|Old Royal Calcutta Race Stands. Calcutta Turf Club. en.wikipedia.org|
During the British Raj, one of the nice places for recreation was the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC), founded in 1847 in Calcutta, British India (now Kolkata, India). It became the premier horse racing organization in India. The purpose of such a club was to regulate all aspects of horse racing in Calcutta. Members of the club were elected by ballot. A five-person committee ran the club whereas five stewards ran the races. As the horse racing became popular in many places, many turf courses were opened up. RCTC became the governing body for almost all courses in the sub-continent and had the authority on defining and applying the rules, that governed the growing sport. During the height of its activities, the races it organized were among the most popular and crowd-pulling social events of the calendar, opened by the Viceroy of India.
|1934 10-rupee Calcutta Derby Sweepstake ticket. en.wikipedia.org|
Organized horse races were first held successfully in India on 16 January 1769 at Akra, near Calcutta; it became a regular venue for the next forty years.
|Richard Wellesley,banned racing 1798. WordPress.com|
India being a hot tropical country, races were scheduled in the cool morning soon after sunrise with five heats of 2.5 miles.The basic idea was it was imperative to test both the speed and the stamina of the participating horses. If the result was not decided in the morning, the heats would be resumed after sundown. As for the Jockeys, they had to have a dose of good training in handling horses, particularly, when they run at gallop.
The British press had a field day on racing days and published the results with their usual punch and humor. The scoops were popular among the people who enjoyed betting on horses.
The Calcutta Derby Stakes began in 1842, where well trained maiden Arabian horses ran over 2.5 miles (4.0 km) for exceptionally high prize sand obviously the owners of horses would take home a bundle.
In 1856 the Calcutta Derby was replaced by the Viceroy's Cup. In 1860 when Lord Ulrich stepped into the race club, being a dominating person, he brought in certain sweeping changes and introduced for the first time revised rules pertaining to weight-for-age scale.
As time went by after 1880 public interest in racing had grown to such a large extent, obliging their demand, races were allowed to be held in the afternoons, and to accommodate more people, additional new stands were built.
From 1886 to 1897 Sir William McPherson became the head of the racing organization. He upgraded the rules of racing. He made a deal with the Bombay Turf Authorities under which any course in India that held races under the rules had to submit to the authority of Calcutta or Bombay.
The first Grand National in India was run in 1895 at the course at Tollygunge. 'Steeplechasing' (competitors are required to jump diverse fence and ditch obstacles) was one of the main events in the racing season. Later in 1915 the Tollygunge course was closed.
In 1922 a site to the north in Barrackpore was bought by RCTC and was developed into a race course. Later spacious stands and other facilities were added.
For the convenience of the race club and the people, the railway agreed to provide a spur line to the course that could carry both horses and spectators. The new facility was inaugurated on 27 January 1928.
By 1899 the Calcutta Turf Club became a powerful body as far as horse racing was concerned and it was the authority for rules at all of the 52 courses in the subcontinent and Burma apart from Bombay, Pune, Karachi and Kolhapur, which were under the jurisdiction of Bombay.
Thus The Calcutta Turf Club came to have the same authority as the Jockey Club in England. In the period before World War II (1939–1945) the club sought the help of Australia for guidance rather than to England.
During the Christmas time, race week became a royal event of extravaganza and publicity bonanza, an event dominated by dignitaries, government higher ups and the elite; it was a great social event and the Viceroy of India and his wife would drive in state past the grandstand while they were being cheered by the audience.
A great historical event took place in 1905. it was the royal visit by the Prince of Wales, the future King George V, who joyfully attended the races. In 1908 the Maharaja of Burdwan, Dhiraja Sri Bejoy Chand Mahtab, was the first Indian elected as a full member of the club.The club added "Royal" to its name in 1912 after King George V visited the races for the second time!!
|Royal Calcutta Turf Club. en.wikipedia.org|
Above image: Royal Calcutta Turf Club. once conducted largest sweepstakes in the world. Race Stands on Viceroy's Cup Day, c. 1910. ...........
In February 1961 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited the historical course that was started during the EIC rule and presented the trophy to the winner. As usual, attendance by the elite at the races was an important social event even in the 1960s, where the women would wear their most glamorous clothes and were the cynosure of all eyes, particularly of Marlboro men!!
To avoid cheating in such horse races techniques of detecting drugs such as benzedrine from urine or blood samples became available in the 1930s and correspondingly the rules of the Turf Club were amended so as to insist that these tests be conducted carefully to detect possible cheating. Calcutta Turf Club took such precautions long before such tests were introduced by the English Jockey Club and set a precedent in the area of malpractices at race courses.