Excerpts from ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ ….. 13 – Chapter 6 : A time to celebrate

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Many ambitions were fulfilled. It was a night of celebrations. Maharaja Vijaysinhji already had a dinner booking for twelve guests at London’s Savoy that evening. Now there was a Derby triumph to celebrate. The delighted Maharaja simply changed the booking to a hundred.

So it was a big supper party at the Savoy that night. Maharaja Vijaysinhji was always immaculate in the way he entertained his guests, and as The Evening News recounted, “He had gone to no small trouble to find something new for last night. Each woman guest as she arrived was offered an orchid which reproduced the purple in her host’s successful racing colours.”

Daily Mail focussed on another scene: “A young elephant wearing a garland in the purple and cream colours of Windsor Lad’s owner, the Maharaja of Rajpipla, played a prominent part in last night’s Derby Night festivities in London. Shortly after midnight the elephant and her trainer made their appearance on the rising floor of the Savoy restaurant, where the Maharaja was entertaining guests to celebrate his horse’s victory. Proceeding in solemn measure round the floor, the elephant made obeisance opposite the table where the Indian Prince and his guests were sitting, and then marched off, amid cheers.”

Also privy to the celebrations was The Leader. In an article entitled “What Prince ‘Pip’ Said After Derby Victory”, the publication elaborated, “Last Wednesday night I had the honour of attending H.H. The Maharajah of Rajpipla’s Derby dinner. The Savoy can never have accommodated more people, and I have seldom seen more celebrities gathered under one roof. Opposite me was His Highness, or ‘Pip’ as he is known to his best friends, and on either side of him were his trainer, Marcus Marsh, and his jockey, Charlie Smirke. A little further away was Steve (Donoghue) in just as good form as if he had won the Derby himself, George Duller and his wife, Mrs. Smirke, Mrs. Marsh (Marcus’s proud mother), and a host of others. It was a memorable evening, and from time to time His Highness remarked: ‘Is it really true or shall I wake up to find I’ve been dreaming?’ Never has the Derby been won by an owner who more appreciated the honour of winning the greatest race in the world. As he said to me before he left Epsom, ‘I have realised my life’s ambition’.”

Nottingham Guardian also had its say in its issue dated 7th June 1934

Derby prophesy of 1868 fulfilled

Crowd cheer “Good old Pip” after Windsor Lad’s win

Bookmakers hard hit

The Maharajah of Rajpipla, who gave a party at a London hotel last night, said to a reporter: “I am proud to have won the Derby with Windsor Lad, but I am prouder still that I should have won this great race before such a sporting public. Windsor Lad is a great horse and I hope he will add still further to the stable’s triumph this summer, for he will run in the Eclipse Stakes and the St. Leger, all being well. Don’t forget that he had a great little jockey riding him in Charlie Smirke,” Smirke and his wife were guests at the Maharajah’s table at the party.

* * * * *

A film of the race was already at hand at the Savoy, as The Leader recounted: “You all know the story of the race, of how Colombo was baulked, of how he failed to come down the hill, and, finally, most important of all – of how he failed to stay. At the Savoy I watched the film with Charlie Smirke, and how the film confirmed what Charlie had told me, that Colombo actually headed him, and led the field for a few strides about a furlong-and-a-half from home. His stamina then gave out, and Windsor Lad, a dead stayer, ran him out of it, and withstood the challenge of Easton.”

“Directly he had passed the post we made a mad rush from the stand to the unsaddling enclosure,” The Leader went on, recalling the post-race scene, “I find myself jammed on the staircase against Marcus Marsh, and we shout, ‘Make way for the trainer,’ and somehow we find ourselves by the unsaddling ring. In a minute or two a burst of cheering announces the arrival of the winner, being led by his owner bare-headed, with a look of joy on his face I have seldom seen on any man. ‘Smirkey’ too is, of course, all smiles, and there is the usual amount of congratulatory pats on the back, until Brig.-Gen. Tomkinson comes along and takes the Maharajah away to be presented to the King. ‘His Majesty was charming,’ the Maharajah told me, ‘and insisted on having a glass of champagne together. He told me how pleased he was my horse had been trained by Marsh, the son of his own old trainer, who had trained Derby winners for his father’.”

About the victorious jockey Charlie Smirke, The Leader had nothing but admiration: “What a wonderful day in the life of this young man, even more wonderful when one realises that for five long years Charlie was prevented from earning his living. No man ever paid more dearly for the follies of his youth, and it was not until last autumn that he was allowed back on the Turf he loves so well. It speaks volumes for his pluck, ability, and general self-confidence that he should win the Derby, in his first year back in the saddle. My remarks that not even Steve Donoghue himself had a finer knowledge of the Epsom gradients than Smirke appear to be bang on the mark, for never have I seen a better ridden Derby winner than Windsor Lad.”

Colombo’s failure was as much a talking point and The Leader appeared to assess the situation perfectly, “After the race a number of people, talking through their pockets, blamed Johnstone, but save for the fact that he went a little wide rounding Tattenham Corner I thought he rode a perfect race. Colombo did not have the luck of the race, but the primary cause of his failure was that he failed to stay as well as either Windsor Lad or Easton. Hard-luck stories can always be anticipated after a hard-fought contest over this most tricky and trying mile and a half, and certainly, had Colombo met with the same good fortune in running as the winner, he would have given the ‘Lad’ a hard race.” 

Commending the winning horse’s performance, The Leader said, “Windsor Lad handsomely justified the strong recommendations given him as the soundest each-way bet in the race. No colt could have run in gamer fashion to stall off the desperate efforts of Easton and the favourite, Colombo, and it was just that extra bit of sticking power that stood him in good stead when the others were waning. To see a horse punch it out in that fashion and refuse to be beaten is a never failing test of condition, and, whilst Smirke can well be congratulated upon riding an admirable race, it should not be overlooked that the colt’s trainer, Marcus Marsh, was responsible for sending the winner to the post fit to run for his life.”

It had been a memorable day, and night, for the jubilant Windsor team.

It was estimated that more than 10,000 people of a score of nationalities celebrated Derby night in the West End hotels of London.

The King gave his usual Derby Day dinner at BuckinghamPalace to members of the Jockey Club. About fifty guests, all men, attended. The Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester, Prince George, and the Earl of Harewood were among the members of the royal family present. Lord Lonsdale, the steward of the Derby, was present and felt no ill-effects from the mishap which occurred when he was on his way to the race.

The Queen – who in former years had dined at a friend’s house on Derby night – drove to the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue to see “Old Folks at Home” accompanied by her brother, the Earl of Athlone and Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone,

News of the World                                                                            June 10, 1934

The Maharajah of Rajpipla, owner of the Derby winner, has two ruling passions. One is horses and the other films. He spends every summer in England, and has not missed an important race meeting here for years. In the winter he follows racing in India with the same keenness. Some time ago he invited Gordon Richards, the jockey, to go back with him as his guest and ride in some important Indian meetings. He not only has a private cinema at his English house at Old Windsor, but he recently undertook to lend his estate, troops, horses and guns, as well as put up all the actors, to a famous film producer who was looking for a new subject.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

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