Horse racing is one of the most popular sports in the western world. Millions of people track the fates of competitors in races every day, traveling to racecourses or following their progress on the television and online.
Its popularity and wealth are beginning to spread to the Middle East. None more so than the Dubai World Cup, which has become the most lucrative single horse race in the world, worth up to $12m. Despite the riches on offer, the event does not capture the imagination of the sport in the same way as the Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Grand National does in the United Kingdom and the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the United States.
There is always a level of interest and fans of the sport will always be interested in the result. Bettors in particular will be checking the racing results at Paddy Power to gauge the performances of certain horses that travel to the event and will compete in other major races in the future. However, if you were to ask the average fan on the street there would not be a great deal of recognition. It is the same story across Asia, with a distinct lack of notoriety for the sport outside of their borders.
India has a thriving horse racing community within the country. They enjoy quality racing at Mumbai and Pune to match up with the great classic events in the United States, the United Kingdom, Dubai and France. The Indian Oaks, Indian Derby and Indian St Leger all capture the attention of the public with a demand for racing. The Derby is one of the longest-running horse racing events outside of the UK & Ireland along with the States. Due to the influence of the British Empire, India has a proud history of horse racing dating back to the 18th century.
However, until 1943 there was a distinct lack of a signature event, prompting the creation of the Indian Derby. Australian jockey Edgar Britt won the inaugural race on the back of Princess Beautiful at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai. The race has been staged every year since and now boasts a purse that is worth over $400,000 for the winner.
The amount pales into insignificance compared to the riches on offer elsewhere in the world, but the race does have a strong cult following in India – as do the Oaks and the Indian St Leger ran at Pune. It raises the question of whether an increase in the purse would guarantee an improvement of the competitors appearing in the contest. Foreign jockeys include Frankie Dettori have appeared in races in India during the flat racing off-season in the northern hemisphere.
However, as the Dubai World Cup has proved, even raising the riches available does not guarantee notoriety. The turf clubs will be satisfied with their following within the country, but all businesses are always looking to expand their horizons. It will take ingenuity from India’s horse racing authority and a change in habits from horse racing enthusiasts to crack the foreign market.