Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Historical Royal Calcutta Turf Club,colonial legacy Kolkata


Calcutta Turf Club race course stands before 1905 en.wikipedia.org
Though horses were widely used in ancient India, it was during the British  rule horse racing became  popular events conducted  by the clubs and the  members were mostly Europeans, Indian rulers and  elite. In the early development stages, admission was based on by invitation only. 

Royal Calcutta Turf Club. Buzzintown
Barrackpore course N of calcutta. en.wikipedia.org

During the British Raj, the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC), founded in 1847 in Calcutta ( Kolkata,), became the premier horse racing organization in India. It became  the governing body for almost all courses in the sub-continent, defining and applying the rules that governed the sport. During the height of colonial rule even after the direct administration by the British Crown (after 1858),  the races it organized were believed to be among the most  popular social events of the calendar, opened by the Viceroy of India. During the 1930s the Calcutta Derby Sweeps, organized by the club, was the largest sweepstakes in the world. Even today it is still an exclusive private club and still operates the Kolkata Race Course.
Royal Calcutta Turf Club Race Viceroy's Cup Day, c.1910. en.wikipedia.org
Soon after the fall of Bengal in the wake of East India company's victory at the battle of Buxar  on 22 October 1764 between the forces under the command of the British East India Company led by Hector Munro and the combined army of Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal, the Nawab of Awadh,  and the Mughal King Shah Alam II, Calcutta gained importance as a major trading center and the  first base of British power in India. With an army based on cavalry, sports such as hunting, polo and racing were naturally important as the British army was heavily dependent on cavalry. For the first time in  India on 16 January 1769 at Akra, near Calcutta, organized horse races were  held and had continued  for the next forty years. 

Initially the races were held on  narrow, rough and poorly prepared courses. Such courses were not good for the participating horses because that would affect the performance of the horses as well as the jockeys. At this juncture, Governor Lord Wellesley prohibited horse racing in 1798, however, five years later the Bengal Jockey Club resumed racing at Akra and  races moved  over to the Maidan  area of Calcutta in 1809, where they are still being  held. A new course at approximately the current race course location was laid by the club in 1812  to facilitate the horses to run smoothly without facing hardship. The race course is in the southwest part of the Maidan. A viewing stand / gallery  was built in 1820 and it was modified extensively later.

Royal Calcutta Turf club, Calcutta. wikimapia.org
In those colonial days, races were run preferably in the cool of mornings just after sunrise, usually in five heats of 2.5 miles (4.0 km). The reason was to evaluate the performance of the horses - their stamina, retention of speed, endurance, etc. If the results of morning races were not not properly judged,  the heats were resumed after sundown. The British press regularly published the news items about Calcutta race results and its activities. The Calcutta Welter, the main horse racing event in India was moved to the new course in 1825.  The Calcutta Derby Stakes began in 1842, where maiden Arabs ran over 2.5 miles (4.0 km) for exceptionally high prizes.

 Founded on 20 February 1847, the  Calcutta Turf Club's  main function was to regulate all aspects of horse racing in Calcutta. It was run by a  five-person committee and the members of the club were elected by ballot and five stewards ran the races. The Calcutta Turf Club  copied English practices of gambling on races, named the Derby and the St Leger after the English equivalents. The club was organized in 1847 in part to regulate such gambling. In 1856 the Calcutta Derby was replaced by the Viceroy's Cup. Admission to the racing events  was by invitation only. In 1860 Lord Ulrich Browne, who took interest in  the Calcutta racing events,  was mainly instrumental in redrafting the racing rules and revising the weight-for-age scale.  In 1880 public interest in racing grew to  a greater extend  and additional stands were built accommodate more spectators.

Races were held in the afternoons. On matters concerning the rules of racing and arbitration, the Calcutta Turf Club followed the same authority as the Jockey Club in England, By 1899 the Calcutta Turf Club assumed 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.
Sir William McPherson  who headed the racing organization from 1886 to 1897  upgraded the rules of racing and made an agreement with the Bombay Turf Authorities under which any course in India that held races  had to submit to the authority of Calcutta or Bombay. Sir William introduced various other changes such as  Jockeys could not bet and professional handicappers were introduced. Steeple chasing (obstacle race) was brought under the jurisdiction of the Calcutta Turf Club in 1888. The first Grand National in India was run in 1895 at the course at Tollygunge. Steeple chasing was one of the main events in the racing season.

Apcar Alexander Apcar, a  rich merchant  and owner of  the Apcar Line of steamers, ran  a stud farm  of Australian race horses. For some time he was president of the Calcutta Turf Club in 1881. He had a new grand stand built (1905 and 1907) modeled on the Longchamp Racecourse grandstand.

 During the Christmas  race week opened, it was a tradition that the Viceroy of India and his wife would drive in state past the grandstand. The Prince of Wales, the future King George V, attended the races in 1905. 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 and in the early 20th century the Calcutta Turf Club conducted races on twenty eight days each year.

In 1915 unfortunately the Tollygunge course was closed and steeplechases were run at the Maidan course which could not be expanded because the land prices were way high.  The RCTC made a final decision to have  modern facility  built with new stands, stables and two courses, one round and one with six straight furlongs.  The railway agreed to provide a spur line to the course that could  carry both horses and spectators. 

The new facility of  RCTC was inaugurated on 27 January 1928. This site to the north in Barrackpore, which included a race course was bought in 1922 as the price was affordable. However,  Grand Nationals continued to be run at the Maidan course until 1929, when the Grand National was transferred to Lahore.  At a time before World War II (1939–1945) the club looked to Australia for guidance rather than to England. Thus  Harvey Roulston, an Australian  became  an administrator and  the Australian "Gray" gate was used in place of English starting gates, Only in 1930 methods of detecting drugs such as Benzedrine from urine or blood samples became available to avoid cheating which  the English Jockey Club followed.
1934 10-rupee Calcutta Derby Sweepstake tickete .wikipedia.org
Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC). Wikimapia
Lord William Beresford  introduced the private sweepstakes - the Calcutta Turf Club Derby draw  in 1887  and after World War I (1914–1918), the sweepstakes gave prizes of £75,000.00, £35,000.00 and £15,000.00 for the top three horses in the club's Derby. Consequently  Calcutta Derby Sweepstakes became famous worldwide, with the pool reaching almost £1,000,000 sterling in 1929 and 1930. Out of the prized money,  40% of the total pool went to the first prize winner, 20% to the second and 10% to the third. Tickets for unplaced horses also received a share, while the club kept only 10%. There was a hitch and the sweep was open only to members of the RCTC, or to friends who could ask members to place a wager. It was famous next to  the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes, in the 1930s, despite the expected pay-out being considerably higher

The Barrackpore course did not yield the desired results and the club incurred loss. After WWII  races were run in 1947 and 1948. After that, the Barrackpore course was closed. In 1954, it was sold to the government in an official arrangement that included renewal of the lease of the Maidan course. Sir Uday Chand Mahtab became a Steward in 1947. In 1955 he was elected as Senior Steward, a position he held for twenty seven years.  In February 1961 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited the historical course and presented the trophy to the winner. In 1971 Geoffrey Moorhouse placed the Royal Calcutta Turf Club in the first rank of clubs in the city. The club conducts racing in Kolkata, with a main winter season from November to April and a monsoon season which runs from July until mid October.
 Ref:
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Calcutta_Turf_Club