Saturday, 31 December 2016

Oldest race course in India - Chennai

Racecourse, Madras Madras Heritage and Carnatic Music
Among the racecourses in India, perhaps the the oldest is the one at Chennai (Madras). Known as Madras Race Club now (MRC), the race course is in Guindy, an important suburb of Chennai city. The club unfortunately had  chequered  history with horse racing, the only sport on which betting is legally allowed in India. It  has hosted horse races for around 235 years  despite interruptions  and setbacks in between. Like all race courses in the south,  it has been under the South India Turf Club since 1952-1953. Prior to that period, racing was conducted in accordance with the rules set by the  Calcutta Turf Club. In the earlier days in the 1800s, the race course was near St. Thomas Mount and not at Guindy.  Since 1966, the MRC  has become an independent turf authority. The club now has about 625  well-bred horses in station. In the 1960s all kinds of people used to attend the races. Going to the race was a status,  sort of social grace among the rich, no matter whether, they won or lost the bet.

The gradual development of Madras racecourse is an interesting one, . Though the Club was formed in 1837, its  early inception  goes back to 1777. The government allocated land  through a grant ( vide a letter written by the then Collector of Chingleput dated June 22, 1825), covering roughly 81 cawnies (local measure of land) that belonged to  the Adyar villages of Venkatapuram and Velacheri.  Besides,  with the  addition of lands - about 35 cawnies  two racecourses were built beside along with  stables.  In the 1770s the races were held at irregular interval because of strained relationship between the East India Company and Hyder Ali of Mysore who had a powerful army trained by the French. He was a major threat to the English. The Prince of Wales Edward VII visited Madras in 1875 and later it became almost dormant. In 1887  Lt. Col. George Moore, President of the Corporation of Madras gave life to it and  till 1887, the race club had a tough roller coaster ride. Soon a new club came into being with 50 members to improve racing  to gain profits.  In 1900, racing fell on hard time, further complicated by the breakout of the WWI. Madras race club, saw the light at the end of the tunnel only in 1920  during the tenure of Lord Willingdon,  the Governor of Madras. Same year, two stands came up. Thanks to the munificence of  Maharajah of Bobbili and Maharajah of Venkatagiri, ardent patrons. 

Ooty Hill station race course 1950s.Tamil Nadu.  Team-BHP
The Ooty Race Course in the Nilgiri hills is under  under the MRC and is believed to be the  only racecourse on a hill station. Again the MRC had to face the worst period and this time, the state government banned racing in 1970.  Reason:  racing and betting were pushing the working class into family break down, perpetual  debt and ruin.  The legal issue was solved only after 1985 through sincere efforts made by industrialist like the late M.A.M, Ramaswamy. However, races resumed in 1978 because the Madras High Court stayed the government ordinance. Classic races were introduced in 1958 and 1959. There are three stands and  the racing season begins in November and goes on till March after which races are conducted in Ooty between April and June in the cool shadows of the Nilgiri hills, near Coimbatore city.
Ref:
http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/survivors-of-time-madras-race-club-a-canter-through-centuries/art

  http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2013/jun/10/235-years-on-city-horsing-around-i