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Hoove ho! All set for the Indian Derby 2014 at Mahalaxmi rececourse

Some of the finest equine flesh in the country had a final tuning yesterday morning, in preparation for Indian racing’s most prestigious crown, to be run this Sunday at Mahalaxmi

The Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) hosted its pre-Derby ‘Breakfast with Champions’ at the verdant lawns of the Mahalaxmi Turf Club on Thursday morning even as Derby runners (horses) ran in what would be most probably their last session before Sunday.

In the swimming pool. Horses are natural swimmers
In the swimming pool. Horses are natural swimmers

The wise tell us that after that, horses are usually given rest and everything is done to keep the four-year-olds (the Derby is for four-year-olds) calm and prevent any kind of ‘spooking’ close to the Derby. Rest well, fellas and fillies.

A horse gets a horseshoe put on his foot. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
A horse gets a horseshoe put on his foot. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Mohit Lalvani, racing expert told us over a cup of coffee and a fluffy omelette yesterday morning that while some of those Derby runners were running “very fluidly” in track work, it is most important to keep horses “hydrated” now. “I would even go for a saline drip,” he stated, underlining the importance of fluids to keep that fluid movement right till the starters’ gates, which open with a clang on Sunday evening and Mahalaxmi resounds with the roar of thousands.

Drying off in the sand pit after a swimming session
Drying off in the sand pit after a swimming session

Current RWITC chairman, Vivek Jain, when asked about the lease of the club (incidentally, the 100-year-old lease expired last year and the civic authorities have yet to renew it) said that he has met senior officials in connection with the matter and though it is still, “status quo and they have not stopped racing, they seem reasonably sanguine to extending the lease. I must add though that some kind of dim view is being taken of some of the events being held at the racecourse. I think authorities must take a positive view of racing and charity events held here, they should not be stopped.”

A bird finds a perch on a cutout depicting a horse and jockey at the race course
A bird finds a perch on a cutout depicting a horse and jockey at the race course

Having said that, Jain added that it was a matter of concern that so many political parties wanted to host conventions and meetings at the racecourse, and this turf, which is essentially meant for sporting matters, is getting a political sheen. “We have informed them that this is essentially, a sporting club and should be used that way.

Horse Striking Shadow on an equine treadmill
Horse Striking Shadow on an equine treadmill

There are plenty of other grounds where political rallies can be held. When political rallies are held here, especially mammoth ones, it disturbs the infrastructure.” Yet, Jain admits that the club does have to accede to demands at times. “How do you say no to political parties? Especially with the lease still pending? How do you say no?” he asks rhetorically.

N Devlaliwalla, Gaurav Sethi and A Ahmed
N Devlaliwalla, Gaurav Sethi and A Ahmed

Trainer M P Jodha gave the thumbs up to horse Murioi stating he is the best horse in the race, but the veteran trainer was waiting to see horse Jeremiah yesterday too. It seemed like it is the Murioi the merrier. So it is with trainer N Lagad who does not have a runner in the Derby but backed Murioi too.

Trainer N Lagad (l) with chairman, Vivek Jain
Trainer N Lagad (l) with chairman, Vivek Jain

Trainer of Murioi, S Ganapathy simply grinned when asked if he felt the pressure of expectations with his horse being talked about as favourite, “just another race day,” he said about the Derby adding that Irish jockey C D Hayes would be riding Murioi, while he has another runner, Southern Emperor in the Derby fray.

Malesh Narredu Pradyumna S
Malesh Narredu and Pradyumna S

Most people have cabins, and the ubiquitous desk, chair and now ergonomically designed workstations to work at. Dr Phiroz Khambatta, vet, who also does equine surgeries at the Mahalaxmi, has the trees, chirping birds and lush green lawns of the turf club as his office environs. “I am truly blessed,” he says.

Mohit Lalvani S Ganapathy
Mohit Lalvani and S Ganapathy

Racing’s man in the know, Hasmukh Chavda said that there is a buzz that bigwig owner M A M Ramaswamy, not seen in Mumbai for years now, may just make an appearance this Derby, though there is still some suspense about whether MAM would make it.

P Khambatta H Chavda
P Khambatta and H Chavda

With so many classic wins below his belt, MAM is used to the cheers, but Chavda remembers years ago in Mumbai when MAM’s 12:1 horse won, angry punters who lost money had greeted the owner with jeers and shouts of ‘chor, chor’. That’s public ire and fire for you, at the racecourse when money speaks rather louder than sound minds.

M Mallya
M Mallya

So sorry ladies, but it looks like a colts Derby rather than a fillies one this time. Commentator Mahendra Mallya, stated that a colt from Bangalore, Agostini, is a late entrant to the Derby and looked really good in track work yesterday morning.

Make a note that Nevill Devlaliwalla owner of Alaindair running in the Derby stated that Murioi is looking good, but reminded this reporter about Mystical and Satellite which were beaten in the past. “If you do not race, you do not know,” he said. Meanwhile, both owner and trainer, Altamash Ahmed have selected Y Srinath to ride Alaindair.

Incidentally, jockey Srinath has had some falls off his mounts in the past, but if all goes well he will be sitting pretty securely on Alaindair. Devlaliwalla will be wearing his lucky blue jacket on Sunday. It is time to do and to dare for Alaindair.

When Senior Stipendiary Steward Pradyumna Singh was asked whether he felt the pressure of the Derby more than any other race, he said, “No, for us (stipes who are in charge of fair racing) each race is the same and as important. There are two points: one is the genuine reading of the public of a race, where we have to investigate and the other is the public overreaction, when they lose money.

While overreaction is understandable because punters talk through their pockets, we need to investigate that too.” Asked if he wished for a controversy-free Sunday, Singh grinned and said, “I think we will have a good day,” before sauntering off. You can bet on that.

Former champion jockey Malesh Narredu who is now a trainer has a horse called Falcon in the Derby fray. He says it will be a question of whether Falcon will be able to stay 2400m, though he has run that distance in track work. On another tack, when Malesh was asked whether as trainer the pressure of keeping his weight down has fallen away (jockeys have to be very light) he laughed and said “I am enjoying the biryani my wife makes,” he added. Yum’s the word.


Ashish Sharma used pencil shavings to decorate his drawing

Racing is not only about big names, which are the most visible as Derby day comes around. Anil Sharma, a peon with RWITC, who has worked at the club for 16 years, claims even his nine-year-old son Ashish Sharma feels the excitement when he sees the club readying for the occasion. The blooms and manicured lawns caught Ashish’s imagination so he made a painting, inspired by the riot of colours all around. Flower power hour!

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