Royal Turf Club unfolds plans for the coming race season
The Royal Turf Club [ RTC] , held a media briefing to appraise the public of the forthcoming race season that commences on 6th August as well as the other
improvements to the facilities that have been taking place up at the Nuwara Eliya Race Track , not forgetting the investment that will come in to the
Present were the committee members of the RTC, President Mr Suranjith Premadasa, CEO of the RTC Wayne Wood, Consultant to the RTC Cyrus Madan.
Speaking on the occasion, CEO of the Royal Turf Club, Mr Wayne Wood, initially touched on the recently concluded April racing season.
“Firstly I shall mention the running of the five (5) meetings that were conducted commencing March 20th and concluded on April 30th. Thanks to the sponsorship from the Kunigal Stud near Bangalore, the club staged the first race where Rs 1,000,000 was awarded to the winner. Thirty-five (35) races were run during the Festival attracting 176 starters with Rs 11,053,250 being distributed as prize money. The five (5) thoroughbred Trainers shared Rs 1,104,500 between them while twenty-three (23) licensed riders shared Rs 828,374-50”. Wood said that not only was such a distribution of funds unheard of in Sri Lankan horse racing but said that this money has circulated amongst the local businesses in Nuwara Eliya as well thus generating income at all levels. In addition, this season saw a major boost in Sports Tourism in the area with a massive increase in bookings at all Hotels. On April 16th alone [ just one day ] there was a tremendous increase of 1000 room nights and overall the season saw an increase of 2,100 room nights. “This is a major flow on effect when this industry is conducted in a professional manner. I can assure you that if any Licensee were to be asked if they approved of the conduct of racing under the Royal Turf Club, you would receive a resounding YES”. Thirty three [ 33] individual owners also participated over the 5 days.
Wood acknowledged the contribution of their sponsors who played a major role in the success of the April Racing Festival as sponsors do in any event. The sponsors who came on board were the Rupavahini Corporation , Channel Eye , Dashmesh Stud Farm, The Sporting Times, Blackpool Hotel, Alpine Hotel, Edwards Collection , Ministry of Tourism , Sporting Star , Araliya Green Hills Hotel, Grand Hotel , Kunigal Stud ,The Hill Club, Wijaya Newspapers, 88.3 , 110/100.2 , 88.1, Usha Stud Farm, CWC ,Continental Plantations and EBC Ascot.
The 20th March to April 30th racing season also saw a record number of pony races. In addition to the thoroughbreds who participated, 22 ponies ran in
11 races to total 59 starts. 19 pony Owners received a total of Rs 880,687-50 in prize money , while Jockeys received a total of Rs 80,062-50 and Trainers
Rs 106,750, thus firmly establishing horse racing as the common mans sport.
Prior to that and in preparation to conducting the races, the buildings were painted, water leakages were addressed, toilets were revamped, the jockeys room was completely guttered and modernized with a new ceiling, new showers and toilets, as was the Stewards Room. Gardens with colorful flowers were created where weeds use to flourish. The dirt road, which was muddy when raining was converted into a bitumen road. Not only were the state of the buildings addressed, the track too required attention with a new running rail . The surface too needed top dressing with sand and fertilizer, all of which resulted in a superb racing surface over the five (5) days.
The above work created employment in the local area during this time where local contractors were designated for the various improvements to be completed. Approximately 200 people were given employment during this period and benefitted.
Currently the club employees nine (9) local people to care for the track as well as others for watering. There are three (3) full time gardeners, one (1) racecourse supervisor and three (3) cleaners who also do other tasks to maintain the buildings and surroundings.
“We have earmarked a Special Race Day in aid of the Cancer Hospital and this is just one example of our committed solidarity to Charity. In fact charity will be an ongoing association and not just an off the cuff one time affair” said Wood.
With regards to the future activities of the RTC, Wood said there was plenty to look forward to in the future as the Royal Turf Club moves into the second racing season which will commence on August 6th with racing taking place nearly every two weeks until 13th May 2017. Over this period 19 race days will be conducted, while sponsors have already indicated their interest to come on board. “We are still negotiating the finer details with two international brands” said Wood.
The RTC’s feature days are: Saturday 6th August a Cancer Hospital Charity Race Day, Saturday 17th September a Ladies Days where the RTC hopes to have a lady rider, Saturday 29th October will be an Indian theme to celebrate Deepawali, Saturday 5th November will be a Guy Fawkes theme with special activities for children and Saturday 10th December will be the Christmas Cup Meeting.
