Special: The Indian Derby dossier

Jan 30, 2015, 13:30 IST | Dhara Vora and Suprita Mitter

As Mumbai braces itself for its big race weekend, the guide lists performances to groove to, the hotly-tipped favourite on the turf, equine trivia and a chat with the woman who will make your head turn other heads

The chic hatter
Milliner and fashion designer, Delna Poonawalla, talks about turning heads at the race with her stylish creations

Q. How did you get into hat designing?
A. I loved watching my mum and grand mum get ready for the races and waited for the moment when I would get to wear a fancy hat. I believe this is when my interest in fashion and hats came into being. Horses are magnificent creatures and they deserve nothing less than well turned out spectators who can appreciate their beauty and grace. The Poonawalla brothers, Zavaray and Cyrus introduced a horse race for the 3-year-olds, but with a new spin to it which included having fashion at the forefront, which my mother participated in enthusiastically to make it one of the most sought after fashion events of the country. Mingling fashion and horses could not have been a more natural and perfect union. I mention this because growing up watching this unfold made me want to bring fashion, hats and all this style that went along, right to the forefront and this was truly my inspiration behind it all.

(From left) Delna Poonawalla with actresses Sapna Pabbi and Amy Jackson sporting her creations at The Mid-Day Trophy held on January 18, 2015. Pic/Shadab Khan

Q. What was the most challenging hat that you had to design?
A. Lisa Haydon has worn a huge but delicate dragon fly fascinator from our collection, while Evelyn Sharma wore quite an over-the-top royal purple colour-blocked hat to the races. Both fascinators were unusual but the key was that both these women had the hat stature and personality to carry it off.

Q. What’s the key to find the perfect hat?
A. It should suit the shape of your face.
B. It should suit your outfit.
C. While selecting a big hat, it is very important to keep your height in mind. The rim of the hat should be no wider than your shoulders. Fascinators have gained more popularity of late and are easier to wear in our climate. They are also less intimidating than a full hat.
D. It must suit your personality.

Q. Are there many hat wearers in Mumbai or does the demand rise during the races?
A. There are not many who wear hats in India besides my family, and some socialites and celebrities, of course, who feel comfortable in it. However, in the last few years, I have seen many women from all walks of society, and friends being more open to wearing fascinators. Some even test the waters with bolder hats. I am impressed with the growing number of male clients, who are open to sporting a smart hat. The younger lot are far more experimental. You see many wearing headpieces not only at the races or the Derby, but also on other occasions such as weddings and parties.

Safe or sorry?
Be safe is a well built, highly talented colt, who is on an all-conquering mission. Having dealt eight knockouts in nine battles, Be Safe is a champion to watch out for at the 31st Signature Indian Derby 2015. His stocks soared recently, when he won the Indian 2000 Guineas and followed it by winning the RR Ruia Cup in record time. If Be Safe wins the Indian Derby, he’ll be regarded as one of Indian horse racing’s all-time greats.

Mahalaxmi Racecourse
A horse gets groomed at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Malesh Narredu trains Be Safe and his jockey is Suraj Narredu. While he ticks every box on the checklist including pedigree, track record, current form and fitness, the catch lies in that Be Safe is yet to race over the Derby distance of 2,400m. “The extra 400m is tough for a horse at this stage. It’s easier to go from 1,600m to 2,000m but from 2,000m to 2,400m may be a tough test,” feels Mohit Lalwani, avid follower and anchor of the Derby.

Be Safe with jockey Suraj Narredu
Be Safe with jockey Suraj Narredu

“He has lost just once as a 3-year-old to a horse he has demolished since. In fact, the race he lost was the Poonawalla Breeders’ Multi-Million over 1400 metres and if anything, that only bolsters his claim to the crown this Sunday. It takes a specific type of horse to win the Million; generally, these are different from those who win the Indian Derby.

Not surprising then that no horse in history has ever won both races,” he explains. Also, watch out for Quasar, the winner of Pune, Kolkata and  Hyderabad Derbys, and a hot favourite contender at the Indian Derby 2015.
On: January 31 and February 1; 1 pm onwards (both days)

On a sound note
Usually known for its high glamour quotient; this time, the Indian Derby will also present a promising line- up of artistes. Karsh Kale, multi-instrumentalist, producer and collaborator, has carefully curated a group of leading alternative musicians from India and the US for his show. The sound will represent various phases of his life.


Watch out for the talented Monica Sharma Dogra, whom fans also know as Shaa’ir. “I will be performing a 30-minute set of my solo work. I’ve been working with an electric cellist named Jake Charky, to create unusual and symphonic parts, in a way that I doubt most have heard cello being performed to dance music. Linford D’Souza, who is a fabulous upcoming drummer, will also join me,” she reveals of her act.

Monica Sharma Dogra
Monica Sharma Dogra

One of the early proponents of the now-popular genre of Dubstep in India, NUCLEYA will also be performing at the Derby, “My set will feature some brand new unreleased material from my debut album coming out later this year. It will also heavily feature tracks from my Koocha Monster EP as well as crazy new tunes,” he shares. Music-heads can also groove to iconic band Indian Ocean as well as Folk Rockers Swarathma. The latter hope to include several Indian Folk elements for their gig; including a Katchi Ghodi, a puppet horse widely used by Folk artistes across Rajasthan, they reveal.

Word play from the racecourse
dark horse  Meaning: A dark horse is referred usually to a competitor of whom very little is known. Origin: This expression is believed to have emerged from horse racing. The earliest recorded mention of the idiom was by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1831 in his novel The Young Duke. The reference: ‘The first favourite was never heard of, the second favourite was never seen after the distance post, all the ten-to-oners were in the rear, and a dark horse, which had never been thought of, and which the careless St James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grand stand in sweeping triumph.’
Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms
Other words from the world of horse racing >Frontrunner >Home stretch >In (or out) of the running > Running mate

Byculla to Mahalaxmi
After the Great Breach was closed by the Hornby Vellard in 1784, and the Belassis Road Causeway completed, Byculla grew into an elite enclave with a dominant population of Europeans and Parsis. A racecourse was founded, and the Bombay Turf Club was established in 1800. By the mid 1850s, cotton mills began polluting this area, and the exodus began. The Turf Club had to move out of Byculla and was set up at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse. Architectural firm Robertson and Marks of Sydney designed the prestigious RWITC. It was built in 1883 over 225 acres.

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