Thursday, January 14, 2010

Crusader to the core

His last bow: J V Shukla ('Ashwamitra'), giving away the WIRJA Trophy to the winning owner in what turned out to be his last visit to the Mahalaxmi racecourse in May 2008 [Pic: RS Gupta]

The eighth race run at the Mahalaxmi racetrack on Wednesday (Jan 13) culminated in a thrilling finish with both Imran Chisty (Highland Flame) and S Sunil (Smokin Ace) going hammer and tongs in the final furlong. At the wire, they were separated only by a neck, the verdict going in favour of Highland Flame owned by Rakesh Kumar Wadhwan & Prem Tharani, and trained by SK Sunderji.

In a way, the fighting finish was a fitting tribute paid to a man in whose honour and memory the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) had instituted the trophy--J V Shukla alias 'Ashwamitra', a fighter and crusader to the core, who struggled for over three decades to reform the sport of horse racing.

'Babuji', as he was fondly addressed by one and all, had landed at the racecourse accidentally on a day in the early 1970's. Quitting the trade union movement after giving it his best, youthful years, he took up the job of a reporter with Indian Express at Mumbai, and was asked to cover the Mahalaxmi races on his first day at the desk.

"My knowledge about a horse was limited to the fact that it has four legs and a tail," he would jokingly remark when remembering those days later, "everyone used to ridicule me for my ignorance." However, one day when a famous racing journalist made fun of him in public, Shukla took up the challenge and announced that he would win the tipster's championship next season.

And he did keep his word! He won not one but four tipster championship titles in the next six years. "I owe all my success to my detractors," he used to say, "they brought out excellence in me by heaping insults and ridicule on me."

His trade union background never left him even if he took up a white collar job and covered the so-called 'royal' sport. He soon got all racing journalists together, and founded the Western India Racing Journalists Association (WIRJA) and fought for the scribes' rights, getting the first ever Press Box and office on the RWITC premises. He was also associated with the 'Forum for Fair & Clean Racing', that attempted to bring about some positive changes to the conduct of racing in western India.

His fighting spirit re-surfaced once again when he was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. "I will win the war against cancer and get back to work," he told me when I met him in hospital. However, as happens in most cases with this deadly disease, that turned out to be the one fight he could not win.

He however gave proof of his indomitable will power when, despite having lost nearly half of his weight and barely able to move even in bed, he visited the racecourse to present the WIRJA trophy on the last day of the Mahalaxmi racing season 2007-08. He traveled nearly 20 km from his home in my car to reach racecourse, and every bump on the road put him through excruciating pain. But once we reached the Mahalaxmi racecourse, he refused to even take anyone's hand, and walked alone to the dais in the paddock.

On the way back, he said, "I don't know if I will win this war (against cancer), but today I have at least won a battle, haven't I?"

Ironically, this turned out to be his last visit to the racecourse where he had fought many battles and won many wars.

(c) MiD DAY


  1. Shukla was last of the old guard of journalists who used decent language even when they attacked unlike some of today. May his soul rest in peace.

  2. Dear Prakash ji,

    As most of us do not carry mobile phones inside the Race Course ( deposit the phone in the counter while entering), It would be beneficial to all of us if the daily tips are sent for all FINOO selections for the day before the start of 1 st Race of that day ( at least 15 minutes before the start of 1st race).

    Kindly give a thought on this for the benefit of all your followers.


    Aloke Dutta

  3. Sirji
    As I personally dont know him,but reminds me of an old saying NO GUTS NO GLORY and as his last words to you :"I don't know if I will win this war (against cancer), but today I have at least won a battle, haven't I?"

    Awaiting your Preveiws and Selections

  4. dear prakash ji not able to find the link for ur comments on todays pls help


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