Indian Derby: Dr MAM Ramaswamy will be missed this year

Feb 04, 2016, 07:53 IST | Prakash Gosavi

Indian Derby will be the first event in more than 40 years, where racing legend, the late Ramu, as he is fondly known, will not be part of

The Indian Derby's 75th edition, to be run on Sunday (February 7) at the Mahalaxmi racetrack, will be different in one unique sense. This will be the first Derby in more than 40 years in which the greatest racing brain this country has seen, will not be strategizing about his Derby contenders.

Dr MAM Ramaswamy (right) and Shapoor Mistry (left) leading in the 2007 Indian Derby winner, ridden by Colm O'Donoghue, at Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai. Pic/RS Gupta
Dr MAM Ramaswamy (right) and Shapoor Mistry (left) leading in the 2007 Indian Derby winner, ridden by Colm O'Donoghue, at Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai. Pic/RS Gupta

Dr MAM Ramaswamy is no more (he passed away two months ago in a Chennai hospital), but his innumerable fans who know how passionate he had always been about this particular race, are sure the master strategist will be watching the Derby on Sunday from his heavenly abode.

There was a reason why Ramu had this excessive obsession about the Indian Derby at Mahalaxmi. Despite conquering virtually every prestigious race at every racetrack in the country, Ramu had repeatedly failed to win the Indian Derby in his own silks for close to 20 years.

All his attempts, after pulling off a strategic coup to humble the 1979 Derby winner Royal Tern (Karl Umgrigar up) with his Own Opinion (Jagdish up) in the Turf Invitation Cup, had come to naught. So much so that it was rumoured Ramu had consulted countless astrologers and even conducted yagna's to fulfill this dream.

S Ganapathy
S Ganapathy

An apocryphal story credits a leading astrologer in those days to have advised Ramu to somehow manage to lead in a Derby winner even if it was not in his own racing silks just to break the jinx, and Ramu then went to his good friend Dr Cyrus Poonawalla who was magnanimous to allow Ramu to join the ownership of Exhilaration, the 1989 Derby winner.

It was almost a foregone conclusion that Exhilaration (described as "the most versatile horse ever ridden," by Pesi Shroff) would win the 1989 Indian Derby, and he did. Ramu thus managed to lead in a Derby winner, but for the fiercely proud racing baron this only further inflamed his passion of winning the race in his own colours.

However, he had to wait for nine more years before Amazing Bay, a filly trained by Jim Foley and ridden by Satish Narredu, won the 1998 Indian Derby for Ramu. Horses owned by Ramaswamy later won six more Derbies (see box, "Ramu's Derby Roll"), but there was a long gap of eight years between Diabolical (2007) and Be Safe last year.
Diabolical's Derby victory, at the cost of piping-hot, half-money favourite Southen Empire, was talked of as 'scandalous' in racing circles, because it perfectly fit into a "pattern" emerging in all regional Classics that year and was too glaring to escape attention of race lovers (see box below).

Coming back to Sunday's Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr 1), Bold Command and Bold Appeal are the two horses which will race in the famous Ramaswamy silks of 'Gold, brown belt'. The first is trained by S Ganapathy; the latter by his son Karthik.

Bookmakers are giving virtually no chance to either of them, but having grown up on the regular diet of real and apocryphal stories of how Ramu took some big names among bookmakers to the cleaners with the help of his legendary horse sense and smart betting, some feel Ramu, wherever his soul is resting, will not miss this chance to score a final goal against his old enemy.

mid-day caught up with his chief trainer, S Ganapathy, who was associated with the legendary horse owner for 45 long years. Here is his take about Ramu's horses in the fray: "Bold Command is better of the two, he will be ridden by Sandesh. I have seen too many upsets to be perturbed by the fact that the bookies are giving us no chance. Boss (Dr Ramaswamy) was passionately involved in day-to-day planning even in his last days.

"I have been with him for 45 years, and we all have learnt a lot from the Boss. There are some secrets up our sleeves too, even if we are written off by betting market."

Ramu's Derby Roll
> Amazing Bay (1996)
> Star Supreme (1998)
> Smart Cheiftan (2000)
> Starsky (2002)
> Southern Regent (2005)
> Diabolical (2007)
> Be Safe (2015)

Ramu all the way

The racing season of 2006-07 saw an unmistakable pattern at all the Classics in the country, including the regional ones. Experts were aware that there was not a single horse that could take on the mighty Southern Empire, owned by Dr Ramaswamy, not even in his own stables. In fact, it was a season when Ramu perhaps owned all the top horses at every centre in India. But no one had imagined even in their wildest dreams what was to follow.

Derby at Pune (Oct 2006): Ramu's Secret Memory (C Rajendra up) at 9-1 beat Ramu's 10-4 on favourite Ruben Star (Prakash up). 1000 Guineas at Bangalore (Nov 2006): Ramu's 15-1, Star Luminary beat Ramu's on-money favourite Real Excellence. 1000 Guineas at Mahalaxmi (Dec 2006): Ramu's Guest Connections at 7-1 (pitched into fray with a whopping late entry fee) humbled Ramu's on-money fav Haunting Memories. Bangalore Derby (Jan 2007): Ramu's Star Luminary (5-1) beats Ramu's Secret Memory (10-6 on).

Indian Derby (Feb 2007): Ramu's Diabolical (15-1) beats Ramu's piping hot favourite Southern Empire Delhi Derby (Feb 2007): Ramu's 15-1 Celtic Princess beats Ramu's 30-paise favourite Bold Faith.

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