will not be allowed to bet on the races either directly or indirectly.
Though largely welcomed by the club`s 344 members and the swelling number of punters, the orders, especially the one barring race-horse owners from becoming stewards, predictably kicked up clouds of dust in racing circles.
In the BTC context, the immediate implication was that four of the nine racing stewards, who happened to be horse-owners as well. would have to resign from the club`s managing committee.
Conversely, it also meant those horse owners, the most powerful lobby in Indian racing circles, would no longer be eligible for the pivotal posts of club stewards. The stewards not only control racing in the clubs but are also responsible for enforcing the rules and are the final arbiters of disputed races.
The loudest neighs of protest, therefore, emanated from the Karnataka Race Horse Owners Association whose President Hajee Abdul Sattar Sait charged that "not allowing us to be stewards would mean eliminating the people who have the biggest stake in the game".
Sait went a length further by filing a writ petition in the high court questioning the powers of the Government to impose such rules on an autonomous club. But the Government promptly cracked the whip again by withdrawing the licence of the club to conduct off-course betting till its orders were carried out.
That was a pill too bitter to swallow. Off-course betting is the most profitable aspect of racing and BTC rakes in an average of Rs 1.25 lakh a day in earnings from the 217 off-course betting days in the season.
The crackdown appeared to be having the desired effect. Last fortnight, all four stewards-cum-race-horse owners resigned from the managing committee. Said Kumar Siddanna, ex-chairman of the club and one of the four: "We are quitting not because we think the Government is in the right but in the larger interests of the club. We don`t want it to lose any more revenue."
However, the Government was still not through. Its next move was to announce that off-course betting would remain suspended till the club incorporated the new rules as articles of its constitution, a measure, it claimed, to ensure non-violation of its orders in the future.
It then hammered the point home by announcing that the proposed racing commission would not be set up till the club held an extraordinary general body meeting and ratified the new rules.
Pushed to the rails, the club had little choice but to comply.
While the club officials continued to chaff at the bit, a majority of the punters have been backing the government horse. As P.G. Halarnkar, city police commissioner and himself a member of the club managing committee said: "I have received numerous complaints from the public about how stewards were interfering with the results of races and contrary to the code of conduct expected, were even placing heavy bets on some races."
Two races in particular sent punters galloping to the objection box. In the first, held in November last, the stewards revised the final placings despite the fact that neither the jockey nor the trainer of the losing horse had complained. The horses involved in the incident were Red Justice and Lady Myrtle.
In February, Certain Smile ridden by jockey Warren Singh, romped home by two lengths in the Linganmakki Plate.
But the jockey riding the second-placed horse, Goverdhan. raised an objection claiming that Singh had cut into his path, forcing him to check his horse. The objection was upheld and Goverdhan placed first. What queered the pitch was the fact that Goverdhan is jointly owned by two of the turf club`s stewards.
For the BTC it has proved a costly lesson. Already, the club has lost around Rs 20 lakh in revenue from off-course earnings and, strapped for cash, it now faces the daunting prospect of cancellation of its winter races. Club officials are making frenzied efforts to get the Government to soften its stand, but with the odds stacked against them, only the very foolhardy will place bets on who will canter home the winner.
(The article was published in 1985 in India Today) Incidentally A C Satish Chandra who was a part owner in the controversial horse which got the race, is now a Steward though there are allegations he has interest in certain horses which could compromise his position as a Steward.