The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gallop goal for ailing Ascot

Marvel at the old photo-finish cameras catalogued by Bowrings inside the unique racing museum. Sip and bite at the coffee patio and open hot-wok stops. Sit back and enjoy the majestic spectacle of night racing in air-conditioned comfort'

The Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC), once the Ascot of this part of the world now languishing in neglect and non-use, is poised for a meaningful makeover to morph into a 'landmark showpiece'.

As the RCTC's city club on Russell Street readies for take-off early next year, the turf club brass is busy setting gallop goals to resuscitate the race course.

'Our aim is to create financially-viable, self-sustaining units in the existing spaces that will add to the club's entertainment value without disturbing the laid-back ambience of the race course and the high energy of the sport itself,' explains steward J.N. Sapru, also chairman of the club's think-tank on development.

Consultants The Safe Consortium, anchoring the remodelling project, are focusing on a few core areas.

Restoring architecture, giving the stands a facelift, bringing back life to the campus through food and leisure, tracing hallowed history in the racing museum and promoting sports tourism around thoroughbred racing are priority points.

'We are confident of generating enough funds from the city club on Russell Street to support development on the race course. We will be careful not to violate any local regulations while creating events around the place and making it more accessible,' adds Sapru.

Architect Dulal Mukherjee, working on the basic design concept, feels the race course can be transformed into an exciting destination without disturbing the fundamental fabric of racing.

'With some cosmetic changes and self-sustainable add-ons, it could become a must-visit for the Calcuttan as well as visitors to the city,' he observes.

The veteran architect-planner is keen to include recreational activities to fill up the 40-minute 'in-between spaces' from one hectic two-and-a-half-minute race to another by utilising the lush green strips in front of the stands.

'Both the built forms and the open spaces are unique assets and both must be leveraged,' Mukherjee adds.

The vast open spaces will be utilised for other sporting activities ' from kite-flying festivals to aero-modelling ' to keep the race course thriving even during the non-racing periods.

Part-renovation and part-restoration of existing structures to increase their utility and make them economically viable are also on the cards. A 'valley of flowers', like the tulip gardens in Amsterdam, will be created in the heart of the campus.

All this can be viable only if actual racing activity picks up pace.

'We have to develop a few signature events and focus on landmark races, like the Invitation Cup next year, to bring in local crowds as well as tourists. Facilities to attract international enthusiasts of thoroughbred racing must also be created and we must strive for a younger footfall,' says a club official.

To begin with, parts of the Members' Stand and the Grand Stand will be air-conditioned and convenience points created to add to the comfort levels.

Three years down the line, RCTC could introduce night racing. 'It's a perfect open-air outing after work, in a clean and unique ambience that can't be matched at nightclubs,' the official adds.

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