Studs in horseshoes

Written by SUNANDA MEHTA | Updated: Sep 30 2007, 07:44am hrs
ItS a different world altogether. Far removed from the quotidian humdrum of everyday life. Its a world where thoroughbreds are conceived and reared to enable them to blaze into the racing arenas of the country and set the adrenalin rushing for its millions of patrons the world over. Everything else is peripheral to its royal existence and continuing lineage. This is the world of the stud farms.

It is marked by lush green expanses of land, lines of stables, the presence of prized stallions, broodmares, yearlings and foals. There is a battalion of staff, starting from the manager to the vets to syces and groomers, the stud farm is obviously also a business venture. However most often than not, its one driven more by passion than mere profit. Ask owners like Cyrus and Zavaray Poonawalla of the state-of-the-art Poonawalla Stud Farms in Pune or Vijay Mallaya of the sprawling Kunigal Stud Farm in Karnataka or then Ameeta Mehra of the reputed Usha Stud Farm in Delhi. They will tell you that the returns in terms of sheer pleasure far outweigh those in terms of money.

About 75 stud farms are registered with the Stud Book Authority of India. Almost all of them are located in the periphery of the cities they belong to be it Pune, Bangalore, Jaipur or Ludhiana. For the simple reason that according to the norms laid down by the Stud Book Authority, you need to have a minimum 10 acres of land to start a farm. The second pre-condition is the fee of Rs 50,000 that needs to be paid to the Authority for registration. This is the easy part. Because what makes a stud farm work says Zavaray Poonawalla, owner of the countrys top stud farm the Poonawalla stud farm in Pune is a combination of both the tangible and the intangible.

It has to be a judicious mix of hard work, dedication and finance. Finance will give you the infrastructure you require, but its only personal attention to details and your passion that will see you producing the best blood stock in the country, says Poonawalla who proudly admits that he spends half his business hours at the stud farm that he owns jointly with his brother Cyrus Poonawalla.

A fact you dont find hard to believe once you enter through the impressive gate that leads you to the 350-acre swanky farm that houses over 400 horses at present.

The luxurious gallery that exhibits glorious moments of champions bred at Poonawalla Stud Farms open up into the green expanse of an equine viewing arena in which the farms bloodstock is displayed. The four computerised horse walkers with 20 different operating programmes and the two turf tracks designed by the Poonawalla R&D department, are all meticulously planned, driven by unbridled passion for the sport.

It is perhaps what has given the farm the distinction of six Champion Breeders Awards for having bred 288 Classic winners, including winners of eight Indian Derbies and 59 Indian Classics. It is also the highest stakes earning establishment in the country with over 213 home breds earning stakes in excess of Rs 1 million. The icing on the cake has been the recent win of their stud Mystical in Dubai, whereby it became the first Indian horse to win an international race.

In sharp contrast to the modernistic layout of Poonawalla Stud Farms, the Nainoli stud farm owned by shipping magnet KN Dhunjibhoy, looks more like a ranch from a cowboy film. Located on the monsoon-splashed rough, hilly terrain in the village of Nanoli in the outskirts of Pune, the 300-acre farm with 250 horses is punctuated by tall trees, paddocks, aqua treadmills, horse walkers, breaking-in area and Dhunjibhoys tastefully decorated abode that doubles up as the holiday home for the family almost every other weekend.

While the capital investment required to set up a farm can range anything from Rs 2 to 10 crore, depending on what kind of a farm one is looking at, the running cost can be pinned at something like Rs 15,000 per horse, says Ravindra Reddy, manager and vet at Nanoli. Your basic requirements are of suitable land, construction of stables, paddocks, equine hospital and staffing the place with managers, accountants, vets, lab technicians, syces, electricians, farriers, labour and of course most importantly the stallion that is going to finally determine your class in the market, says Reddy.

Almost all stud farms import their stallions. While Nanoli has four active stallions, Poonawallas have five out of which Placerville and Alnasr Alwasheek are reputed to be the best in the country, placing them above all their competitors.

Typically a stallion does about 100-120 coverings a year during the five-month season. Foals thus born are put up for sale at between 18 months to two years of age. Most of the stud farms sell only a handful of the stock and keep the rest at their own farms as race horses. Also, the leading farms rarely enter the auctions organised every year in February in Pune, preferring to sell their horses privately at the farms itself.

What is central to the running of a stud farm though is the care given to its prized residents the equines. Vet care, feed and exercise are of utmost importance, says Zeyn Mirza, director of United Racing & Bloodstock Breeders Ltd and Racing Manager to Dr Vijay Mallya. While the horses are fed a combination of oats, corn and soyabeans thrice or four times a day, the quantity is determined by individual weight and size. It would be approximately 16 of concentrate in a day for say a lactating mare, says Reddy, adding that race horses get imported processed feed from abroad. Most farms have huge threshers on site to grind the feed fresh for their horses.

Large tracks and paddocks, aqua treadmills and motorised horse walkers look after the exercise component, while each farm has two or three vets on the rolls, with at least one of them on the farm at any given time. Interestingly all the foals are planned so that they are born between January and April every year, in keeping with the norm that all horses age a year every January, irrespective of their birth months.

While all the technical details and hard work forms the foundation of the stud farm, there is no denying that the place at the end of the day is also the owners show window to the world as well as a comfortable retreat away from the world. And most have likewise created their cosy corners at the farms. Which explains the sophisticated English farm look at Chanhill with a pristine lake alongside the main house, the flamboyant African jungle ambience recreated at Equus owned by the Ruias or then the presence of the ornamental Fella Bellas (miniature horses) at Poonawallas and Nainoli all of which add to the glamour quotient of the place.

For, as Mirza puts it, most stud farms do not make profits they exist as a symbol of their owners passion for horses and all the good things in life. Its a rich mans hobby, he smiles, summing up the hugely fascinating phenomena in a single, apt line.