The Indian Derby Q and A

Updated: Jan 29, 2020, 09:46 IST | Prakash Gosavi | Mumbai

The Indian Derby is run every year on the first Sunday of February at Mumbai's Mahalaxmi racecourse

This image is used for representational purpose
This image is used for representational purpose

What is "Derby"?
The Derby is a horse race. Or to be precise, it is the title of the richest and the most prestigious race in a country.

Why is it called the Indian Derby?
Every nation's best horse race is called the "Derby". In England, it's named after the racetrack where it is run (Epsom Derby), and in the U.S. it carries the name of the state in which it is run (Kentucky Derby). In Japan and India, it's called the Japan Derby and the Indian Derby respectively.

Where and when is it run?
The Indian Derby is run every year on the first Sunday of February at Mumbai's Mahalaxmi racecourse.

Why the name Derby?
The name Derby traces its roots to the 12th Earl Of Derby in the 18th century England who framed the race and, as legend has it, won the toss when a coin was thrown into the air to choose the title of the race. Lord Derby won that historic toss against his friend Sir Charles Bunburry.

Who started the Indian Derby? When & why?
Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, freedom fighter, politician and educationist, who founded the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan at Chowpatty in 1938, was home minister of the then Bombay Presidency. A staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi, he was so possessed by the idea of "swadeshi", that he wanted a Derby reserved exclusively for India-bred horses! So he instituted the Indian Derby, the inaugural Derby was run in 1943 and was won by a filly named Princes Beautiful. This year the 78th edition of the Derby will be run, prefixed by the sponsor's name: The Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr 1).

Are there any other Derby races in India?
Yes, of course. All regional horse racing centers in India have their own Derby races, in fact two Derby races every year--a monsoon Derby & a summer Derby. But they are named after those cities, like the Bangalore Derby, the Mysore Derby, the Chennai Derby, the Golconda Derby, the Kolkata Derby, etc. Only the Derby at Mumbai is called the Indian Derby thanks to the history and prestige attached with it.

Over what distance is the Derby run?
The Derby is run over a mile-and-a-half (2,400m or 2.4 km), which is the exact one round of the oval-shaped Mahalaxmi racetrack. The Derby horses, therefore, jump out of the gates placed almost opposite the winning post! They travel the entire ~over~ *oval* and fly past the winning post the second time to decide the best 4y old horse in the country. Yes, the Derby is reserved for only 4y old Indian horses. The point to note is that all horses participating in the 2020 Derby were born in the year 2016.

What's the prize money for the Indian Derby?
Princess Beautiful, winner of the inaugural Indian Derby in 1943, took home Rs 35,000. The prize money gradually progressed to Rs 2 crore in 2010, thanks to the association of brand McDowell of Vijay Mallya. The prize touched a record Rs 3 crore in 2016. However, this year the Derby stakes will hover around Rs 2 crore only.

Who holds the record for winning maximum titles of the Indian Derby?
Trainer Rashid Byramji, the greatest living legend of Indian racing, though he is now retired. Byramji won the Indian Derby a record 13 times (twice through his deputies when he was denied a license in Mumbai), among which are two hat-tricks.

Which jockey has won the most Derby titles?
Jockey Pesi Shroff, now champion trainer, holds the record for winning the highest number--he won the Indian Derby 8 times as a jockey, which also included a hat-trick! Interestingly, Shroff also won the Derby as a trainer with Jacqueline in 2010.

Who was the luckiest owner in the history of the Indian Derby?
Undoubtedly, Ranjit V Bhat. The Mumbai businessman won the Indian Derby three years in a row, a feat not even the Maharajas of yesteryear or industrialist-owners of the day could emulate with their virtually unlimited resources. His winners were Commanche (1976), Squanderer (1977) & Manitou (1978), all trained by none other than Rashid Byramji.

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