Thursday, April 08, 2010

Remembering Karl

Last week’s Karl Umrigar Turf Championship was followed this Sunday by R M Goculdas Gold Cup at the Mahalaxmi racecourse. For one who started his racing with Royal Tern, owned by R M Goculdas and ridden to Derby victory by Karl Umrigar in 1979, the two successive Sundays’ racing brought back nostalgic memories of a bygone era.

The Goculdas family was a prominent name in racing in those days, and owned a sizeable string of horses that were trained by Bal Lagad. R M Goculdas, fondly called ‘Tanubhai’, who recently passed away, was a passionate horse lover who took great pride in watching his ‘cherry & black hoops’ silks striding first past the winning post. He was also a very fair moderator of racing affairs and served as a member and steward on the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) committee for 28 years between 1960-88.

The Goculdases always had decent success with horses, but never before—and surely never after—they tasted the kind of heady success that jockey Karl Umrigar earned for them. The young riding sensation simply enraptured the race-goer with his magical riding skills race after race.

In the 1978-79 Mahalaxmi racing season, all you needed to do was bet on Karl’s mounts for win or place or whatever, and within minutes, collect your profits. Perhaps for the first and only time in the history of racing anywhere in the world, this sport actually became what it is mistakenly thought to be—a game where you can make easy money—thanks to Karl Umrigar’s astounding show.

Doubles and trebles on every day’s card became a norm for Karl Umrigar who, during the 1978-79 Mahalaxmi season, rode 144 mounts that season with 54 winners, 33 seconds, 22 thirds and 17 fourths, only 18 of his rides failing to finish in the frame. He also won the Indian 2000 Guineas and Derby with Royal Tern and the Indian Oaks with Tulipa, both carrying the Goculdas family’s silks.

Only a day before he was to be crowned as champion rider, he met with a tragic accident on the racetrack when Vasudha, a Scindia-owned filly, threw him off her back and hurt him so badly, he slipped into coma at the Breach Candy hospital where he died some days later.

Jockey Vasant Shinde who was trailing Karl in the tally cancelled all his rides on the last day, and R M Goculdas was too shattered to accept the winning owner’s trophy. Hundreds of race-goers had rushed to Breach Candy to donate blood for Karl, thousands kept on praying for his recovery, some desperate fans camping on the footpath outside the hospital day and night. Never before—or never since—a jockey was loved so passionately by his fans.

(c) MiD DAY


  1. Dear prakash
    it is nice of you to remember to write about one of the great jockey indian,
    yes he still lives in my memory
    that is one of the reason
    we picked and played
    pesi horse Diego rivera
    k.fallon failed miserably to win
    where our c.rajendra won very well
    at 10to1
    great horse,
    great trainer
    hats off
    far good

  2. Yes he has been one of the biggest loss.

  3. Remembering the past...
    Great thing.....


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