Monday, February 5, 2018

Derby Day – Memories of an erstwhile “Punter”

DERBY DAY – “Punters’ Romance”


– on Sunday – the 4th of February 2018  was Derby Day” – the day of the The Indian Derby – the crème de la crème of horse races in India. 

Yes – the 4th of February 2018 – the first Sunday of February  was the date for the Indian Derby 2018 – the 76th running of the most prestigious horse race in India. 

The Indian Derby 2018 was won by Rochester – who sprang a surprise win. 

Yes – yesterday – Sunday  was Derby Day” – the day of the The Indian Derby – the crème de la crème of horse races in India – which is run on the first Sunday of February every year since 1943 at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai (earlier called Bombay).

Derby Day always evokes fond memories of my “Punter Days” as a young Navy bachelor.

Had I not joined the Navy – maybe – I would have never seen the Derby – or probably – I would have never visited a Race Course. 

During my glorious Navy Mumbai Bachelor Days in the 1970
s/1980– as a avid punter”  I did not miss my date with the Indian Derby at the premier Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai

Many years later when I was posted to Mumbai again – though I stopped frequenting the racecourse  I made it a point not to miss the Indian Derby held annually on the first Sunday afternoon of February.

I have fond memories of my “Punter Days” in the 1970s/1980– and – the many exciting races I witnessed – especially the Derby Races.

Of these 
 the most memorable, exciting and thrilling Indian Derby I witnessed was the unforgettable Indian Derby Horse Race run in 1980. 

Dear Reader: Let me tell you about it...


My Most Memorable Indian Derby - An Unforgettable Race

It’s been a long time since I visited the racecourse to watch horse racing  the King of Sport and the Sport of Kings
But Derby Day is fast approaching and I am quite excited as to who is going to win the greatest classic of the season at the Mahalakshmi Race Course the Indian Derby on Sunday. 
I can never forget that exciting afternoon on my very first day at the races  Sunday – the 3rd of February 1980  when I was so lucky to witness the crème de la crème of horse races in India – The Indian Derby  which is run on the first Sunday of February every year since 1943.
I still have vivid memories of that wonderful afternoon  though 38 years have passed since that delightful Derby Day. 
I lived in Mumbai then and a number of my colleagues were avid punters  as race-goers are called.

The excitement started on Wednesday when the declarations appeared in the newspapers and the conversations were abuzz with heated discussions as to would win the Indian Derby – Aristocrat or Everynsky...?

Well  Aristocrat and Everynsky were both favourites to win the Derby and each had their passionate followers. 

But there were other good horses in the fray too 
 notably a horse called Mohawk.

By Friday  the papers  both the newspapers and the race tabloids  were full of predictions, speculations and tips.

Both Aristocrat and Everynsky had top following 
 but Mohawk too was tipped to win by a few tipsters.

Come Saturday evening  and we duly picked up our Cole Race Cards from a bookstall at Churchgate. 

My punter friends were in a frenzy, calculating, computing, deciding  what they were going to wager – in the Derby  and in the other races too  at the bookmakers – and at the tote  for the jackpot, the treble, the tanala etc.

The topic of conversation during our Sunday morning walk on the Marine Drive was the Indian Derby  with “expert opinions” being freely aired. 

We returned to our ship – had breakfast – and got ready to go to the races. 

We walked down to Churchgate 
– and – after a hearty brunch of Kheema Pav and Chai at our favourite Stadium Restaurant next to Churchgate Railway Station – we took off by local train to Mahalaxmi.

We made it a point to purchase “return tickets” 
– just in case we had a bad day...!!!

Almost everyone got off at Mahalaxmi Railway Station and the atmosphere in the race course was electrifying.

There was a festive air at the Royal Western India Turf Club RWITC Race Course at Mahalaxmi. 

It was like a carnival  with there were so many two-legged birds in the most fashionable dresses and exotic hats. 

I wondered whether I should focus on the Horses or the “Beauties.

To a novice like me  the whole experience was mind-boggling.

 to see the horses parade in the paddock.

– rush to the bookmakers ring  which was surcharged with excitement.

You had to look at the bookmakers
 odds  then look at your own calculations in your Cole –also listen to tips  then – run once more to the paddock to see the jockeys mount their horses – and the horses being led off to the starting dates.

And then 
 you rushed back to the bookmakers betting ring to place your bet.

After that 
 you ran up the stairs to get a good seat in the stands  to watch the Indian Derby Race.

For me  it was fun to watch this spectacle  because – for most of the races  I was only placing modest bets of five and ten rupees on the tote – for forecast pool, jackpot, treble, tanala etc.

I had decided to just place one bet in the Indian Derby Race of Rs. 100 (a hundred rupees) for a win at the bookmakers 
 though I had not decided on the horse yet.

It was going to be either Aristocrat or Everynsky  whoever offered better odds.

Just before the Indian Derby  I watched the horses parade in the paddock.

