If wishes were horses

Feb 06, 2013, 08:05 IST | Hemal Ashar

R Rajamma would fly! This co-owner of Indian Derby winner, horse Super Storm, was once employed at the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC) as a tote ticket computer operator for Rs 20 a day

From a tote ticket computer operator to co-owner of the winning horse called Super Storm in the just run Indian Derby, R Rajamma’s journey is the proverbial long one. This Bangalore-based horse owner who now owns a beauty parlour in the Garden City, once was a tote ticket computer operator (tote is the betting window at racing centres where punters can bet anything from Rs 10 onwards on a horse).

R Rajamma holds aloft the trophy
R Rajamma holds aloft the trophy

She was employed by the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC) in the early 1990s as a tote ticket operator. She worked during the racing season on weekends, earning approximately Rs 20 a day. “I started working at the BTC after I finished by Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations. We worked weekends and were paid approximately Rs 18 to Rs 20 a day,” says this 36-year-old mother of two daughters. At that time, I was young, and like most young people I was a dreamer. I would look at the glamour, these horse owners in suits and their wives in silks leading winners from the track to the paddock and think to myself that I too, want to be a horse owner some day.”

The horse breezes past the post
The horse breezes past the post

After a couple of years of working at the BTC, Rajamma started a beauty salon called Aina Beauty Parlour in Bangalore. “I never lost my love for horses, though,” said Rajamma, “And I never gave up on my dream of owning one. It was not the thought of winning big bucks or even the glamour that drove me to become a horse owner. It was simply that I love animals, I loved to see the horses race, how they moved, it sent the adrenaline surging through my veins.”

Jockey Jimmy Fortune takes his prize, the most coveted in Indian racing
Jockey Jimmy Fortune takes his prize, the most coveted in Indian racing

In late 2011, Rajamma was helped by a friend called Jagdish, who took her to meet former ace jockey Satish Narredu who is now a trainer. Incidentally, Satish was the trainer of winner Super Storm. “I bought a horse as a co-owner owning 1/4th part of Super Storm,” said Rajamma. The other three owners of Super Storm are Rajesh Narredu and Anantha and Cham Dev Raju.

R Rajamma (l) and Rajesh Narredu (to the right of her) take the owners trophy from Dr Vijay Mallya. Vivek Jain, former Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) chief (next to Rajesh) and current RWITC chairman K Dhunjibhoy (extreme r) look on. Pics/Santosh Nagwekar

Satish Narredu takes up the narrative. “Rajamma met me in 2011 through a common friend called Jagdish S M. He had brought her to my stable with the intent of buying my horse. I asked her why she wanted to buy a horse and Rajamma had said she simply had a passion for horses and it was her ambition to own one.

Leggy ladeeeez at the racecourse
Leggy ladeeeez at the racecourse 

In fact, I tried to discourage her for one hour. I told her that even if she bought a horse along with others, it takes at least Rs 30,000 a month to maintain a horse. As one-fourth owner, she would have to shell out Rs 7,500 a month, to maintain the horse. Yet, she would not be dissuaded. She told me: please give me a quarter share of a horse.”

Satish Narredu
Satish Narredu 

Satish then told her to buy Super Storm, who while they did not know it then, would storm to a win two years later in the biggest race of all -- the Indian Derby in front of a cheering crowd at the headquarters of racing in Western India, the Mahalaxmi racecourse. “She agreed to buy Super Storm as co-owner. There were three other owners, and so Rajamma had to pay Rs 3, 25,000 as her share of the horse. She paid Rs 2 lakh first and then brought in Rs 1 lakh, 25,000 later. She was now co-owner of Super Storm,” explained Satish.

Satish said that, “Super Storm started winning and in all, the horse has won Rs 3 crore in prize money. Once a horse starts earning, the owners do not have to pay monthly maintenance as that is taken from the earnings. It certainly is remarkable that a first-time owner and once a tote ticket computer operator is the owner of a Derby winner. You know there are at least 1,500 horses racing and only 17 take part in the Indian Derby, out of this of course, only one wins. This is her luck. I also have to add that when I told her to buy Super Storm, she trusted me completely. She does not really know anything about horses.”

Rajamma endorses that saying, “I am no equine expert. What I do know is that one must have faith and if one has a dream, you have to think that you can make that into reality. I want to tell women especially, many of who think that owning a horse or even racing is a male domain, “Do not back down. You can achieve what you want to if you set your heart on it,” says this beautician and fashion designer who is the daughter of a farmer. Rajammma’s father has some land in a village in South India.

Rajamma has just flown back from Mumbai to Bangalore post the Derby win and has not had time to celebrate as congratulations are still pouring in. “All I know is that God has given me good fortune. I want to tell people that irrespective of gender, and, never mind if you are rich or poor you can go ahead and pursue your ambition,” she finishes.

Sharan Kumar, editor of racing website http://racingpulse.in says, “This is a remarkable chapter in the history of Indian racing.” Bangalore-based Sharan adds, “I remember Rajamma working at the BTC in the early 1990s. Then, I think she was not seen for a few years, till now she has re-emerged as a co-owner of a Derby winner. You know, so many people dream of investing in a place they used to work at. This is the luck of the owner. Winning a Derby, with the very first horse you have bought. There are owners who invest in hundreds of horses and never have a Derby winner.”

Sharan remembers when Rajamma was interviewed by BTC officials, “As is the norm when a person fills out the owner form, an official asked her whether she had worked at the BTC earlier.” Sharan says the win also shatters a myth that racing is elitist or only for the rich. “Rajamma proves that if the dream is within the realms of possibility it is worth pursuing. Hers is a journey which is unprecedented in Indian racing,” he finishes with a flourish.

Gallop glance
>> This year’s Indian Derby was run on Sunday, February 3 at Mahalaxmi racecourse.
>> The Derby is run over a distance of 2,400 meters or a mile-and-a-half.
>> Only four-year-old horses are allowed to compete in the race.
>> This year there were 17 horses running in the Derby.
>> 15 of them were colts or geldings (male horses) and there were two fillies (female horses).
>> Super Storm was ridden by Irish jockey Jimmy Fortune. Fortune had won earlier in 1998.
>> It was one of the most open Derby races ever, with many experts refusing to pick a favourite prior to the event.
>> Satish Narredu who won his first Derby as trainer, had won as jockey in 1996. He is the second professional after Pesi Shroff to win the Derby as jockey and trainer.

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