My experience with horse racing at the Bangalore Derby 2011
(PS: This piece was published on the racing website, racingpulse.in)
The noisy clatter of thundering hooves, the loud shouts and cheers emanating from the galleries as the public calls out names like “morning glory”, “good knight” and “moonlight romance”, while the voice on the public address grows frenetic by the minute… Welcome to the exciting and pulsating world of horse racing!
A day spent witnessing the Bangalore Derby held on January 26, 2011 was a very interesting experience. And especially so since it was also my first day at the races.
The crowds milled around everywhere as I made my way through the different floors of the main building. It’s Republic Day and the mid-week holiday is perhaps a good excuse for people to head to the race course. There is a general air of chaos around, but I realise it’s the organised kind – everyone seemed to be aware of what they’re all here for – to bet on their favourite horses and hope they win!
A bevy of beauties, shiny, well groomed and more than six feet tall are paraded around the ground as people shout out the names of their favourites. Their jockeys take position, jump onto their steeds and proceed towards the arena – the beautiful grounds of the Bangalore Race Course. The next race is about to begin.
I take position somewhere in the 3rd floor gallery, making my way through a packed crowd, which is indulging in much merriment – namely food, drink and conversation. Women sipping on wine, look out daintily onto the field, while the men peer through their binoculars to get closer to the action. I can see the gates open at the far end of the ground and in a matter of minutes, the horses are already gallopping past us. Just a few metres from the finish line, one of them manages to pull away from the group and cross the finish line. A collective shout across the galleries and it’s all over!
Making my way back into the crowds I try and get a feel of the kind of people who are here at the race today. Do these folks like horses or are they here just because they think it’s their lucky day to win some money? It’s hard to tell! There are all kinds of people in the crowd. Starting from the lower strata of society to the highest! There are the well-dressed looking group constantly peering at their Blackberrys and flipping through the little race book, as if all the answers were in there.
Some lean out of the 3rd floor windows, trying to decide on the best bet. There’s a huge population on the ground floor awaiting the results and the start of the next race. They hang around in packs – perhaps offering solace and comfort to each other as someone is bound to lose a good sum of money on this game of luck and speed!
To get a closer view of the action, I make my way to the tracks where some media folks have already taken position to get a clear view of the next race. I wait for the line-up as a helpful photographer gives me advise on the best position and tips on how to cover horse racing. I take everything in – it’s my first day at the races after all.
A few minutes later, the gates open and the attention of the crowd shifts to the far end of the track as the clattering of hooves signals the arrival of the horses. We position ourselves beside the track but have to move out almost immediately as the first horse crosses the finish line to get out of their line of sight. Just in case we distract them – you wouldn’t want a 400 something kilogram animal lose focus when moving at 40-50 kms an hour.
The late afternoon sun casts a golden glow on the race course. The action is fast and furious and soon after the horses have crossed the finish line, a whole team of people are back in the track cleaning up. I walk up a staircase to the 3rd floor of a narrow watch tower like building with creaky steps where a TV crew is capturing the action and try and check out the race from this vantage point. As the horses
approach and gallop past, they cast long moving shadows on the ground – it’s a great point for a bird’s eye view.
As the sun sets over the faraway buildings and evening darkness descends, it’s time to say goodbye. There are little bits of paper carelessly strewn everywhere. People are gathered together and leaving the stands, discussing the going-ons of the race. Many of them look disappointed and dejected, while some other seem to be quite relieved – they are probably the ones who haven’t lost all their money today!
On the 3rd floor, conversations are getting less animated, plates being piled in the corner and people are winding down. All the races for the day are now over. The horses, after their effort, are being led back into the stables where they will get their legs cooled down with multani mitti packs. I discover that it’s a hard job taking
care of these expensive steeds – the constant pampering, brushing, feeding etc. are full time duties for the men who work at the stables. Their primary job after all is grooming these horses to be champion worthy and making sure they can go out there and win more races.
Meanwhile, a gentleman packs up his little race book and places his glasses back in his pocket, his binoculars back in his bag and with one last look at the race track, he walks out. It’s time to go home. At least till he comes back another day, for another race.