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The Numero Uno event of the Indian racing calender — The Indian Derby is set to run this Sunday at the hallowed turf of Mahalakshmi Racecourse. The excitement and reputation associated with it is unique. It is also celebrated as a social event in Mumbai with people from all walks of life making their presence felt.

The race is restricted to four-year-old horses, both colts (male) and fillies (female) and the best horses from all other racing centre's of India come to Mumbai every year to take part in the event.

There are five racing centres in India with Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) being the premiere. RWITC conducts racing at Mumbai (from November to April) and Pune racecourse (from July to October). The other centres includes Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC), Madras Racing Club (MRC) which conducts races at Chennai and Ooty, Bangalore Turf Club (BTC) which conducts racing at Bangalore and Mysore and Hyderabad Race Club (HRC).

Top level racing in India revolves around the Classic crop. The five Indian Classics are patterned on the lines of their English, Irish and French counterparts. These classics are the 1000 Guineas (for three-year-old fillies over 1600 metres), the 2000 Guineas (for three-year-old colts and fillies over 1600 metres), the Oaks (for four-year-old fillies over 2400 metres), the Derby (for 4-year-old colts and fillies over 2400 metres), the St. Legers (for colts and fillies over 2800 metres) and the Indian Turf Invitation Cup (best horse from all centres are invited).

Racing saw a boom in India during the 90s with McDowell, United Breweries, Herbertsons, VST, Shaw Wallace Group and ITC coming up to sponsor all major races throughout the country. At that time, a number of "Million races" offering more than million rupees were instituted at many centres in the country.

SOME RACING TERMS
JOCKEYS: The one who rides the horses at the races
APPRENTICE JOCKEYS: Jockeys who have not completed 40 wins or are below the age of 25 years
RIDING BOYS: Give the horses the morning workouts
OWNERS: Big guns who own horses
TRAINERS: They train the horses and understand the behavioural pattern of the animal best
HANDLERS: Those who take care of the horses in stables
STEWARDS: A group of people comprising members of the managing committee. They oversee the conduct of the races, hold enquiries and decide punishments
STIPENDIARY STEWARDS: Appointed by the club to help stewards in carrying out their duties, sort of an on-field umpire
BOARD OF APPEAL: Selected by the members of the club, they act as a supreme court. A professional can appeal against the stewards decisions with the Board of Appeal. It's decision is final and binding on everybody
The Royal Western India Turf Club had a gross turnover of Rs 123 crore last year. It paid Rs 23 crore as taxes to the Maharashtra government. This year (for the season 2004-05), RWITC is offering Rs 9 crore as prize money.

DERBY FACTFILE

The distance
The Derby run over a distance of 2400 metres is believed to be the best test of a horse's overall capacity as he or she needs to be galloping at a perfect pace to come back in flying colours.

The prize money
The Indian Derby has always set new milestones in offering prize money among classics races. The first Derby run on January 30, 1943, offered Rs 35,000 in prize money. This year, the Derby will offer Rs 71,14,490 with the winner pocketing a cool Rs 42,68,694.

Most successful men
Ace Indian jockey Pesi Shroff holds the record of maximum wins with eight triumphs to his credit. Among trainers, veteran trainer Rashid Byramji has 11 successes to his credit. Liquor baron Vijay Mallya has won the Derby five times, the best among owners.

Winning margin
Bay colt Manitou, ridden by legendary jockey Vasant Shinde, beat Ipi Tombi by a distance of 10 lengths to win the 1978 event. That remains the biggest ever margin of a win.

Three years later in 1981, four horse reached the post locked together and the winner was decide in photofinish. Bay colt Track Lightning emerges victorious beating Christoffe by shortest margin of head, Christoffe, in turn, was found to have beaten Happy Landing by the same margin and Furioso finished fourth by staying behind Happy Landing by same margin. This remains the closest finish ever witnessed.

Maiden winner
Bay colt Pyare Miya, trained by Hayat Mohommad and ridden by E Johnson, remains the only maiden horse to win an Indian Derby when he beat Carbon Star in 1975.

That was, in fant, the only race he ever won in his career.

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