Amid discussions of reinventing Mumbai’s night life through 24-hour licences for clubs and restaurants in non-residential quarters, the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) has decided to let fans enjoy horse racing from early evening to well before midnight. Rising mercury levels and the dwindling numbers in the stands at the Mahalaxmi Race Course have encouraged the club to introduce India’s first ever Sundown Racing event next weekend.
The idea is primarily to increase the popularity of horse racing among citizens by organising competitive races during cooler evenings and at the same time make arrangements for entertainment. “The younger generation likes things happening at all times and don’t like waiting between races. Eateries will be up soon and bands will add charm to the sport. And then the races will be on so people can enjoy the sport as well,” says RWITC chairman Khushroo Dhunjibhoy.
To ensure adequate infrastructure for the event, 40 temporary floodlight towers, each 14 m tall, will stand along the 1,200 metres allotted for the races. Lighting has been checked for the past one week, which is a trial to check and understand how evening races can be organised better for more prestigious derbies such as the 1000 and 2000 Guineas. “With regard to the expenses, there is a rough estimation that we can hold evening races for four hours on eight days of a month, for six months. Eventually, we may try to get permanent structures,” says Ram Shroff, Chairman of the Night Racing Working Group.
Owners have embraced the event, as have trainers and jockeys. Horses in the meantime have been acclimatising to the evening conditions. “It’s actually favourable for horses because they don’t like running in the heat. But, there is always a possibility that one odd horse may not take well to the night conditions. With that in mind, each of the four races this weekend will have no more than 12 horses,” adds Dhunjibhoy.
Dhunjibhoy plans to hold the trial event along the lines of those held in Singapore, Hong Kong and some parts of the United States. “It’s always a carnival-like experience for fans there. Food, music, racing, betting and decent weather. Nothing too different than what we’re aiming for,” he adds.
The Shiv Sena, which has promised to convert the race course into a public park has, as expected, opposed the idea.
Reacting to the development, standing committee chairman in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and senior Shiv Sena leader Yashodhar Phanse said, “We will oppose this move. We have been long opposing the race course itself. We want to create a theme park in the same location for poor. People interested in gambling can take the race course out of this city. We will not allow this.” The saffron party has been demanding for long that the BMC must not renew the 100-year-lease for this land held by the RWITC.
The Sena’s opposition to the races were a prominent part of the party’s 2014 Assembly election manifesto.