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February 4, 2010

The 130-year old pony race being held in Assam

     Jorhat (Assam): Not many may know pony race has been one of the oldest sporting events of northeast India and draws huge public response every year. The 130th edition of the pony race called as Jorhat Races has been organized in Assam's Jorhat district. It commenced here on Wednesday (February 3). Dozens of contestants have come to the Gymkhana Club to vie for trophies like the Governor's Cup, the Chief Minister's Cup and the George Williamson Cup. Enthusiastic persons in the audience here place bets on their favourite ponies. Prabhat Bezbaruah, the president of the Jorhat Race Committee, said the British tea plantation owners started the races with thoroughbred horses. "The idea behind it originally was to allow the planters, who used horses for their work on the tea estates, to compete with each other and show off their horse-riding skills. But later, when jeeps replaced horses, they had to find people who were used to horses and they chanced upon the Mishing tribe who use horses for various activities. So they persuaded them to come and participate in the races in the same format as any derby," said Bezbaruah. Nowadays, the thoroughbreds have disappeared to give way to country ponies and the races are a highlight of Jorhat's social calendar. " It's a unique race in Assam, I think; probably in the country, in fact. This is good to see," said Dijib Dutta, a spectator. The Gymkhana authorities, along with the organisers of the races provide funds every year for the development of the Mishing community. The even is viewed as a medium to carry on the legacy of this generations' old races since the British Raj era. The Jorhat Races will continue till Sunday (Feb. 6). Started in 1878 by British tea planters, the races will soon feature thoroughbred horses and even have an off-course betting centre like the major derbies of the country.
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