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Steadfast with time - By Ashwin Khan I Mirror

Posted on - 14 Aug 2011

Steadfast with time
Some old practices and traditions observed at the Pune Race Course still remain intact despite cutting-edge technology introduced to the sport
Pune Mirror

A visit to the Pune Race Course can be an intimidating experience for the first timer. You walk into a world frozen in time because to some extent the placebuilt in 1830 has retained the exclusivity, royalty and grandeur attached with horse racing in the country. The sport was introduced in India during the time of the British Raj which followed the model of cavalry-oriented armies of the 18th and 19th centuries. Back then, race courses were built at almost every cantonment and racing meets were not uncommon.
Now, a wind of change is blowing within the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) as its chairman Vivek Jain is spearheading a campaign to promote the sport. “We aim to attract a younger crowd. Music concerts and cultural events are on the cards — people are welcome to be a part of the show,” says Vivek. He adds, “Adhering to a dress code while attending the races is a dampener. So instead of wearing formal jackets, one can come to the race course dressed in smart casuals.” The chairman it seems knows how to read the pulse of the upwardly-mobile and accordingly is instrumental about using social networking services like Twitter and Facebook to promote the equine sport.
As horse racing is being promoted to its better end, some practices observed for eons at the Pune Race Course have clearly refused to fade. For instance, people who are involved in the sport work in clockwork precision. Besides, there are certain things that have not been subject to change like the weighing machine and the bell at the paddock.

(1) The bell in the paddock (2) The white cone goes up (3) The board where winning horses’ numbers are displayed (4) The board displaying the bookmakers’ odds. (5) The rectangular box with similar functions as the cones
The bell is primarily rung to herald the entrance of horses from the stable to the paddock and the weighing machine vaguely resembles the time machine envisioned by the author H G Wells. It looks like the device will still be around to weigh several more jockeys who sit on the weighing machine like princes on an iron throne.
That apart, using cones hung on an iron frame operated using a rope and a pulley is also an old practice. There are a total of four cones which are white, red, yellow and green. The colours of the cone have a specific function. When the white cone is pulled up, it indicates that the race took place without a problem. When the red one is raised, it indicates an objection, yellow means an enquiry has been initiated at the behest of the stipendiary stewards and if the green cone goes up, it means the objection has been upheld. A board that is used manually highlights the bookmakers’ odds and another that flashes the numbers of winning horses are also a part and parcel of the old way of doing things. In the jockeys’ weighing area, there is a rectangular box attached to the wall with a bulb and an electric bell on top. Its functions are similar to that of the cones.
All of these traditions and structures would not have existed if it were not for the race horses. Being born athletes, the horses are undoubtedly what makes this place special. The thoroughbreds’ spirit of competition remains intact — you sense a hunger in their being to compete and race with abandon. The sight of thoroughbreds trying to outdo one another is brilliant to behold. This is when you realise the horses are indeed the true scions of an ageless tradition.

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