Monday, February 05, 2007

Horse powered weekend

Eventful weekend it was. The list of to-do things I've had since long has two tick marks now; bold satisfactory ones.


Friday night I logged into YM to message Krishna make plans to watch the Ranji finals at Wankhede. Call it telepathy, I found offlines from him that asked me about the same. I took it upon myself to increase the number from the dismal two of us. When Rai, Rajeev and Ansul agreed and Sujay coaxed another 4-5 of his batchmates to join in, I knew we were in for a fun outing, good cricket or not. Mumbai had lost Sachin overnight and then Bengal ran through the tail, and lost two early wickets by the time we left our rooms. Everyone had the same thought in mind: to watch Ganguly play. We made it just after lunch time, and found that entry everywhere was free except the pavilion stands where they charged a nominal 50 bucks. Watching so many test players and a few upcoming talents like Rohit Sharma or Manoj Tiwary from just about the best seats available at this cost was a bargain. Everyone chose the stands.

It was a pleasant suprise to see that a considerable number of people had made the same choice. Then the shocking news came. Bengal were 50/5 and Ganguly was out bowled first ball, yet again by Zaheer. The good thing is that we got to see Zaheer's lethal spell of accurate bowling, a rarity in ODI's, especially if Ponting is around. Twice he was on a hat-trick and looked like taking wicket with most of his deliveries. So much so that we figured that considering Bengal's plight we might get to see Sachin bat by the end of the day. Meanwhile watching a burly, fat Romesh Powar with a funny fatman's walk near the boundary was entertainment enough and the crowd made sure the message got across to him too. Spotting sporting celebrities like Vengsarkar, Patil and of course Dravid who took the focus away from the match in the middle for a while was another timepass we stadiumgoers got to indulge in.

As expected Bengal folded out for 143 just around tea and our expectations ran high to watch Sachin bat. An early Mumbai wicket raised the expectations to a higher level. Rohit Sharma and Wasim Jaffer had other ideas though. They made us wait and wait and wait even more, until it was almost time for end of day's play. Just as we were about to leave, Sharma got out and the entire ground rose and chanted in anticipation of the man himself walking in. But he saved himself from another day, making sure people with enough free time would turn in on Sunday too. Hope they did because I had other plans.

As an afterthought, today would have been the best day to watch with Ganguly playing well and Zaheer again picking up 5 in a Mumbai victory, the 37th time they have done this. The fact that we couldn't does leave room for another visit to the stadium with similar high hopes.


I've always wanted to witness a horse race, a big one, ever since we had this story in our ICSE short stroy book.

Sunday was the big derby day, The Mcdowell's India Derby, and I wasn't missing it for anything. Fortunatley Ansul was just as excited to accompany me to the Mahalakshmi race course. I had done enough research to convince him that we didn't need immaculate formal clothing and uptown manners or a lot of money to watch the race. Well that was there, but there was a provision for the common man too. All it took was 25 bucks for the entry and 10 bucks to place the minimum bet. He called two of his other interested friends and we joined in the carnival atmosphere of the biggest horse racing event in India. Samba dancers, stilt walkers, bollywood personalities; it was an another world altogether.

It's intimidating from the moment you walk in. People of all ages bent over their little racing books, analysing and figuring out the horse that could earn them a fortune. I've never seen so many people standing patiently in a line ready to lose their money. We knew nothing about the race, not even the horse names or the odds or the favourite. We chose 4 random names, 2 of them being the favourite (by a long margin at that, Southern Empire) and the second favourite and put 50 bucks on them. Rest two were long shots and we put 20 bucks on them.

All bets done, I looked around to the members area to get a feel of the glamour quotient talked about in the pre race articles. Honestly I've never seen a greater, more conspicuous class divide than the white wooden fences of the normal and the members area. One look at them and you know how and why they are where they are. I could have spent the evening meticulously noting all the difference but I'll save that for another race. We had a race to focus on.

The jockeys paraded the horses near the stands for public appreciation. The horses I'm used to seeing are ragged, old beasts carrying tourists on the beach or pulling tongas on the road. These beasts were different, like the members area people. Shining, beautiful, powerful, beastly and presented a picture of elegance. Soon the horses lined up and with the sound of a shot the 2400 m race began.

Most of the race had to be followed on the giant screen. Amazingly 3 of the horses we had bet on numbers 1, 5 (favourite) and 7 were in the top 4 for three fourth of the race. In the last quarter, 5 overtook 6 and then both 1 and 4 overtook 6 and near the finish 1 was pulling away for an upset victory. The horses crossed right in front of us and 1 had won by a long margin from 5. We were overjoyed. I know the probability of getting a winner right when you bet on four of them is very high, but when a long shot wins; it means a lot of money.

People all round were booing Southern Empire blaming it for stealing their money. Diabolical on the other hand won 1 crore for its owner and jockey, and a 'lot of money' as the ticket counter lady told for us. Sadly we had put only 20 bucks on this winner at 1:9.2 odds. But that 20 converted into 184 and finally put us in profit of 50 bucks. Beginner's luck maybe, but sure to get us drawn into this horse racing business. Wherever I am the next year, I'll try and make it to the Derby to experience all this again, probably with a little more cash to spend, or waste whatever way you see it.

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