As long as there have been domesticated horses, there have been humans enthusiastic about racing them. With that fact in mind, it’s not a stretch to find that there is racing in almost every corner of the world.
One such corner is India. The history of horse racing in the country stretches back to the beginning of British occupation. The British Thoroughbred, naturally, traveled with the colonists, and the sport was established. And even though it’s been more than half a century since India became independent, the Thoroughbred stock there is still rooted in Western heritage, with names like Hyperion and Northern Dancer common in bloodlines.
And like many countries with horse racing, India has its own Triple Crown, modeled similarly to England’s – the 2000 Guineas, run at a mile, the Derby, at a mile and a half, and the St. Leger, the longest of the three at a mile and three-quarters. All are run at the Mahalaxmi course in Mumbai, a worldly city best known for its film industry. The races are run in December, February, and late March.
The Triple Crown differs from its British counterpart in two ways – the runners must be Indian-bred, and the race is restricted to four year olds, rather than three year olds as it is in England, Ireland, the United States, and several other countries.
The 2000 Guineas and Derby were both first run in 1943, with the St. Leger coming a year later. The inaugural winner of the first two was Princess Beautiful. The filly, who also won the 1000 Guineas, was a daughter of a British-bred stallion that traced back to Rock Sand and of a mare bred in India, with French and British bloodlines. This foreign sire/native-bred cross in classic winners is somewhat commonplace, as most of the stallions today in India have been imported from other Western countries. That process could be compared to the practice of breeding foreign sires to native mares in 17th-18th century England – a process that created the Thoroughbred itself.
There have been ten Triple Crown winners since the races were incepted 70 years ago:
1953/1954: Commoner (Spadassin (FR) x My Patsy (?), by Pomme Dapi (FR))
1961/1962: Loyal Manzar (Star of Gwalior (IND) x Indra Mohini (IND) (Sheridan (GB))
1963/1964: Prince Pradeep (Migoli (GB) x Driving (GB) (Watling Street (GB))
1966/1967: Red Rufus (Dark William (GB) x Red Belle (IND) (Redbay (?))
1967/1968: Our Select (Hervine (GB) x Queen of Kandy (GB) (Colombo (GB))
1976/1977: Squanderer (Valoroso (GB) x Milky Way (IND) (Scamperdale (GB))
1981/1982: Almanac (Common Land (GB) x Clocked (GB) (Compensation (GB))
1991/1992: Astonish (Malvado (CAN) x Avola (ITY) (Exbury (FR))
1997/1998: Indictment (Razeen (USA) x Soccia (FR) (Realm (GB))
1999/2000: Smart Chieftain (Placerville (USA) x Stunning (IND) (Ascot Knight (CAN))
As you can gather from the list above, the ’60s were a great year for the Indian Triple Crown, much like the ’40s were great for the American Triple Crown.
The Triple Crown winner of 1976/1977, Squanderer, is regarded as one of the best Indian-bred horses of all time. Sired by English stakes winner Valoroso and out of a close female family that ended up producing a good number of classic winners in New Zealand, the bay stallion won 18 of 19 starts. He was trained by Rashid R. Byramji, who holds the record of Indian Derbies won with 11 titles to his name.
Indictment was the first Indian Triple Crown winner to be sired by an American-bred sire. That sire, Razeen, was a son of Northern Dancer whose second dam was the great producer Numbered Account. Razeen was sent to India in 1992 and excelled there, becoming the country’s all-time leading sire of classic winners. Indictment himself went on to become a classic sire, getting two classic winners in his first crop to race.
The latest Indian Triple Crown winner was Smart Chieftain in 1999/2000. Another son of an American-bred sire – this time, an English-raced son of Mr. Prospector named Placerville – Smart Chieftain was ridden to victory in the Guineas and Derby by Richard Hughes, a jockey best known for his success aboard Group 1 winners in England and Ireland. Other European-based jockeys to win the Indian Derby in the past decade include Colm O’Donoghue and Silvestre de Sousa. Riders such as Lester Piggott and Mick Kinane have also ridden horses over the Mumbai course.
Much like the American and English versions of the Triple Crown, the Derby is the most prestigious race of the series. It was worth 19,302,000 Indian rupees this year, equivalent to about $317,937. The winner this past February was Alaindair, a bay gelding by Irish-bred Multidimensional out of a daughter of Razeen named God’s Grace.
There are also classic races for fillies, much like England, in the form of the 1000 Guineas and Indian Oaks. But despite there being an Oaks counterpart to the Derby in India, more fillies have beaten the boys in Mumbai than at Churchill Downs and Epsom combined. 18 fillies have won the prestigious event, as opposed to the three in the Kentucky Derby and six in the Epsom Derby. However, a filly has yet to win the Triple Crown.
Racing in India takes place during two separate seasons, those seasons varying by each racetrack. Gambling in India is a mixture of pool betting and bookmaking.
Want a better picture of what racing in India looks like? Watch this year’s edition of the McDowell’s Indian Derby, courtesy of YouTube:
References: Big thanks to Pedigree Query, as always, for being an invaluable resource for historical Thoroughbred pedigrees. These two sites – Racing Pulse and India Race – are great sources of news and information on Indian racing. This article goes more into detail about Richard Hughes’ thoughts on Indian racing and jockeys.