McDowell Signature Indian Derby Signs off In Style
By Mahendra Mallya
Romancing with the horses couldn’t have got a better endorsement than one provided by Moonlight Romance herself. With the crowning of the filly, the McDowell Signature Indian Derby week culminated in style.
The organisers, RWITC and the Sponsors United Spirits Ltd, had worked in tandem to make this event a grand success. The promotion of the event, the lead-up program and the general functioning of the two teams worked in perfect sync and the result was an all out mega hit!
The Indian Derby ‘property’ has remained with the UB Group for the last 27 years, inception being in the year 1985. Ever since named as the McDowell Indian Derby (Gr 1), the Sponsors added ‘Signature’ to the title after their popular whisky, re-naming it the ‘McDowell Signature Indian Derby’ a couple of years back. It’s not only the name that has changed but the very outlook towards the race and the hoopla around it too. The ever-popular Indian Derby is today perched at the top as an event dear to the city of Mumbai.
It is not just confined to horse-racing alone. The McDowell Signature Indian Derby has earned the reputation of being an extravaganza of style, glamour, show-biz and the ultimate frontier for an Indian thoroughbred. The prize money has increased multi-fold and the latest edition of the McDowell Signature Indian Derby boasted of the highest stakes ever offered in the country, in the region of Rs 2.2 crore. The winner’s purse standing at an impressive Rs.1,30,83,000/-. A glittering trophy of a ‘Man and Horse’ valued at Rs.1,00,000/- , invaluable to have in one’s showcase.
The lead-up to this year’s Derby was impressive. A press conference days before the Derby said it all. Mr Vivek Jain, Chairman RWITC and Mr Amrit Thomas, VP Marketing, USL, had promised a stellar Derby weekend. What was even more stunning was the first formal announcement that Dr Vijay Mallya’s UB Group and the RWITC had agreed in principle to extend the association between the two sealing the contract for another five years for a whopping Rs.28 crores. The news was lapped up amidst thunderous applause. This was one of the biggest sponsorship deals for any sport in India. The McDowell Signature Indian Derby promised richer stakes and bigger challenges in the near future.
Continuing with the re-cap of this year’s Derby, another exciting run-up was the ‘Breakfast with the Champions’ drill. A large media entourage, comprising both print and electronic, were invited to the race track to witness the Derby contenders preparing for the sternest test of their careers. Live commentary on the work-outs of the horses with their work timing helped the media personnel to understand the intricacies of the behind-the-scene prep work. After the track work, the trainers and jockeys of the horses participating in the Derby spoke to the press giving them a feel of what it is like to get the contenders in optimum shape close to the big day.
A guided tour of the stable area and a firsthand insight into the lives of the race horses was met with intrigue and innocent awe. Trainer Narendra Lagad spared considerable time with the large number of media folks explaining every little detail from feeding routine to shoeing of horses. Later a look at one of the horses working out on treadmill, galloping at quite a good pace at that had the media totally spellbound. Dr Feroz Khambatta explained to the media the newer and updated versions available for the horses’ upkeep. A tour of the equine swimming pool and a complete insight into the benefits of swimming by trainer Imtiaz Sait was another experience that went down with those present. With this firsthand experience with the ground realities about horses, the media response was quite enthusiastic with clippings and pictures going to many living rooms hitherto untapped. This was a successful exercise and helped publicise the sport in the right earnest.
The ‘Post Position Draw’ was another well-attended event with the connection of the Derby contenders keen to decide the fate of the gate themselves. The evening was one full of entertainment with a lively fashion show and ethnic live Rajasthani folk music lending a mystic touch to the evening. Young Siddhartha Mallya playing an active part in the activities was heartening. Sr. Mrs Mallya was also present and the RWITC did well to felicitate Dr Vijay Mallya’s mother.
The Derby weekend opened to a lively start on Saturday and all the races on the day were trophy races sponsored by the USL. The feature event of the day – The Kunigal Stud Farm Breeders’ Produce Stakes (GR3) - showcased a potential champion in Picasso, a promising three-year-old from trainer Pesi Shroff’s yard. The last race of the day saw an awesome display from Scarface, coming from a hopeless position to pull off a sensational win.
Fancy cars, fancier hats and immaculately dressed patrons started arriving at the racecourse from early on to escape traffic snarls and parking woes. The sprawling car park all around the RWITC was packed and even a Nano couldn’t be fitted anywhere by 4 pm. A sea, rather ocean of people was swarming all over the racecourse hunting for vantage points to ensure a ‘good peek’ at the starting gates placed for the Derby.
The now famous ‘roar of the masses’ that sets the horses going off the blocks rented the air as the starter downed the flag and the gates flung open. The excitement and the noise was Omni-present right through the race even as the jockeys were keeping their cool and trying to maintain the calm on their mounts. The cheer and the decibels went soaring as the screams got louder when Macchupicchu took over the running past the 400 and Moonlight Romance joined him for the final kill. When Richard Hughes appeared on the scene with Ocean And Beyond, the crowd expectations rose to unbelievable levels, hoping for the impossible to happen. However, Moonlight Romance did enough to retain her lead. The crowds soon forgot their personal preferences and stood up in unison to applaud the triumphant filly, irrespective of who they had rooted for seconds earlier. All present at the racecourse wanted to share the feeling of the winner and were generous in hailing Moonlight Romance and David Allan with gusto. If it was Jacqueline who stole their hearts last year, it was Moonlight Romance who made them fall in love all over again.
The entire weekend was spiced up by a variety of international entertainment package. Tributes to Freddie Mercury and Pussycat Dolls enchanted the revelers and most were seen with the now famous Saddle-up cocktail, the traditional Derby drink. The presence of Dr Vijay Mallya always spurs up and stimulates the masses as everyone relates to the King of Good Times. Such is his charisma. The paparazzi were in frenzy when he approached the presentation podium, which was placed across the Grand Stands after a very long time. Dr Mallya and Mr Vivek Jain arrived in a plush Rolls Royce to the amazement of all present escorted by two lead horses. The pomp and show was of the highest level and marked as a true tribute to the most important race!
Mr Vivek Jain, visibly basking in the overwhelming response from the crowd, commented, “It was one of our best days ever. Record attendance, a super race, a delighted sponsor and a very satisfied public. It’s a dream finish to a tireless effort."
Dr Vijay Mallya gave away the trophies to the winners. Also present were his son Siddharta Mallya and brand ambassador Abhay Deol. “I am happy about the long association we have had with RWITC and I intend to continue this for a long time. The McDowell Signature Indian Derby is one of the hottest occasions on the sporting circuit and I am happy to see so many people all turned out in their finest regalia, looking good and with lovely hats and in lovely safaris”, said Dr Mallya.
The Derby magic has always cast a spell over the city of Mumbai. There is no other event akin to the Derby that attracts such a cross section of people. A mention is a must here, about the statement made by Mr SD Lalla Joint President UB Group, that the renewal of the contract was never too early even though it was done more than a year in advance. The USL have the sponsorship rights up to 2012. Mr Lalla stressed on the fact that the McDowell Signature Indian Derby has been an event that the UB Group have associated with for the past 27 years and would like to do so in future as well. Gesturing towards young Siddharta Mallya, Mr Lalla said that the youngster would ensure that “the association would be carried on for another 100 years”.
This clearly suggests the love for the sport and the sentiments behind the event, which both, the premier Club and the Sponsors harbour for this particular race. The future looks even more exciting and the McDowell Signature Indian Derby holds the charm, the captivating significance and the enthralling effect like no other event in this city of Mumbai, which has so much to offer in terms of lifestyle and entertainment.