The top six contenders for Sunday’s Indian Derby enjoyed excellent positions when gate numbers were drawn by lots at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse on Thursday evening
It’s not impossible. But it’s highly improbable. Defying the laws of statistical probability, the top six market fancies for the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby to be run at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse on Sunday were lucky to get excellent positions when gate numbers were drawn by lots, while the most disadvantageous gate numbers, from 14 through 20 in a 20-horse field, went to horses that are largely viewed as running without a hope.
Off they go: Horses storm out of their respective starting gates at last year’s Indian Derby at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse
The gate position, for a Derby runner, can make or mar its chances. When the 20 Derby contenders will line up opposite the grand stand of the Mahalaxmi racecourse on Sunday, they will be loaded into an electronic, state-of-the-art starting gate that was imported by the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) after the tragic death of a horse named Running Bull who got awkwardly caught up under the old starting stalls at Pune in August 2010.
Zavaray Poonawalla, present chairman of the club, had then taken the initiative to import the new starting gates at a considerable cost which have been in use since then.
These modern gates are more roomy and well-cushioned on both sides to avoid injury to a fractious horse. They ensure a perfect and even start for all participants as they flash open in a microsecond after the starter puts his flag down. But the luck of the draw has nothing to do with the starting gates being modern or perfect, it has to do with which gate number gets allotted to which runner; and since horses drawn far wide have to travel that much extra distance around the turns of the oval racetrack, no one wishes to be drawn too wide.
For a race like the Derby, drawing the gate positions by lots is also part of a Derby ritual, which was conducted in a glittering ceremony on the lawns of the racecourse on Thursday evening.
The function was graced by none other than Dr Vijay Mallya who, in 1985, was the first to sense the Indian Derby’s potential as a lifestyle event and has been sponsoring it since then for a record 32nd year. Interestingly, all the half dozen prime Derby contenders in the 20-horse line up were served rather useful gate positions in the lucky draw.
Pesi Shroff’s prime hope, Costa Del Sol, got gate#2, while the Bangalore challenger Brilliant Cut got #4, and Malesh Narredu’s Colombiana got gate position #6. Even Star Formation, picked up a single digit draw of 8. At first glance, the likely Derby favourite Myrtlewood getting #12 looks bad, but remember she is the one who has scored both her victories (1000 Guineas & Oaks) by coming from behind, so her trainer Shroff is surely not going to complain about it.