Ooty: As the two month long horse racing season here will commence on Sunday, a summer attraction in the hills over a century, the Nilgiris Documentation Centre (NDC) recalled the genesis of horse racing in Ooty, the only high altitude racing center in the country, in the backdrop of modern Nilgiris celebrating its bicentenary this year Dharmalingam Venugopal, director of NDC, said that it was on May 18, 1894 that horse racing began at the present site of Hobart Park under Turf Club rules. First it was only a loop course of about 1400 meters. In 1896-99, the present area overlooking the bus stand was reclaimed to make the present course of 1 mile, 1furlong and 191 yards. Originally, it started as a hurdle race in 1846 at the present site of the Kandal triangle. It was followed by a steeple chase in the present Wenlock Downs and later near the Kandal rifle range. A regular course was laid out in 1873 at the present golf course of the Wellington Gymkhana. In 1882 the Gymkhana club was formed to conduct annual racing, he noted.
Ooty racing was a prestigious and blue-ribbon event since 1900 when it was abruptly abolished in March 1975 under the DMK government. In 1976, on the direction of the Supreme Court, the Tamil Nadu government constituted a committee to study the socio-economic impact of horse racing in the state. Stating that he was the principal investigator of the study in the panel constituted under Dr. Natarajan, economist at the Institute of Techno-Economic Studies, Mr.Venugopal added that though the panel made its recommendations to continue with racing considering the employment potential, tax income to government and importance to the tourism industry, the prolonged ligation over racing ended in 1996 when the Supreme Court ruled that “horse racing is a game of mere skill” and is “neither gaming nor gambling.”
The Ooty races have enthralled lakhs of punters and visitors over the century. European and Indian jockeys have exhibited extraordinary riding skills on the course. Names like Fordyce, Swinburne, Dixon, Foley, Osborne, Buttfoy, Pandu Shankar and Jagdish are still recalled with awe, Mr.Venugopal noted.
The 2019 racing season commences on April 14 and will run up to 14th June with 20 race days in between. 500 horses have arrived in Ooty for the two month long racing. 26 trainers and 50 jockeys are taking part in this year’s meet....