My Most Memorable Indian Derby – An Unforgettable Race : INDIAN DERBY 1980

Source: Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve: DERBY DAY : Punters’ Romance

DERBY DAY – “Punters’ Romance”


Today – the 7th of February 2016 is the first Sunday of February – the date for the Indian Derby 2016.

As a avid “punter” During my glorious “Navy Mumbai Bachelor Days” in the 1970s/1980s – I did not miss my date with the Indian Derby at the premier Mahalakshmi 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 wonder who will win the Indian Derby today…?

Will it be Desert God, Myrtlewood, Phoenix Tiger or someone else?

We will come to know the answer in an hour.
Till then – do read this account of my most memorable and exciting Indian Derby – the unforgettable Indian Derby Horse Race run in 1980


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 36 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 Books from a bookstall at Churchgate – and my punter friends were in a frenzy, calculating, computing, 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 and the tanala.

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

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

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

The air was festive – like a carnival – with there were so many two-legged birds in the most fashionable dresses and exotic hats that I wondered whether I should focus on the horses or the beauties.

To a novice like me – the whole process was mind-boggling.
First – to see the horses parade in the paddock.
Then rush to the bookmakers ring – which was surcharged with excitement.
You had to look at the odds – look at your own calculations in your Cole – listen to tips – run once more to the paddock to see the jockeys mount 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 to get a good seat in the stands to watch the Indian Derby Race.

For me – it was fun to watch this spectacle – because I was only placing modest bets of five and ten rupees on the tote.
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 – and following my sixth sense – I placed my “win” bet on Mohawk.
Most of my punter friends were betting heavily on Everynsky (it seems they had got a last minute “tip”).

But – some die-hards were backing Aristocrat.
Aristocrat and Everynsky were the  two were the favourites to win – but there was a frenzy of betting on other horses too – especially Mohawk – as the odds fluctuated wildly.

In the betting ring I observed a pretty young lady observing me as I placed my bet – and suddenly she 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.

It was a fantastic race.

All eyes were on Aristocrat – Jagdish astride – who had a stable-mate as pacemaker – and I think it was the famous Vasant Shinde who was ridingEverynsky – 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 – and a 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 girl looking at me and smiling with joy as if we shared some secret.
She was delighted that she had outwitted her Dad – a dyed-in-the-wool punter – who had bet on Aristocrat.
The pretty young girl said goodbye and she walked towards the members’ enclosure.

But – before she walked away – she hoped that I would be coming to races next Sunday – and she told me that she looked forward to some “expert” tips from me.
And that was the beginning of a long and lovely friendship for 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.

Soon I would have to move out of Mumbai in transfer – but whenever I was in Mumbai – I never missed the Indian Derby or any of the other classics.
I have enjoyed the 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 won the race start to finish – 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 6th 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 – that I myself had in my own “punting” skills.

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.

But 6th sense doesn’t always work – so it is better to follow the conventional way of punting when you go to the racecourse:

  1. Study the Cole Race Book and Racing Columns in Newspapers and on the Internet
  1. Do your homework
  1. Listen to tips and advice
  1. Have a look at the horses in the paddock parade
  1. Observe the goings-on in the betting rings, especially the movement of the odds
  1. Watch the “big guns” and their betting patterns
  1. 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 strong, swift and handsome horses, the beautiful people 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…”

Are you watching The Indian Derby on Sunday afternoon ?

Tell me – who do you think will win the Indian Derby 2016…?

Come on give us a tip.

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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Copyright © Vikram Karve (All Rights Reserved)


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