Newbie's guide to the Indian Derby at the Mahalaxmi racecourse

Buy the book
The first thing to buy is the race book. You must have seen those small booklets in the hands of people who go racing. There are many, but the leading ones are Cole, BOL and Lucky Spinner. They all cost Rs 20 each, and they give you all the information about the races, horses and their past performance statistics, information about jockeys and trainers, and even recommendations of who they think would win. However, you must remember racing is not an easy game and even the best strike rate is about only 35 per cent. The free source to get all that information is logging on to the race club’s official website.

Indian Derby
At the paddock, where one can look at the horses pre-race. Pic/R S Gupta

Dressing up
If you are visiting the VIP enclosure (known as the members’ enclosure, entry will be Rs 350 per person), you have to follow the dress code. For gentlemen, the acceptable dress code is suit or safari, or a full-sleeved shirt with tie or a jacket/blazer (shoes are a MUST). Else national dress like dhoti, or churidar with appropriate footwear is allowed. Ladies can wear anything except beachwear. However, no specific dress code is required if you are planning to visit the public enclosure (entry fee Rs 30).

Indian Derby
Dressing up, Derby style

The Paddock
Races on a day’s card are conducted every half hour and about 20 minutes before the race time, horses are brought into the paddock (an oval area between the jockeys’ weighing room and the race track), which is impossible to miss. You can see horse owners and trainers planning their strategy and giving instructions to jockeys who then mount the horses and take them to the starting gates. Viewing the horses in the paddock can be a great piece of education for the beginner.

Indian Derby
Shaolin monks entertain punters at the paddock during an earlier edition of the Derby. Entertainment along with racing has become an integral part of this day

Regulars try to lip-read the instructions, some judge the owner and trainer’s level of confidence by the way they are dressed. Their thinking is simple: If they are nattily dressed, they are possibly expecting to be photographed leading in a winner! Not a bad piece of logic, eh? But basically, everyone is there to look up the horses. Because horses talk; and it pays to listen. Even first-timers can attempt to assess a horse’s condition if they know what to look for. The secret is to watch a horse’s coat (or skin-tone), ears, eyes, neck and tail.

Indian Derby
Watch this board for dividend figures. Pic/R S Gupta

Horse Talk
Coat: Coat means the tone of the skin. If it reflects light, it is a good sign. If it does not, the horse may be rusty.

Eyes: Rolling eyes indicate too much excitement or fright. Sleepy eyes may signify a dull horse. A focused, steady and curious gaze in the direction of the sound indicates an alert and ready horse.

Indian Derby
A horse refuses to run as the gates slam open at the start

Ears: Ears pricked forward generally mean the horse is ready and alert. Ears pinned back indicate fear, sometimes anger. A ready-to-win horse will always flick ears towards the jockey when he is mounting.

Neck: An arched neck signifies a well-tuned horse, but generally for a sprint (short-distance) race. It may not be a great sign for trips of more than a mile.

Tail: Ready-to-strike horses generally have a high (meaning ‘raised’) tail. They may lightly swish it when walking with springy steps. A kinked tail is a sign of genuine fear.

When horses leave the paddock to go to the starting gates, it’s time to make betting decisions, and the action shifts to tote windows and the bookmakers’ ring. As a newbie, you would be better off betting small (R10 is a minimum bet) on the tote, those small windows you will see everywhere.

Keep your betting simple. Bet a horse either to win (come first) or place (finish anywhere in 1-2-3). If you like, say horse #4, go to any window marked ‘Sell’ or ‘Sell/Pay’ and say these words: “Number 4, WIN, rupees 10”. Collect your ticket and change, and if your horse wins, go to any window marked ‘Pay’ or ‘Sell/Pay’, and encash your profit.

Money management
Money won is twice as sweet as money earned. But there is a hidden danger. It can also make you unrealistic about its true worth.
Take the following advice very seriously if you choose to speculate at the races:
>> Keep your betting small.
>> Remember, statistically only one in three races are won by the favourite horse.
>> Never be too sure about your bet. Remember, the only certainty in racing is uncertainty.
>> Never chase losses.
>> Remember it is NOT compulsory to bet. Also, it is not wise to bet in every race.

Did You Know?
The racetrack is oval in shape and measures exactly 2,400 metres. So the Derby, run over the trip of a mile-and-a-half (2,400m) starts from just opposite the club members’ stand, and the horses make one complete round of the oval to come back at the same place from where they start, to pass the winning post.

Only four-year-old horses are allowed to participate in the Derby, that means only horses born in the year 2009 will be racing in the Derby. There will be 17 horses participating in this year’s Derby, 15 of them will be colts or geldings (male horses) and only two will be fillies (female horses).

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