Royal Turf Club keen to continue its good work

Thursday, 16 February 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The last day of January saw the end of the Constitutional Term of the first-ever Royal Turf Club President Suranjith Premadasa, who was one of the pioneers of the Club. 

A veteran sportsman and the president of several clubs it is with much sadness that the Committee bade farewell to Premadasa who has contributed immensely towards horse racing in Sri Lanka. Premadasa continues as a Committee member of the Club. 

On 31 January another important event also took place, where Panduka Keerthinanda, a well-known lawyer and authority on sports law was appointed President and Ranjan Kanagasabe was appointed Secretary for the new two-year term. 

Keerthinanda comes with a wealth of experience in managing sports, sporting venues and sporting events in Sri Lanka. Kanagasabe was former Chairman of the Gymkhana Club.

Primary objectives

Opening the discussion, Keerthinanda stated that his primary objectives were threefold – to establish a place for RTC among the top racing clubs in the world, animal health and welfare and safety for all participants. 

Speaking of placing RTC on the world map of horse racing, Keerthinanda stated: “Attracting a larger numbers of horses is very important because it causes multiple spin offs including at least one direct and multiple indirect jobs per horse for the youth of Nuwara Eliya.”

Asked to explain further, Keerthinanda stated: “A properly run race course is a major attraction for Foreign Direct Investment. We must attract foreign horse owners who will bring direct investment to purchase horses in Sri Lanka in addition to meeting monthly costs of maintaining horses, ensuring a steady flow of foreign exchange into the country. The only way we can do this is by raising the standards of racing in Sri Lanka to international levels.”

Run on the ‘Dubai Model’ RTC does not participate in or encourage gambling directly or indirectly. Financed solely by sponsors, Treasurer Nisitha Rupasinghe stated that RTC takes this opportunity to thank Sponsors Wijeya Group, Kuningal Stud Farm, Usha Stud Farm, Blackpool Hotel Nuwara Eliya, Dhashmesh Stud Farm, Spa Ceylon, Edwards Collections, Red FM, Alpine Hotel Nuwara Eliya, The Selvaratnam family, Sporting Star, Sporting Times, A P B Lanka Ltd., Hilton Hotel Colombo, Hill Club Nuwara Eliya, Chagall Saloon, Mosh Saloon, Yolland Collection, Hameedias, Suriya Hotels and Resorts, Avirate, Ramani Fernando Salons, E FM, and Sothy’s Colombo who have stood by RTC in its 17 months of operation. The new President also pointed out that Nuwara Eliya saw a significant increase in sports tourism in the 2016 horse racing season, so much so the infrastructure of Nuwara Eliya was overwhelmed by the number of visitors which nearly doubled on the racing days. The huge shortage of hotel rooms in Nuwara Eliya saw a number of investors coming into Nuwara Eliya and several new hotels and guest houses have come on the market for this season. 

Keerthinanda said that RTC Intends to make the increase in sports tourism a regular feature by having races in other months as well. Though RTC held regular races in 2016 it was hampered by unusually bad weather. He hopes to complete the ‘All-Weather Track’ in May 2017 so that weather will no longer be a controlling factor on the racing calendar.

Development of RTC and Nuwara Eliya Race Course

Asked about the future development of RTC and the Nuwara Eliya Race Course, Keerthinanda stated that RTC has a development budget of Rs. 700 million. According to the Auditors for RTC, Ernst and Young, as at 31 December 2016 a sum of Rs. 266 million has been utilised on several developments and upgrades on the Race Course. 

Some of the main features are the brand-new VIP Lounge, public utilities such as toilets, saddling enclosure, railings, fencing all around the Race Course, building special sea containers for horse transportation, stores, riding simulator for the brand-new Jockey Training Centre, racing gates, horse ambulance, Alcanthine watering system for the racing track, veterinary office, new gates, car parks, trainers stand, sampling area for dope testing and Sri Lanka’s very first state of the Art Equine Hospital and Veterinary Training Centre.

In addition, the grandstand, roads, Race Course office, stewards’ room, jockey room, entrance, new bund school, stables, main grass track, and the grounds have been upgraded. The formation stage of the All-Weather Track has been completed. The rest of the work is expected to be completed in the next few months. In addition, RTC is talking to various race course investors in Dubai, Australia and Japan for larger Foreign Direct Investments in the Nuwara Eliya Race Course. 

Asked for specifics, Keerthinanda said that serious negotiations are due to start in the next few months and that the Sugathadasa National Stadium Authority and the Minister of Sports will also be a party to these negotiations from its very inception.

Racing performance 

Coming to racing performance, since its formation two years ago, the RTC has conducted nine race meetings under the direction of RTC CEO Wayne Wood, a veteran race course manager ably supported by another veteran horseman and Clerk of the Course Sinclair Marshall. 