With regards to foreign investment Wood said that the RTC had been approached by foreign Investors who had closely monitored it’s performance over the April Season. “Naturally the club will discuss any proposals they have and if the proposal will be of benefit to the Sri Lankan people, the Nuwara Eliya community and the racing industry we shall definitely take the matter further” said Wood.
Wood also hinted of a significant investment coming in to the RTC via a country noted for its support since World War 2 . “ I cannot divulge the details just yet but the minute we know, you will know”.
The site of the current saddling yard will be replaced by the Equine Hospital. “We have been extremely fortunate to have had the expertise of Dr Hasneyn Mirza, a leading Veterinarian Surgeon from India to guide us in this process by selecting the necessary equipment and designing the hospital as he has done for race clubs in India”. There will be an operating theatre, a recovery room, x-ray and scoping rooms. The whole hospital complex will cover an area of about quarter of an acre and it will be able to treat at least 5 horses at any given time. Wood reiterated the fact that the Equine Hospital will be the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka. The hospital will also have a section for small animals. The ponies in the area will be registered and provided with regular health screening. The hospital will be run on the basis of voluntary payment. In other words, payment for treatment will not be compulsory and Pony owners and Small animal owners could voluntarily contribute whatever amount they could.
Dr. Jeyentrabalaji Thangaraj will take over the duties of Resident Vet from July, and will reside on sight to take care of any emergencies. “He is a very experienced and qualified veterinarian who has a wide range of experience as well as International exposure. Training opportunities will be offered for Veterinary students from the Veterinary faculty in Peradeniya to create a crop of veterinarians who will be thorough with modern technology and modern methods which will help to raise the level of the health of the animal population in Sri Lanka.
A new saddling enclosure will also be constructed behind the jockey room. Currently under construction is a sand track for exercising the additional horses that have arrived and are also in quarantine in Chennai. Some 35 extra horses will be using the track from the start of the season. “We are confident that more horses will arrive during the season and plans have also been approved for an equine swimming pool”.
Wood said “There are many benefits for horses from swimming as it increases flexibility in muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. The increase blood flow speeds any healing process, it improves muscle strength and the horse gains power as well ”.
Yet another first for Sri Lanka will be a horse auction! The RTC will be conducting an auction of new horses from India following the race meeting on August 6th. “We shall produce a catalogue with the breeding and racing details of all the horses who have been given a clean bill of health by Dr Mirza, who not only inspected them but also took x-rays of their legs and the auctions will be conducted under the strict supervision of vets as well as animal welfare authorities”, said Wood.
Wood also said that a new set of starting gates had been purchased which are being made in Chennai. “They are the same as the gates used at the Bangalore Turf Club and should be here next month.
Wood said that the new gates are made of a lighter steel and have more padding and will be the first gates in the world to be used on race day with a specially designed roller to prevent a horse being jammed. “This has been tested in practice gates so we know it works well.”
With regards to betting, Wood said that the RTC had received several verbal and written complaints that there was no betting on course. “The RTC does not have any intention of conducting any betting at this stage” affirmed Woods.
Wood went on to say that it is a popular myth (here and not abroad) that horse racing is associated with gambling. “It is not. On the contrary the BIGGEST races (The Dubai world cup) are all non gambling races. In fact the Indian Supreme court passed a ruling where it is clearly stated that ‘Horse racing is a game of skill’ when asked to rule on the association of horse racing with gambling”. There are two types of business models in racing ; (a) Gambling Associated Races ,(b) Non Gambling Races (Commonly known now as the Dubai Model) . “There are over 30 racing facilities in the world which are in the US$ 250- 500 Million cost (Investment) range which are run on the Dubai Model . 23 of them are in the Middle East. The Dubai Model raises income strictly via Sponsorships and Spectatorship. In fact, even race courses where gambling is allowed are turning more and more to the Dubai Model due to the steady fall in betting on horse racing and a steady rise of betting in Football and other sports. As per the European gaming and Betting association report , (http://www.egba.eu/facts-and-figures/studies/6-sports-betting-report/) betting on horse racing has fallen by 17% between 2010 and 2013 and is continuing to fall. According to the same report Horse racing now accounts for only 1.7% of the global gambling market of US$ 317 Billion in 2015”. Wood also said that it is also a fact that non gambling race courses pay the highest stakes today. Given below is a list of some of the highest prize monies paid in some of the biggest race courses in the world, with Dubai (a non gambling course) paying the highest stakes in 2015 at US$ 10 Million with the second Preakness a far second at US$ 1.5 Million.