I felt a premonition 
 a hunch  so – I followed my sixth sense  I placed my win bet on Mohawk

Most of my punter friends were betting heavily on Everynsky 

It seemed that they had got a last minute “tip”.

 some die-hard punters were backing Aristocrat.

Aristocrat and Everynsky were the two horses who were the 
favourites to win the Indian Derby 1980. 

But  there was a frenzy of betting on other horses too  especially on Mohawk  as the odds fluctuated wildly.

In the bookmakers’ betting ring – I observed a pretty young lady observing me – as I placed my bet on Mohawk.

Suddenly – the pretty lady asked me: 

“Who do you like...?”

I was about to say: 

“I like You...” 

But – I controlled myself  and true to racing form  I said: 

“I like Mohawk...” 

So – the pretty young lady placed her bet on Mohawk too  like I had done.

Having placed my bet – I rushed out of the bookmakers betting ring – climbed up the stairs – and managed to get a good seat in the stands – to get a good ringside view of the Indian Derby Race. 

It was a fantastic race. 

All eyes were on Aristocrat  Jagdish astride  who had a stable-mate horse as pacemaker.

And  I think it was the famous Vasant Shinde who was riding Everynsky 

But  Wally Swinburn magnificently steered Mohawk to fantastic victory.

This result caused a stunning upset.

Mohawk had won the race from a fast finishing Everynsky 
– with Aristocrat left far behind – out of the reckoning.

My punter colleagues  most of whom had backed Everynsky were disappointed.

The few who had put their money on Aristocrat  were quite dejected.

When they realized that I had bet on Mohawk 
 they were quite surprised at my good fortune.

As I went to collect my win dividends 
 I noticed the pretty young lady looking at me. 

She too had come to the bookmaker to collect her winnings. 

She was smiling with joy – as if we shared some secret. 

Following my “expert tip” – she too had bet on Mohawk – and won a sizeable amount.

The pretty young lady was delighted that she had outwitted her Dad 
 a dyed-in-the-wool punter  who had bet on Aristocrat

The pretty young girl smiled sweetly as she said goodbye to me. 

Then – she walked towards the members’ enclosure.

 before she walked away  she spoke to me. 

She said that she hoped that I would be coming to the Races next Sunday. 

And  she told me  that she looked forward to some “expert” tips from me. 

– Dear Reader – that was the beginning of a long and lovely friendship – and I was punctually present at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai on every Sunday afternoon for the rest of the racing season.

Do you want to know what happened to our beautiful “Punters’ Romance”...? 

Well – that’s another story.

In due course – I would have to move out of Mumbai on transfer  but whenever I was in Mumbai  I never missed the Indian Derby – or any of the other classics. 

I have enjoyed the horse races at the magnificent race course at Kolkata 
 where lady luck favoured me greatly  at Bangalore  where too I was quite lucky  and at Mysore  the most picturesque racecourse nestling under the Chamundi Hills  at Ooty  and  of course  at the cute little race course at Pune  my home town.

I witnessed many memorable derby races  at Mumbai  and elsewhere  but the most extraordinary Indian Derby I remember was in 2003  when a relatively unknown horse called Noble Eagle – who was supposed to be a pacemaker  flew off from the starting gates  kept galloping at top speed  and the horse won the race in a start to finish swift run  causing the biggest upset ever in the Indian Derby.

Guess what...?

Believe it or not...!!!

The same pretty young lady  who had now metamorphosed into a beautiful woman  thanked me once again for the “tip” – and this time – her winnings were quite substantial

I wonder why I liked Noble Eagle

I looked at the horses parading in the paddock  and while they were being led off to the starter gates.

Suddenly  it was my sixth sense that made me wager a “Place bet on Noble Eagle.

My beautiful friend  the same pretty young lady  she seemed to have more confidence in me  than I myself had in my own punting skills.

I had cautiously wagered a “Place bet on Noble Eagle

But – on my “tip” – she had placed a “Win bet on Noble Eagle at excellent odds  and she made a small fortune.

I wish I had been more daring like her.


Dear Reader 
– sixth sense doesnt always work  so it is better to follow the conventional way of Punting when you go to the racecourse.

Here are some Tips for the novice Punter:

1. Study the Cole Race Book and Racing Columns in Newspapers and on the Internet

2. Do your homework

3. Listen to “tips” and advice

4. Have a look at the horses in the paddock parade

5. Observe the goings-on in the bookmakers’ betting ring and tote boards  especially the movement of the odds

6. Watch the big guns” and their betting patterns

7. Then – make your own judgement and place your bet

That  in a nutshell  is the Art of Punting

I used to love going to the races.

There is so much to enjoy – the thrill of punting 
 the air of excitement  the festive atmosphere – the sight of strong, swift and handsome horses galloping at their best  the beautiful people dressed in their Sunday Best  and – the delicious snacks in between the races.

Is there a reason why you should go for the races...?

A quote from my favourite philosophical book The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang probably says it all:

“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner  you have learned how to live...”

Happy Punting...!!! 

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This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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