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130 reasons to love the Mahalaxmi racecourse

It is a place for dreamers, poets and punters. Mahalaxmi marks 130 years this weekend

1. It is so open.

2. It is immensely green.

Jockey S Zervaan's jersey shows what the racecourse is celebrating. Pics/Suresh KK
Jockey S Zervaan's jersey shows what the racecourse is celebrating. Pics/Suresh KK

3. It is twinkles like an emerald in South Mumbai.

4. It is still galloping after 100 years.

5. The racecourse is not just for horses.

6. We love the signboard at the entrance: walkers/joggers beware: horses have right of way.

7. The mud has soaked up the sweat of runners over the years.

8. We like to think that perspiration has played fertilizer.

9. The flowers look stunning on race days.

10. In fact, the flowers are beds of shouting colour on any day.

Shaolin monks perform at the paddock
Shaolin monks perform at the paddock

11. The racecourse is not just for punters.

12. The middle of the ground is for wiry, brown skinned boys who kick a football around.

13. You do not need money to enter the racecourse.

14. It breathes life into that adage: the best things of life are free (sometimes).

15. You can sit on white benches outside the track periphery and eat chana-sing (the Mumbai form of ‘timepass’).

16. The blood pounds in your ears, the adrenalin pumps in sync with the horses galloping past.

17. The blades of grass and dry leaves crunch with pleasure underneath your feet.

18. This is a party with no divorce - the (b)ride and his groom (syce).

19. The more you know the racecourse, the more there is to know.

20. Like the stables tucked away at the far end, holding a sense of mystery close to the equine heart.

Beauty and the bliss
Beauty and the bliss

21. There is a swimming pool for horses, near the stable area.

22. Horses have a treadmill to run on too.

23. We hear that at times there are snakes in the grass here, but they too are part of the racecourse hiss-tory.

24. That this is the one place where the shrill trill of the mobile is replaced by the sweet sound of birdsong.

25. The leaves turn crimson in a certain season.

26. That flowers fall at your feet forming a flaming carpet of yellow ‘n’ orange.

27. That the jockey’s waistlines could give ramp models a run(way) for their money.

28. You learn that not just you, but even incredibly slim, jockeys can become fat.

29. You can walk around with a stopwatch and cap and act like a horse trainer.

30. Horses are indulgent of runners plodding their way around the tracks. They put their blinkers on and pretend not to see the slowcoaches.

31. The very early morning air is misty in the Mumbai winter.

32. It may actually be pollution but at the racecourse everybody is a dreamer, so you can imagine it is mist.

33. The mellow afternoon sun throws long shadows across the vast expanse of lawns.

34. The breakfast on the lawns is one of the best open air meals in Mumbai.

35. It is the land of sinister stories.

36. Stories like security personnel tell you about seeing a ghost and hearing the clip-clop of hooves in the dead of night.

