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Celebrating 130 years of horse racing at Mahalaxmi - By Nergish Sunavala I TNN

Posted on - 30 Mar 2014

Celebrating 130 years of horse racing at Mahalaxmi
By Nergish Sunavala
Advertisements of swanky apartment buildings overlooking the picturesque Mahalaxmi racecourse are ubiquitous today, but in the 1880s, the neighbourhood had little to recommend it. A book published by the Turf Authorities of India describes the Mahalaxmi Flats as a “dreary expanse of marshland, covered with water in the rainy season and exceedingly dusty in dry weather”. By 1883, however, an interest-free loan, advanced by industrialist Cusrow N Wadia to shift the racecourse from Byculla to Mahalaxmi, transformed this wasteland into “acres of lush greenery, of giant, leafy trees, of a colourful selection of artistically laid out aromatic flowers”. 
On Saturday, the Mahalaxmi racecourse—a grade IIB heritage structure designed along the lines of its counterpart in Melbourne— celebrated 130 years in its present location with a dinner for some of its members. Today, the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) will organize a commemorative race called The Tata Housing Mahalaxmi 130th Anniversary Trophy. 
Recently, award-winning photographer Raghu Rai was invited to shoot the racecourse premises by the RWITC. “The images cover the stables, the live races, the horses swimming in the pool and the syces exercising them,” said RWITC chairman Vivek Jain. Fifty of his images along with watercolors by British equestrian artist Jeremy Houghton and a new RWITC logo will be unveiled during the dinner. The exhibition will be thrown open to the public during the commemorative race and will then move to a Colaba gallery, The Viewing Room, from March 31st to April 7th. 
Though celebrations for the anniversary are in full swing, the RWITC’s 99-year lease, which expired in May last year, has yet to be renewed. Politicians opposed to renewing the lease charged the RWITC with granting the public only limited access to the green space. In response to such criticism, the RWITC recently set up The Green Circle Foundation, which will host sustainability events and convert the racecourse’s waste into energy. There are also plans to set up a biopark, a mobile amphitheatre and a nature trail for schoolchildren on the club’s premises. According to Jain, the racecourse also regularly gives its premises, free of cost, for various charitable events. 
Today, the Mahalaxmi racecourse is an iconic landmark in Mumbai. Over the years, it has received a host of foreign dignitaries including the King of Saudi Arabia, the Shah of Iran, and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. 
“The Mahalaxmi racecourse is in every tourist book and we were here before the Victoria Terminus and Bollywood came into being,” said Jain. “Historically, the racecourse was used only for racing. Now, we have made a conscious attempt to completely transform it from a racing-centric club to one that is integral to the city.”

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