Friday, 29 July 2016

Some finteresting facts of Royal Calcutta Turf Club

Old Royal Calcutta Race Stands. Calcutta Turf Club.
When the East India Company became well established in India, to run the vast lands acquired by them, they needed the services of more people from England and other European countries especially  to take care of many works, constructions, military, etc. Calcutta became a seat of power  and a hub of commercial activities. Accustomed  as they were, to  many social activities, recreation etc during holidays, back home, foreigners could not  find any place to socialize, booze, etc in tropical India. Soon they opened up some clubs for social gathering, fun and relaxation. With a large cavalry as part of military, sports such as hunting, polo and racing were  good recreations to keep the people engaged during vacations, etc. Horse racing  was an important recreation in England and other countries - a place for the elite and aristocrats to indulge in sports and talk about their royal titles, estates, etc., For the lily white ladies or Mem  Sahibas, their expensive costumes, valuable jewelry, etc were the main topics  to be bragged about.
 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.
You will be surprised to know in the 1930s the Calcutta Derby Sweeps, organized and run by RCTC had an enviable position of being  the largest sweepstakes in the world!!  Even after independence in August, 1947 this exclusive private club is active and organizes horse races during certain periods and, it is said, that they have farms, including stud farms to take care of horses. It is still an exclusive private club and still operates the Kolkata Race Course. 

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.
When you go back on its early days, the race club hit the road block temporarily as Governor Richard Wellesley disapproved of organized racing, and banned it in 1798 for the simple reason that the race track was rough and narrow. However, horse racing was back on the track. Later  the Bengal Jockey Club resumed racing at Akra. Now the new venue is  the Maidan area of Calcutta in 1809, where they are still held. It was in 1840 a new viewing stand was built for the convenience of patrons, club members, and others.

 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.

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.