Early morning at Mahalaxmi race course and the place is transformed into an oasis of strength, hustle and magic. It is here that the sweat and breath of race horses mingle with the early Mumbai haze to give even the most casual passer-by the sense that something special, something important and something different is about to happen. And soon, by the time the sun starts to peek through the heavy mist, it all begins.
Derby day is three days away and the connections of the favourites are watchfully hopeful in the stands as their horses make their way through to the inner track for the their final spurts. A good one here and it will be an easy mind that goes into India’s biggest horse race. A bad one, and it could mean disaster for it is now too late but for anything but the most minor of adjustments.
This year’s McDowell Signature Indian Derby seems to be not just a clash of sexes, but one that has an undefined strength at the top of the pecking order. Two major stables that are led by racing’s most prolific names in the sport, Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy and Pesi Shroff are sending in their very best to do battle against each other. This is a rivalry that has spanned decades when Pesi Shroff was riding for Dr. Vijay Mallya and is one that came to a head in the nineties when Pesi Shroff had an altercation with Dr. Ramaswamy. An altercation, which finally had to be settled out of court with the later relenting.
In 2014, Dr. Ramaswamy has the favourite in Murioi while Pesi has the second favourite in a grey horse called Jeremiah. One is like Ali, the other like Fraser. Murioi is Ali, on his toes and flashy as he walks by with a swagger. Jeremiah, the Fraser, flat-footed in comparison and doggedly determined to wear down his opponent with every extra moment that they spend together in the ring.
Here in the morning, both seem to have finished off their work happily enough and from the expression on their connections’ faces, both have done enough. Back at the stable, the farrier will fit racing plates to the hooves of each and despite the utmost care, a slip of the hand or a nail too deep could mean that the Derby dream is over even before it begins. A swim might help over the next two days and even some controlled work outs on a treadmill may be part of the program.
Dr. Ramaswamy and Pesi Shroff are seasoned hands at this game. Both have been here before and both know what it takes to make a champion. Neither will give an inch to the other and when the champion for 2014 is crowned on the first Sunday in February, both will relish it as it happened to them for the first time ever. That is the magic of the McDowell Signature Indian Derby.
Article by - Mohit Lalvani