- Preakness - 1,500,000- Gambling Associated.
- Belmont Stakes - 800,000- Gambling Associated.
- Kentucky Derby - 1,240,000- Gambling Associated.
“As such our business model is based on the Dubai model which will not only generate higher profits for investors but also will ensure longevity for horse racing after betting on horses is long gone”.
With tourism being a key foreign exchange earner, horse racing is bound to bring in many high spending tourists as is the case around the world, evidenced at the Royal Ascot, the Melbourne Cup, in Dubai, Japan, Hong Kong and elsewhere. “ With the proper development of this sport, tourism will greatly benefit, resulting once again in the generation of employment both directly as well as indirectly, not forgetting valuable foreign exchange that will be brought into the country.
As for the generation of employment, Wood said, “ with the additional race meetings, the additional horses, the construction that is ongoing, there are many jobs in the offering for the right people. This is not only fantastic for the community but for the whole of Sri Lanka ”.
For Thoroughbred Racing in Sri Lanka to be recognized on the international stage and in order to be accepted as a member of the Asian Racing Federation, a Thoroughbred Stud Book is a must . “ The RTC has organized a meeting on July 5th inviting the owners and breeders, where Mr. Satish Iyer, the Manager of the Stud Book of India, will be guiding the group on the process towards setting up a Stud Book. Once this is finalized another new industry will be created to complement the racing industry”. Woods added that once again employment will be created vis a vis needing to care for the mares and foals, more fodder will have to be produced in Sri Lanka to cater for the additional horses and all other associated requirements that will help the communities where the various studs are situated.
Wood stressed the fact that the RTC would work with the Government and support them in their attempts to unite the various Animal Welfare Groups into one body for the universal protection of animals in Sri Lanka. He also said that any person or organization could visit the stables at any time and inspect them to ascertain for themselves the welfare of the horses . “The RTC has gone all out to ensure the horse’s well being and in fact it is widely known and acknowledged that in most cases Race Horses are better looked after than many humans “. Yet anther first for the RTC is that prior to the RTC, containers used to transport horses across the oceans from India resulted in many fatalities. The new containers the RTC has brought down are designed in such a manner that the horses could travel with maximum comfort. Wood said “This is also the very first time anyone has used padding inside the stalls to ensure that Horses are not injured due to the movement of the ship or rough seas”.
CHARITY / CSR
In many parts of the world, racing supports a number of charities and in Sri Lanka too this will be the case. “Hospitals , schools, housing, are all part of RTC’s plans to uplift the community, while RTC President, Mr Suranjith Premadasa is working on a very special medical project, the details of which will be divulged once finalized . “Obviously the race course (along with foreign Investors) is not a charitable organization. However, just like any other organization operating in a civil society, the RTC also has a social obligation. The RTC has earmarked certain causes which need immediate attention and RTC believes it is in a unique position to help because this is one of the few sports in Sri Lanka which attracts the rich and poor alike”. A few ways it plans to achieve this without eating into its profitability and survival are;
- (a) Hold charity specific race days.
- (b) To contribute a certain % of the prize monies to such causes as cancer.
- (c) To contribute a certain % from the horse sales to charities.
In closing Wood expressed the appreciation of the RTC towards their many sponsors for their contribution in varying degrees which made the last season the success it was. “Now that we have proved that Thoroughbred racing can be run professionally, we are being approached by companies interested in being a part of this worldwide industry. The support we have had from the media is also much appreciated . You have taken our message to the people of Sri Lanka and introduced them to a sport that is enjoyed in far off places that will surprise you like Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Peru, Bolivia, Martinique, to name just a few . I am convinced that with the support of all participants, the RTC motto of “Horse Racing at the Highest Level” can be achieved not only in altitude but also in the eyes of horse racing lovers across the globe. I hope that you are looking forward to the start of the next racing season on August the 6th with as much excitement as a child on Christmas Eve. I know we are”.
Mr Cyrus Madan, Consultant to the RTC made a presentation which gave all present an idea of the scope and magnitude of the work that is going on up in Nuwara Eliya and further served to underline RTC’s commitment to the upliftment of horse racing as well as that of the surrounding community.
The evening concluded with a fashion show by Ramona Oshini . As we all know fashion is an integral part of horse racing worldwide and the RTC hopes that this industry too would receive a boost as a result of Sri Lanka becoming an international race hub . “ As you can see the Royal Turf Club’s activities will boost the overall economy of the country covering numerous sectors and benefitting thousands of individuals both on and off the race track”, said Wood.