Horses have been a part of Indian culture since the times when the epics were being written. The scholars have mentioned some of the greatest partnerships between horses and kings who defeated the wind. But apart from the mythic legends, the actual history of the fastest horses can be traced back to the 18th century when horse racing was introduced in India for the first time. The country-bred horses gained prominence when the races were held in Madras in the 1780s. Soon after, the Arab horses were brought to Calcutta as they were the finest racers the people of India have ever witnesses in horse races. As more areas in India became a part of the British Colony, the popularity of horseracing was also spreading. By the mid of the 19th century, the big cities of India like Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore, and Bombay had their own racecourses.
British India started importing horses from various countries in the early 19th century, and many horse racing tournaments started shaping up. It became a complete sport around India with more than a hundred racing courses built by 1862.
The Madras Race Course
The first professional racecourse in India was completed in 1777 in Madras and was known as Guindy Race Course. Today known as Chennai, Madras was the first city to professionally conduct horse racing with country-bred horses. It is operated by Madras Race Club who have hosted some of the most famous races including the Classic Indian Turf Invitation Cup. Known personalities like King Don Alfonso of Spain, the Earl and Countess of Derby, and even the President of India have witnesses the greatest races in the Madras Race Couse.
The Kolkata Race Couse
Formerly known as the Calcutta Race Course, this racing ground has been present in the city since 1820. Some of the special race events like the Indian Turf Invitation Cup and the Sprinter’s Cup have been played here. This was the time when Arab horses were being introduced in the races which became popular for their strengths, stamina, and speed.
The Mahalaxmi Race Course
Soon after the popularity of many racecourses around India, Bombay also wanted its very own horse racecourse. It was completed in 1883 by the Royal Western India Turf Club Ltd. It has a span of 225 acres and is one of the most prestigious racecourses in India. This racecourse was the biggest in India when it was first built with a racetrack of 2400 meters and a seating limit of 5500 people.
Until the 1930s there were only two Turf Authorities, one was in Calcutta and the other one in Bombay. As there was a need for an authority to maintain the Indian Stud Book, it was decided that the Royal Western India Turf Club Ltd will become the ‘Keepers of the Indian Stud Book’. The first volume of the book was published in 1942. The RWITC made a different department for the Stud Book which remained till 1981. Later it was decided that as the Stud Book serves all the horse race events in India, there should be a separate authority to handle the book rather just a department in the RWITC Ltd. This led to the change in the entire committee of RWITC, which became the committee for the Stud Book Authority of India.
When the Stud Book Authority was recognized on an international level in 1980, it was invited to join the International Stud Book Committee. The International Stud Book committee consists of nine members from around the world. Today the Stud Book Authority of India represents Asia along with Japan as the second zone representative for Asia.
More about the Mahalaxmi Racecourse
The Mahalaxmi Racecourse was not the actual place where the horseraces used to take place in Bombay during the British Colonial Period. Horse racing began way too before the Mahalaxmi racecourse was established. The original site for horse racing in Bombay was not Mahalaxmi racecourse but the Bombay Turf Club. It was established in 1802 by Captain G. Hall, Sir Charles Forbes, P. Hadow, and A Campbell, the four founders of horse racing in Bombay. It was only until 1883 when the racecourse was moved to a 226-acre plot known as Mahalaxmi flats.
This was the vision of Sir Cusrow N. Wadia who wanted to build a showpiece from barren land. He offered an interest-free loan to the Bombay Turf Club to build a proper racecourse with grandstands. The grandstands were modelled after a Melbourne racecourse. The project was completed under the supervision of Major J.E. Hughes who also became the secretary of the Western India Turf Club. Later in 1935, the name of the club was changed once again to Royal Western India Turf Club under the permission from Kind George V, the emperor of British Colonial in that time.
The Mahalaxmi Racecourse is a 2400 metre track with the longest straight of 600 metres in the country. The grandstands are perfectly designed to provide the view of the entire track from one place. Today the stadium is owned by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and the State government. The RWITC also holds the studbook of horseracing under the StudBook Authority of India which also represents Asia at the International StudBook Committee.
Betting In RWITC
According to the history of RWITC, betting was legal until 1912 under the bookmakers. After 1912 the British Colonial government abolished bookmakers and brought it tote monopoly. According to the tote system, the bets were made based on the totalisators handled by the club, which calculated the dividends based on the total amount of stake rather than depending odds. This made betting popular among the middle-class men who could also benefit from the betting system. An electrically operated tote system was installed by a company from Australia, which attracted more crowd than ever. A dividend record of 48 lakh INR was won by a Bollywood lyricist, Rajendra Kishan.