Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Derby & Bollywood

Film star Sanjay Khan (right) leading in Prince Khartoum (Jagdish up) with wife Zarine and trainer Rashid Byramji after winning the Invitation Cup, a month after he won the Indian Derby with W Swinburn astride. [Pic courtesy: Gautam Kotwal]

Derby's Bollywood Connection

Prakash Gosavi
gosavi@mid-day.com

The Indian Derby was never a mere sporting event, it was always the most looked-forward-to glamour event of the year. And after Vijay Mallya's UB Group stepped in to sponsor the race in 1985, the glitz quotient of the mega event has only been rising steadily over the last 26 years.

More than 20,000 of the 30,000 people who throng the Mahalaxmi racecourse on the Derby day every year are once-a-year visitors who don their best Sunday dress to be part of the Derby crowd. Besides wanting to watch the greatest race, they also have a secret agenda: to get a chance to brush shoulders with film personalities and Bollywood stars, many of whom grace the annual event with religious regularity.

In fact, Hindi film industry's connection with horses and the Indian Derby dates back to 1949 when film producer Sardar Chandulal Shah, owner of Ranjit Studios, won the race with his colt Balam, trained by ALJ Talib and ridden by Kheem Singh, who was the first ever Indian rider to win the Derby. Actor Motilal, a close friend of Chandulal Shah and leading man in some of his movies, was also a keen racing fan, and a regular Derby visitor.


The legendary Raj Kapoor was a great fan of the Indian Derby, and if in town, it is said he never missed his yearly trip to the Mahalaxmi racecourse on the first Sunday of February. The greatest showman of Bollywood, old-timers remember with fondness, also enjoyed a wager in the Derby for which he would wade his way through the massively crowded bookmakers' ring like an ordinary punter to place bet with a bookie named Homi Sethna.

Comedian Mehmood's involvement with horses and racing is quite well known, as he owned a huge string of horses at Mumbai and Bangalore, bought a stud farm and even bred racehorses, before selling off the entire operation due to lack of success. Mehmood had a special box in the members' stand from where he would watch the Derby with family and friends.


Late Feroz Khan was another regular who also owned a number of quality horses some of which raced in the Derby, but he could never win the coveted race. By contrast, his younger brother Sanjay Khan, father-in-law of film star Hrithik Roshan, became the first film actor to lead in a Derby winner when his Prince Khartoum, trained by Rashid Byramji and ridden by W Swinburn, won by a proverbial hairline the 1972 Indian Derby.

Ranjit Bedi, the villain of yesteryear who was more famous by his first name, also dabbled in ownership of horses, buying a horse named Gilgit, who could not fulfil his Derby aspirations but eventually reached class I. Ranjit was so enamoured by horses for some time that he also produced a movie based on a racing script in which actor Vinod Khanna had played the lead role. In fact, there have been many movies based on a script related to horse racing, the recent being Abbas-Mastan's Race and Vishal Bharadwaj's Kameenay which were box office hits.

Hitting Headlines

The man from the film world who hit national headlines in connection with horse racing was film lyricist Rajendra Krishna who won a mind-boggling sum of Rs 48 lakhs in 1971. Interestingly, until then, income from race winnings was absolutely tax-free and he took all that money home without any cut.

At the time, the jackpot amount had swelled to such astronomic proportions because the entire pool was carried over for four straight racing days due to victories of unfancied runners. As the pot grows bigger, punters invest more and more money in the pool in the hope of big dividends.

Rajendra Krishna himself later said on a TV show that he had bought over 600 combinations (each combination costs Rs 10), thus investing over Rs 6,000 in the pool that set a new record for collection. As luck would have it, more unfancied runners won even on that day, knocking off all tickets except the lucky one among the 600+ bought by Krishna that had the only perfect combination of all five winners in a row!

Interestingly, on that TV show, host Tabassum asked him: "Hamne to suna hai ghode ki char taang hoti hai, phir ye paanchvi taang kya hoti hai? [We have heard the horse has four legs, so what's this fifth leg?]"

Rajendra Krishna's answer to that question was as meaningful as the best lyrics ever penned by him. He said: "Ye paanchvi taang taqdir ki hoti hai Tabassum, aur bina taqdir ki madad se aisa jackpot kisiko naseeb nahi hota. [This fifth leg belongs to Destiny, Tabassum, and without its help no one can win such a jackpot.]"

(c) MiD DAY

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