Every time an Indian Derby is run, it is time to look at Mahalaxmi Racecourse through a prism, which shows us how important it is to Mumbai.
In a city bursting at the seams and where concrete is king, this piece of turf is more than just a racecourse. It is the lung of South Mumbai, retaining its original character as a centre for horse racing, and when off-season, as a recreational space for Mumbaikars.
Reports have detailed about several attempts to usurp the space for commercial purposes. Years ago, a developer was trying to turn the racecourse into a centre for fancy hotels, and other facilities for commercial purposes. Protests and controversy followed and the project came to a screeching halt. A former sheriff had proposed a tall commercial tower and other amenities here. A former mayor was looking at Mahalaxmi as a car park. There have been several attempts by those in power that have eyed this hugely lucrative space for so many years now, that only continuous vigilance and an iron will can protect it.
When K N Dhunjibhoy took over as chairman of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) ousting Vivek Jain, one of the primary issues of the ballot platform was the renewal of lease of the Mahalaxmi racecourse. RWITC’s 100-year lease is up and the fate of the club hangs in balance. It is a particularly precarious state to be in, and Mumbaikars need to hold their breath and watch carefully which way this land will go in the near future and who will try to take it under some pretext or the other.
We have a real fight on our hands to preserve this prime land for racing and consequently, as an open space. So, as we stand, a day after Indian racing’s most prestigious crown is decided, with the dust settling on Mahalaxmi, which had been spruced up for the finest four-year-olds in the land, it is time to protect the racecourse ardently, fervently and with all one’s might. This crown jewel gives a sheen to our lives.