The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women's gangs whip up a trend on men's turf
- Colts and trainers are the only males allowed in all-female syndicates, but the ladies say it's all for fun

Bangalore, Dec. 24: The only males allowed in are the colts and the trainer. Even the jockey is a woman.

Welcome to all-women racing syndicates which have breached this male bastion on the verdant greens of Bangalore Turf Club.

Women have been dipping into their purses and pooling in to buy pedigreed colts and fillies. So far, five syndicates of 10 women each have been formed, with the sixth set to emerge in January.

India's lone woman jockey Silva Storai has signed on to ride every horse owned by these syndicates which have agreed that only one of them would race in a particular event to avoid competing with each other.

The trend goes back two years when Silva, trainer Irfan Ghatala and Judith Bidappa, an avid equestrian fan and well-known theatre personality, were drawn to a three-year-old bay colt in the paddock. But at Rs 4 lakh, the horse was expensive.

The trainer then suggested that a syndicate of interested buyers would solve the problem. Soon 10 women contributed Rs 40,000 each and led the colt away. They christened him Strombolix (a volcano in Italy).

For all these women, racing horses is more about having fun than making money. 'It's a small investment for a great deal of fun. We must have one syndicate every year and the next one will come about in January because that's the time we buy young ones,' says Judith, wife of fashion guru Prasad Bidappa.

'Lots of women are enquiring about our syndicates and so we want to rope in more, may be 100 (which translates to 10 syndicates).'

Nandini Basappa, who is also part of an all-women syndicate, feels the same way. 'I think some more (syndicates) will happen,' the former Indian basketball captain says. 'Racing is a fun sport, and with us around there's colour and glamour. Some of us bet on horses, but only about Rs 1,000. That's only for fun. Sometimes, it's to support Silva in this tough men's world.'

For biotech entrepreneur Villoo Morawala Patell, however, the bonding has got nothing to do with races. 'I have no interest in races,' she says, 'but am part of it (syndicate) because it's a women's initiative.'

The success of the first syndicate (Force 10) spawned the rest. Strombolix won three races and the cash prizes were in excess of the investment and cost of maintenance. Soon, Fiamma (flame in Italian) acquired a three-year-old filly, La Bella Vita. The third one, Prima Vera, bought Prospero, a colt, and Minstral Racing Syndicate got Sandokan. Except for Prima Vera, all the others raked in money. The name of the fifth syndicate has not been decided yet.

The syndicates also benefit from incentives offered by the Bangalore Turf Club for owners with less than five horses. There is also the satisfaction of being trend-setters. 'I know of 10 men who got together and started the Male Storm Racing Syndicate after we started our syndicate,' says Basappa.

'Syndication is coming of age,' says Marthand Mahendra, who owns several horses and started the concept at the turf club in 1996. 'It helps to broaden the reach for more and make racing an attractive sport. It's a great thing because women bring glamour into the sport.'

All the syndicates bank on trainer Ghatala. 'The only males allowed in to our groups are the trainer and colts. We use our money to buy the horses, not our husbands',' says Judith.

Irfan says the syndicates are the 'best thing to have happened to this game', but the paperwork is taxing. 'I have to send out 10 sets of papers for each syndicate (during the racing season),' says the trainer.

As each syndicate eggs Silvia on to win a derby for them, the Italian who has made Bangalore her home has promised her best. 'That (winning a derby) will be the greatest satisfaction possible,' she says.

A derby victory in Bangalore would fetch Rs 30 lakh.

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