Attorney-at-Law Panduka Keerthinanda, who takes over at the helm of the Royal Turf Club (RTC), intends to gallop that extra mile to making Horse racing an entertaining sporting event again. Regarded as an unethical sport, from time to time, the RTC is going flat out to make Sri Lanka a hub for Horse races in [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

RTC at full stretch to make SL a Horse-racing hub


Current RTC President Panduka Keerthinanda (L) with the former boss, Suranjith Premadasa (R)

Attorney-at-Law Panduka Keerthinanda, who takes over at the helm of the Royal Turf Club (RTC), intends to gallop that extra mile to making Horse racing an entertaining sporting event again. Regarded as an unethical sport, from time to time, the RTC is going flat out to make Sri Lanka a hub for Horse races in the region.

“We have many activities lined up in our action plan, like another racecourse outside Nuwara Eliya, to partner with another country, preferably Japan, and continue the initiative Suranjith Premadasa made as RTC President. We are a superb team with good understanding, and there are many others who support us to make our vision a reality,” Keerthinanda said.

Keerthinanda takes over the RTC from January this year after Premadasa ended his reign according to the RTC’s constitution. However, the RTC team remains a strong association with plans afoot to develop Horse racing, its infrastructure and reach the international level.

Since its formation two years ago, the RTC has conducted 9 races but has lacked quality and respect in the past decade. At present, the sport can be termed lucrative in terms of prize money and awards but has just managed to reach the masses without a hindrance. The RTC has opened the gates to many who hope to own a horse through its auction system, which is considered as a viable move by many.

“Earlier, only a select crowd could own a horse or two and run stables, as there were no proper guidelines in how things worked. Today, the RTC has streamlined the system with the help of two international experts Wayne Wood and Sinclair Marshall. There were claims that steroids were being given to horses and animal cruelty overlooked. But now, all stakeholders- owner, rider and even the stable hands are answerable, if such a thing is taking place. To streamline the whole system, we had to provide the facilities through a massive development programme at the Nuwara Eliya Racecourse. Today, it’s on the threshold of being transformed into one of the best racecourses in the region,” Keerthinanda elaborated.

To get the system in place, the RTC had to start from the bottom. It had to obtain support from the Ministry of Sports, Nuwara Eliya City officials and other stakeholders to begin work from scratch. With a keen and enthusiastic set of officials headed by Suranjith Premadasa, the RTC began its development project in 2015.

RTC Treasurer Nisitha Rupasinghe

The RTC received the blessings and support of the Ministry of Sports, with control of the racecourse in Nuwara Eliya, which comes under the Sugathadasa Sports Complex Authority, to the newly-formed governing body of Horse racing. Under the watchful eyes of the hierarchy and the two experts — Wood and Marshall — the RTC refurbished the grandstand, restored the racecourse, built a sand course for training, set up the bund school, upgraded the stables including the facilities for horses and the workers of the course and stable hands. With a cold climate not offering any assistance to racing preparations during certain periods of the year, the RTC faced difficulties to keep its plans alive with alternate moves when its event calendar is inactive. One such initiative was to install a ‘riding simulator’ for local jockeys and newcomers to ‘stay in the saddle’ with riding practices.

In addition, the RTC prioritised the welfare of horses, for which a ‘wish list’ was presented by Resident Veterinarian Dr. Balaji. In an immediate response, state-of-the-art, portable X-ray machine and scanner were added to the Veterinary Hospital at the RTC facility in Nuwara Eliya. Both equipments will be of tremendous help in diagnosing ailments and injuries to horses, while boosting RTC’s image as an entity that looks into wellbeing of horses, jockeys and others engaged in the sport.

“In words it may sound like a simple plan or a nice short story, but it was hard work to ensure the success of the sport. We wholly discouraged betting on race-days, while getting the assistance of the Sri Lanka Anti Doping Agency to conduct doping tests on horses, which was a first in the country and now compulsory at any Horse race. We were blessed with unstinted support all the way, from top to bottom, from the Ministry of Sports to the Mayor of Nuwara Eliya down to the labourer. This is an overwhelming start and we are cruising at present with new and latest features being added at regular intervals. The RTC committee is highly energetic as always, with people such as Nisitha Rupasinghe as Treasurer and the dynamic Ranjan Kanakasabai as Secretary. I’m sure we can do a lot more for the sports with them around,” Keerthinanda said.

According to Treasurer Rupasinghe, the amount they have spent so far is ‘colossal’, through funds generated from sponsorships and other income. All revenue and expenses are audited to ensure transparency is adhered to through the entire process.

“The RTC does not intend to profit from its race events or projects. Our main aim is to develop the sport and its facilities. Whatever we got through sponsorships and other means, has been pumped back to develop the sport. Now, Horse racing has been transformed into a sport where its returns are beneficial to those engaged in it from all walks of life. Earlier, Horse racing was limited to a certain strata of society. We are proud to say that, today, there are well established individuals from the corporate sector already with us with more willing to join us. That shows Horse racing is forging ahead with the potential to reach greater heights,” Keerthinanda stated with pride.

The RTC’s development projects have convinced Horse-racing lovers, spectators and, most importantly, the administrators, including the Ministry of Sport, the Sugathadasa Sports Complex Authority and the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council of its success. Though RTC’s 2-year agreement on the racecourse with the Sugathadasa Sports Complex Authority comes to an end in mid-2017, its development projects have assurred them the much needed blessings to continue with its good work. The RTC is optimistic that the powers that be will continue to support RTC’s endeavours to take Horse racing to the next level.

“The demand for Horse racing is on the up. We have planned to begin the 2017 calendar with a massive event on February 25. There are 4 races planned until end of April. However, we have identified that it’s not possible to conduct races in Nuwara Eliya throughout the year. So, we are planning to set up a racecourse in the dry zone and conduct races in the night, which will suit the horses too,” stated Keerthinanda, with the sole aim of seeing this sport, with a rich history of 150 years, reach its former glory days.

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