Backing the right horse

Horse number 2,Rs 500,win: the bet is placed. Behind the grills in a tiny cubicle sits 78-year-old Kunj Behari Lal Jain,the oldest book-maker of Delhi Race Course.

Written by Sobhana K | Published:January 30, 2011 1:34 am

Seventy-eight-year-old Kunj Behari Lal Jain is the oldest book-maker at the Delhi Race Course

Horse number 2,Rs 500,win: the bet is placed. Behind the grills in a tiny cubicle sits 78-year-old Kunj Behari Lal Jain,the oldest book-maker of Delhi Race Course. Within minutes the bugle goes off,the last minute rush clears as spectators run to the stands to watch their fate unfold.

It takes a few minutes before the white Gypsy of club officials is faintly visible on the horizon,the horses follow soon. The rumbling sound of hoofs grows stronger as they gallop towards the green horse shoe which is also the finishing line. The commentator’s words become hurried as he tries to match the speed of the horses with his words. Some spectators are huddled before television sets,others hang on to the railing,craning their necks to see the result. Horse number 2 Blue Lagoon is far ahead of others. In another 50 paces,he will cross the finishing line. But behind the lines horse number 4 Beatrice edges ahead sharply. His jockey,dressed in a red-green maple leaf costume,forcefully nudges the horse and it almost flies in air. Blue Lagoon loses the race by a neck. Several fists kick up but there’s also a collective sigh for all those who had betted on Blue Lagoon.

But back inside the betting cubicle,Jain does not even blink. It is time for the winners to come back to collect their booty. He and his family have been in the business of bookmaking for over a century now. Close races,misses,changes of fortunes are all part of the routine. All he cares for is that the amount he gives out to the winners should always be less than the amount he collects from everyone.

“Our profession almost similar to a vegetable vendor. When he is buying a basket of fruits,there will be a few rotten pieces in there and he has compensate for it by charging more for other ones,” he explains. So for the horses which are more in demand the odds are less,but the one less in demand,the odds are more. The decision to place value on any horse is partly based on intuition and partly on a deep study of its past record.

There is no limit on the betting amount,but the minimum is fixed at Rs 40. “It is all a matter of understanding and trust. The maximum limit can be anything,based on whether you have that kind of capacity to handle such a risk,” he says,blocking off any more probe about the inside working of the betting business. However,he says,neither he nor anyone from his family have not every placed a bet.

Jain’s four generations have been in this business now but he still does not know how they got into it. “My grandfather started keeping book in 1909,he was followed by my father and I got the licence in 1960,” he says.

Recently,he sponsored a cup in his name to celebrate 50 years of bookmaking. Jain’s son is also in the business and now his 23-year-old grandson,Utsav,who has just returned home after getting an MBA degree from Singapore University,is interning under him. His brother and two cousins too are into bookmaking.

Jain is a repository of tales. He says Congress leader Madhav Rao Scindia’s father was a credit customer of his father. “He used to tell us that the Maharajs used to come to collect the price money only when he won. If he had lost the race then it was his secretary’s duty to make the payment,” says Jain. But Scindia never used to pocket the price money. Instead,he used to distribute it among all the jockeys,trainers and others who would be standing around.

His favourite story is about General Manekshaw. When Manekshaw was posted in Delhi,he was a regular at the race course. But as he climbed the ranks,he stopped his visits. “Manekshaw’s wife always had pockets in her skirt. And the pockets were always filled with peanuts or other nuts. So while Manekshaw was watching race,she would be munching away,” says Jain.

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