The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gallop goals, breeze-up bids
- THOROUGHBREDS fetch a fortune at ‘CHEESE-AND-WINE’ show

Twenty horses on the trot, Deepak Khaitan not throwing in his hat, a women’s syndicate being formed by the ‘parade ring’ and going home happy with five-year-old Deep Finesse, chiffons and pearls brushing against the stray T-shirt and jeans, Special Happening breezing up to Rs 3.45 lakh…

In a bid to give itself “a major image makeover”, the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) made its annual Breeze-Up Sales a “cheese-and-wine” fare late on Tuesday. On the block were 20 horses, 16 of them “racing-ready”, the others — two-year olds — yet to get off the blocks. Only one didn’t make it to the ring, while the rest drew bids from Rs 75,000 to Rs 3.45 lakh.

“Racing is the only sport that runs on snobbery. But its glamour has been dwindling, mainly because GenerationX has distanced itself from it,” said RCTC veteran Ram Gupta. To set that right, the Turf Club decided to make the fifth edition of the Breeze-Up Sales a social gathering to be seen at — for both the young in trendy outfits and the not-so-young in dark Givenchys.

So, the guest list ran into 800-odd, most of them socialites, some die-hard racing fans. Not more than a couple of hundred turned up, but by the end of the show, Vineet Varma, secretary and CEO of RCTC, was a happy man. “For the first time in Calcutta, a ladies’ syndicate was formed and it bought a horse for Rs 1.5 lakh. That signals a welcome trend,” he said.

Deepak Khaitan, executive vice-chairman and managing director of Eveready Industries, was there, but only to watch and cheer. “I am not putting in a bid. The whole idea is to encourage young people in Calcutta to buy and race horses. That’s why we at RCTC decided to invite a lot more people than the usual frequenters to this annual auction.”

The Breeze-Up Sales is the only auction of its kind in the country, in which ‘racing-ready’ horses are sold. A three-member committee of the RCTC handpicks horses from centres like Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore to be sold here. “There are close to 300 horses that race in Calcutta. We need to push it up to 350-400,” said Khaitan.

After the horses are shortlisted, a vet examines them before the club signs the deal to buy them. “We give a host of incentives to buyers. Horses bought from the auction get 10 per cent of all stakes they win as bonus. Plus, the owners get Rs 20,000 in 10 months for upkeep,” Verma added.

From the beginning, all eyes were trained on Special Happening — the 12th horse on the block. The bidding for it started off with a larger number of trainers and owners showing interest in the five-year old winner of four races. But soon, the race narrowed down to ace trainer Vijay Singh and Ranajit Nobis (better known as Babi Nobis in the circuit).

At the end of the day, Babi pushed Vijay “beyond his budget” a bit, but the trainer didn’t really mind. Vijay netted the horse for Rs 3.45 lakh — the highest bid on Tuesday evening — for a syndicate. “It’s a performer. We all wanted it. Let’s hope it’s the gold cup horse,” Singh said.

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