37. It is 226 acres.

38. You say wow! but you do not know how big an acre is.

39. You are a Mumbaikar and think in square feet, not acres.

40. The racecourse teaches you that 226 acres is not enough to fit big egos, which come with big money.

41. It still exists even after numerous attempts to take it over.

42. These attempts have been underhand and some have been overhand or overt.

43. You can occasionally see a chopper flying through the trees and landing on the helipad there.

44. You can dream about it being a big, steel bird.

45. You can wonder who it belongs to.

46. There is this thing about the racecourse — it makes you into a dreamer.

47. You can forget for a while, you are a rat in the rat race of life.

48. You can imagine you own a chopper.

49. You can dream that you own that Rolls Royce parked in the parking lot.

50. Damn, you can even dream you own some of the finest horseflesh in the country.

51. The horses humble you.

52. Even with all the studying about racing one can still pick the wrong horse.

53. The magnificent trees provide succour from the merciless mercury.

54. The wind makes a whistling sound when it blows through these trees during the monsoon.

55. The members enclosure has snob value, the public enclosure has great food.

56. The thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches at the members enclosure are oh-so-Brit, really.

57. The omelette in the public enclosure is amchi Mumbai.

58. There were days when a cup of unbelievably great cold coffee cost Rs 10 over here.

59. Poor racing journalists enter proudly here.

60. Even the immensely wealthy and powerful have to answer their questions.

61. Journalists can be pesky, buzzing mosquitoes.

62. You cannot swat them away.

63. They run rings around the rich and powerful.

64. They may not disappear.

65. Unlike the smoke rings from the cigars that the wealthy and powerful smoke here.

66. It is not just the horses that are humbling at this venue.

67. Lots of things at the racecourse can humble you.

68. Even the grand sweep of the staircase, leading up to the committee room.

69. It is grandiose and incredibly classy.

70. Burnished teak at the club takes you back to another era.

71. An era where faces shone — reflected in highly polished wood.

72. Where intricately carved corners and crevices held secrets.

73. It is a place where the weighing scale holds no terror.

74. You do not have to sit on it, the jockey does.

75. Shaolin monks came to the racecourse once.

76. They took you back to movies like Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow.

77. You can bury your nose in a Cole racebook, all afternoon.

78. You can even avoid somebody by placing the book in front of your face.

79. At times, you can buy a race book because everybody has one.

80. Keeping up with the Jones’s is allowed here.

81. You can read a race book even if you do not understand a word of it.

82. Nobody will ask you: what is the plot?

83. You can even rest your posterior on it by placing in on a bench, in case it gets too warm.

84. You can throw around horses names after reading them in the book, pretending you know everything.

85. Pretending is part of racing — you can pretend to know.

86. The racecourse is for dreamers and pretenders.

87. The racecourse is non-judgemental.

88. Enjoy it even if you do not know your treble from your tanala.

89. Enjoy it even if do not know your tanala from your tequila.

90. You can watch the seasons change here.

91. You can see whitewashed benches against bright green grass.

92. Trellis and vine cling fervently to pillars.

93. There are canopies of green everywhere.

94. During the rains, when there are no races, you can sit here.

95. You can watch the raindrops glisten bright on the green.

96. The smell of earth after rain might move you to poetry.

97. Or, what you might like to think is poetry.

98. Yet, you can dream on, about being a poet the racecourse is for dreamers.

99. Occasionally, it is for nightmares.

100. Not the mares of the four-legged kind.

101. Nightmare stories of suicide because of losing money at the racecourse.

102. It is a place for human foibles and tragic follies.

103. You have no way of checking the credibility but you hear people talk.

104. It teaches you to be careful at the tote window.

105. The Derby is a perfect excuse to buy a new outfit

106. Or, a criminally expensive pair of sunglasses.

107. Indulge in binoculars to look really important.

108. You hear statements like “chal punter” from the public enclosure.

109. Sometimes, you hear things like, “Monte Carlo? That’s one place we have to do still” in the members’ enclosure

110. The people at the betting windows are patient when you stumble over betting terms.

111. They are indulgent even, helping you out.

112. There are hats on sale at times at the racecourse.

113. Sometimes, you can talk through your hat here.

114. The many tribulations and controversies gives journalists like this one, something to write.

115. Racecourse scandals have filled in newspaper pages, giving us ‘masala copy’.

116. The oldest restaurant on the course, Gallops, is like a Derby horse, a stayer as they say.

117. Today, the racecourse has more restaurants and more activities — reinvention, they call it.

118. Hogwash! exclaim those who oppose them.

119. We love it, the duels everywhere and the dimsum at the Mini Turf Club at the racecourse.

120. The Mumbai marathon runners often train here.

121. They complete each 2-km round keeping one eye on their stopwatches.

122. They are going to be like the song says more than they thought they could be.

123. When all of your dreams are a heartbeat away and the answers are all upto me.

124. Like we keep telling you, the racecourse is about dreams.

125. Stable dogs lie in the sun, everywhere.

126. Some equines now go away to centres like Dubai and in England to race.

127. Bigwig owners hold conferences to tell the press how their horses ran.

128. But they always come back. The owners, and the horses.

129. To Mahalaxmi where, like poets say: one impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man;

130. Of moral evil and of good; than all the sages can.

2400 m
Length of the racetrack at Mahalaxmi

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