Turf trouble

Turf trouble

The historic Bangalore Turf Club, which has provided entertainment, excitement and — most importantly — been a source of income for thousands of people, is facing a battle to stay in the present premises and preserve its unique charm created over a period of almost nine decades.

The State government has asked the BTC to shift from Race Course road by December 31, firmly stating that the lease on the current premises will not be extended. The stand has come as a shock not just to BTC but to everyone concerned with horse racing, be it owners, trainers, jockeys or the punters.

With just seven months in their hands, the BTC officials are staring at an uncertain future. While they are willing to move out to the land that has been earmarked near Chikkajala-Doddjala, it is the time-frame that is looming as the biggest problem. And if the government sticks to that stand, racing activities in Bangalore could come to standstill, striking a cruel blow to a sphere of activity that concerns people from a wide spectrum of the society.

“Even with the help of modern technology it will take at least 2-3 years for building the infrastructure like we have here. It’s not easy to lay a track quickly. For all these we need time. We are not saying that we don’t shift. We are willing to move but give us the required time so that we can construct a new venue with state-of-the-art facilities,” says PV Shetty, Chairman and Senior Steward of BTC.

Indeed, the problems in front of BTC are varied. The time is simply not enough to relocate, which involves building stables that can hold about 1000 thoroughbreds and also twin tracks that is suitable for racing. The big money involved makes the whole task daunting, with 350-crore rupees required to build a new course.

“The most important aspect is money. We have the privilege of being the centre with highest turnover compared to other racing centres in the country. However, all these money go back to the punters, owners and employees. To find 350 crores in six or seven months is not that easy,” says Shetty.

The real sufferers could be the employees — around 5000, including part timers — at the BTC. “BTC has around 5000 employees. If the racing is forced to a half, their livelihood will be affected. Where will these people go? What will happen to them if the races are stopped? So we have to look into all these aspects before taking decisions,” says Shetty.
The move to relocate the course has been on for almost four decades now. The first proposal to move the BTC from the present premises was made in the 1960s. The government offered 240 acres of land near Jakkur but the authorities didn’t take up the offer. Another move to shift BTC was initiated during the tenure of Ramakrishna Hegde. However, in all these years, BTC has been successful in resolving the problem. But this time, the options seem to be very limited.

If the racing comes to a half in Bangalore, BTC will face the prospect of losing the membership of the Turf Authority of India as well as the Asian Racing Federation.  “BTC cannot even think of suspending the races. If we do that then we may lose our membership with Asian Racing Federation and Turf Authority of India. We don’t want to be in that situation,” Shetty observes.

Connectivity is another problem that could crop up once the new course comes up. “We are also little bit concerned about the connectivity. One positive point is that the Chikkajala is by the side of BIAL road. Other thing is, there is a railway station nearby. With more buses in that route and a stop for trains in that station the issue could be solved to a good extent. Without spectators no sport can survive,” Shetty said.

Round-the-year activity

If you take the off-course betting activity into account, Bangalore has almost 365 days of racing. “We have 365 days of racing that includes off-course betting. So a sudden movement is impossible for us. We faced such problems earlier too, but the issue was resolved amicably,” says the BTC Secretary, Nirmal Prasad.
The Turf Club has shrunk to 69 acres from its original 85-acre with road widening activities cutting into the land, forcing the club to use private stables with high rent. “We lost lot of space here due to road-widening. Obviously we also would like to move to another place. However, before shifting we have to build new venue. For that we need time,” Prasad added.

Shetty said BTC was happy with the allotment of land in Chikkajala. “Allotting us 95-acre of land and offering moratorium on tax are positive moves from the part of government. We are happy and pleased with the government’s gestures,” Shetty said.

The land is yet to be transferred to the BTC but Shetty said the allotment would be done soon. “In two week’s time we will get the land,” he added, expressing hope that the government would extend the deadline for shifting to at least two years more. “Obviously, we are confident the government will hear our pleas and allow us to stay here for another two years. Our chief minister is a good person who understands BTC’s problems well.”

There were reports that the BTC might use Mysore Race Club for conducting its races. But Shetty rubbishes the report. “I don’t know from where the news has come from. Moving to Mysore is not at all possible and we not for once thought about that option. Mysore is a different venue and they have their races. No venue can be a replacement for BTC,” says Shetty and adds that the process to build a new course has already been initiated.
“We have consulted with the architects in Japan, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong. After studying the property we will decide about the architecture. Understandably, it will be built with all the modern facilities. More space means we can afford to construct more stables.”

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