Derby guide for first timers at Mahalaxmi racecourse

Jan 30, 2014, 08:31 IST | Prakash Gosavi

A know your racecourse and racing guide for first-timers to the Mahalaxmi this Sunday, February 2 to witness the greatest race of the year -- the McDowell Signature Indian Derby (Gr 1)

Know your racetrack
The Mahalaxmi racetrack is regarded as one of the best in the world, even by international riders who come here often. It is a 2,400-metre (mile-and-a-half long) turf track, oval in shape, with the winning post bang opposite the Members' Stand where all the action is focused on Derby day.

Horses begin running as soon as starting gates like these openHorses begin running as soon as starting gates like these open
Horses begin running as soon as starting gates like these open

The beauty of the Mahalaxmi racetrack is that all its turns have such perfect banking (slope) and easy angles that horses and jockeys rarely have to compromise their speed while negotiating them. See those markers dotting along the track? Those are the points from where races for respective distances start.

A hot contest for the coveted prize as horses go past the winning post at a previous Derby
A hot contest for the coveted prize as horses go past the winning post at a previous Derby

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).

Entertainment has become a vital part of the Derby package
Entertainment has become a vital part of the Derby package

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).

Getting the information
After getting your best Sunday dress ready for the Derby, the next thing is to get the race book. All the three popular, pocket-sized race books, Cole, BOL and Lucky Spinner are available at Rs 20 each. The Sunday Derby books will be available two days before on Friday, so you get ample time to study the form of all horses. These books give detailed information about the day's races and runners, including the horses' past performance and statistics, and of course -- selections.

Visiting 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.

Racing books are a handy information guide
Racing books are a handy information guide

Viewing horses in the paddock can be a great piece of education for the beginner. Regulars try to lip-read the instructions some judge the owner/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 when leading in a winner! Not a bad piece of logic, eh?

The green is the track on which the horses run
The green is the track on which the horses run

Horses do talk
Everyone though, is there to look up the horses. Because horses talk and it pays to listen. Horses communicate with remarkable accuracy in a language of body signals and sounds. The signals can be as subtle as change in breathing rhythm or as loud as a shrill, snorting sound. Here is a primer on terminology of a horse's body language.
Coat: Coat means the tone of the skin. If it reflects light, it's 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.
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 (Rs 10 is 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' and say these words: "Number 4, WIN, Rs 10". Collect your ticket and change, and if your horse wins, go to any window marked 'Pay' and collect your profit.

Managing your betting money
Money won is twice as sweet as money earned. But there is a hidden danger to this sweet taste. It can also make you unrealistic about its true worth.
Experts recommend to 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 is won by the first favourite (lowest odds) 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.

Important tips
>> When you reach the racecourse, do make it a point to visit the huge Tipsters' Tally board. It lists all the newspapers' selections for the day. On a separate board close by, you will also find bookmakers' opening odds on all horses for all the races on the card.

>> If your horse has lost, never tear off or discard your ticket immediately after the race. Wait for the ALL CLEAR sign to go up (a white cone is hoisted). Sometimes, there is an objection or a stewards' inquiry which may alter the placings, and if you are lucky, your loser may turn into a winner.

>> The Derby is a race that decides the champion four-year-old horse. Irrespective of their actual date of birth, all horses born in 2010 are deemed to be four-year-olds in 2014, and technically, are qualified to run in the Derby.

>> The Indian Derby is run over the distance of a mile-and-a-half, which is roughly equal to about 2,400 meters or 2.4 km.

>> You can also log on to the following racing site, which are exclusively devoted to Indian horse racing, for more detailed information:,, and

Go to top