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Brimming excitement and clamour that used to reverberate the Hyderabad Race Club in Malakpet area, missing with restricted crowd.

The thundering sound of hooves as horses gallop towards the finishing line, the loud cheering, sometimes angry words of abuse as jockeys dig their spurs further into the horse’s side to make him pull clear of the pack, the brimming excitement and thrill that used to reverberate the Hyderabad Race Club in Malakpet area, all seem sounds and images from long ago.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything, says Rafeeq Iqbal, who has been involved in racing since 1981 and is the president of Telangana Race Horse Owner’s Association. He witnessed the best days of racing at Malakpet. If there is a big upset, the crowd would get restless, some would tear books or some would get involved in animated discussions on how the horse lost after all the ‘research’ at the start of the race. “There was always lively discussion among the punters. I have witnessed this for many years. All this has changed with the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Iqbal.

R Surender Reddy, chairman of HRC, says horse racing was always eventful. “If you see in the last 100 or 200 metres, people get up and shout. The expressions can be seen on their faces. On an average we had 7,000 to 9,000 crowds. Today we have only 1,000 odd people, who are given entry with all restrictions in place,” he said.

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Anant Vatsalaya, a cricketer-turned-horse trainer, says it was challenging during the start of the pandemic. “We were all confused in the beginning. Initially, it was difficult. With no races for a long time, it was strange when the delayed season started with no crowd around. But it is the new order of the day and we have to follow quarantine rules,’’ he adds.

Donald Netto, another trainer, says it was initially ‘funny’ when there was no crowd in the stands. “We are used to yell and shout from the crowd. It was difficult to digest it without a crowd. Now that the racing has returned, we hope for early return of a full-house stands,’’ says the 56-year-old. For trainer Hilton Sequeira, it is not the same. “We had to face the challenges. We had to be bold and we took it in our strides. Crowd cheering is always an important aspect for horse racing,’’ he adds.

Jockey Kuldeep Yadav remembers the excitement from the pad up itself. “At the parade of the horses, there is the usual anxious and eager crowd shouting from the stands. When the season started, this was badly missing. However, once we enter the start-up, we are in our zone. Some horses like the cheering and some are more relaxed. We did struggle at the start of the Covid-19 but somehow we have managed to overcome the crisis,’’ he adds.

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Jockey Akshay Kumar pointed out that they are adjusting to the new way of life. “We always enjoy when there is a crowd. Hopefully, happy days will be back soon.’’

Hyderabad Race Club chairman R Surender Reddy said the Covid-19 pandemic and the GST had hit the club’s earnings in a big way. “More than the Covid-19, GST made revenue drop heavily on race days. Our collection on any race day was between Rs 3.5 crore to Rs.5 crore. Now, our turnover has dropped to Rs 60 lakh to Rs 70 lakh,” he told #KhabarLive.

Despite the big downfall in earnings, HRC’s stake money is the best in the country even today. “It is much more than Bengaluru, Mumbai and other centres. We are not just concentrating on classic races but on all races,’’ he said, adding that online betting was yet to look up. #KhabarLive #hydnews

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