The milestone 75th Indian Derby is over and done with, but the dust is still swirling on the picturesque track at Mahalaxmi. Racing’s most prestigious event is over but don’t put away your binoculars yet — instead, take a good, hard look at this green emerald of SoBo.
This race has shown us just how important the racecourse is to Mumbai. This turf of the sport of kings is a vital green lung in a concrete-covered city and, lately, it has become a favourite stomping ground for running clubs that have mushroomed after the Mumbai marathon provided the spark for the current running boom. The open, green pocket serves as an easy-to-access recreational space for thousands of walkers and joggers.
But this could all come to an end. There is a deal by a builder to develop the racecourse, back on the table after it was scotched years ago. The builder has promised that open spaces will be kept free and open, but we have to ensure constant vigilance. The Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) is acutely aware that the 100-year-old lease for the space is over and needs to be renewed. But it is skating on thin ice amidst mounting political pressure to convert the ground to commercial space.
Every open space need not be exploited commercially — this well-kept space is already priceless to Mumbaikars. If anything, politicians need to ensure that it is kept encroachment-free, for the benefit of the public. They must use their power to stymie any land-grabbers; they cannot be doing just the opposite. This should not be a public vs politicians battle.
A city needs a racecourse and we should be so proud to have one bang in the center of the pulsing, beating heart of Mumbai. Racing’s showpiece event is a reminder about how it is a place to cherish.