Keerthinanda said that what racing lacked in the past in terms of quality and integrity has been reinstated. At present the sport can be termed lucrative in terms of prize money and awards. Treasurer Rupasinghe stated that Rs. 17,332,500 was paid as prize money to owners in the last nine race meets and Rs. 1,687,000 was paid to trainers as training incentives and Rs. 1,265,250 was paid to jockeys as wining bonuses. He also stated that the income level of those who are employed in the Race Course has soared with Rs. 42,743,304 paid out by way of wages and salaries for the past 17 months to direct employees of RTC. 

Secretary Kanagasabe stated that the confidence in RTC’s ability to develop consistently was so high that April 2016 saw 17 jockeys from Dubai, London, India, Cyprus and Japan compete in Sri Lanka. In addition, Keerthinanda stated that with the help of the CEO of RTC, horse racing has reached the nation’s sports consciousness. RTC also has opened the gates to many who hope to own horses through its auction system, which is considered as a viable move by many. 

President Keerthinanda said horse racing in Sri Lanka hit the doldrums after the ban on horse racing in 1956. In 1981 racing opened again and it reached a peak under the leadership of Upali Wijewardene after which racing declined gradually until RTC took over in mid/end 2015. Since then all have contributed to making racing a success.

Animal welfare

 Commenting on the area of animal welfare, Keerthinanda stated that animal welfare is another prime objective of RTC. Keerthinanda stated that RTC has conducted a study into animal welfare starting from the time a horse is imported to the time it has been housed in Nuwara Eliya, which has resulted in immense improvements in the RTC welfare mechanism. 

For instance, horses headed for Sri Lanka were tied to trees in a coconut plantations in Tuticorin, and allowed to face the weather, while waiting for ships to take them to Sri Lanka. RTC has built temporary stables in Tuticorin to house horses pending shipment. RTC has also built special padded containers to ensure horses are not uncomfortable while being transported to Sri Lanka. In addition, RTC has imported special steriline padded starting gates with fail safe opening systems to eradicate accidents in starting gates. 

The new President stated that in addition to the above, new racing rules have been introduced where jockeys can use only pain free air brushes for whipping and the maximum instances of whipping is limited to five times per race. RTC’s objective is to conduct whip less races and RTC is confident by end of 2017, jockeys will be sufficiently trained to make all races whip less. Already some races conducted by RTC are whip less races. 

Marshall also stated that rules have been introduced to make owners and trainers improve the living conditions of their stables and regular inspection of stables are carried out and warning letters are regularly issued to errant trainers and owners. 

Keerthinanda also stated that RTC’s first ever Equine Hospital in Sri Lanka plays a major role in animal welfare. Consultant Dr. Jayachandra Balaji stated that the hospital consists of the most modern equipment currently in the market such as clear vision DR9000F portable FPD digital X-ray system, which is capable of generating a superior diagnostic image within a period of one minute, Exapad ultrasound high resolution touch screen scanner, and the entire range of state of the art dental equipment. 

The Equine Hospital is fully stocked with a wide range of medications ready for any eventuality. Since the inception of the Equine Veterinary Clinic, RTC has been able to save the lives of 15 horses and is planning a free vaccination and medical evaluation program for the ponies in the area. 

Dr. Balaji further stated that talks are underway with the Veterinary Unit of the Large Animal Department of the University of Peradeniya to see whether veterinary students can be trained in Nuwara Eliya on equine medicine and care. Dr. Balaji also stated that one of the biggest steps taken by RTC towards animal welfare is the dope testing conducted on every race day without exception. Keerthinanda also stated that several causes for equine as well as human accidents have been identified and several measures have been introduced to eradicate such accidents. Marshall, Clerk of the Course and Stipendiary Steward, stated that the two main reasons for accidents are track conditions and bad riding. Marshal explained that he has totally eradicated these two causes by personally inspecting the track every morning to ensure that the track is in good order before any horses are allowed to use the track. 

Track maintenance is done on a daily basis to ensure that track conditions are at peak. The new state of the art equine ambulance also ensures quick and safe treatment in case of accidents. The new Jockey Training Center equipped with Sri Lanka’s first riding simulator has improved the skills of existing jockeys and has created great interest among the youth of Nuwara Eliya. 

Social consciousness 

The new President also stated that RTC has not ignored its social consciousness. He stated that RTC has done much for the poor and needy of Nuwara Eliya via contribution of dry foods and clothes to the tune of Rs. 2.2 million within the last 17 months of operation. It has also contributed to causes such as the Cancer Society, Cancer Care Trust and Animal SOS Lanka Ltd.

Keerthinanda closed by stating that RTC is poised to be a major game changer in the economy of Nuwara Eliya as well as sports tourism in Sri Lanka with the blessings of the Government and the Minister of Sports.