Excerpts from ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ ….. 24 – Chapter 15 : ‘I didn’t think I would win the Derby – I knew’

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Article by Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla in Racing Post in August 1934

‘I didn’t think I would win the Derby – I knew’

When Windsor Lad won the 1934 Derby, it was the greatest

day in the life of its owner, the Maharajah of Rajpipla.

Later, ‘Mr. Pip’ penned his memoirs and, reproduced here,

offer a fascinating insight into the joys of owning an Epsom hero

PHOTOS : Windsor Lad wins the 1934 Derby for the Maharajah of Rajpipla, a victory witnessed by the massed hordes of racegoers at Epsom.

Years ago I made up my mind to win the Derby, but it was not until the end of Windsor Lad’s two-year-old career that I realised I had a chance of achieving my great ambition. I have never owned racehorses on a big scale; but, then, I have to keep up two racing establishments, one in England and the other in India.

It was in the summer of 1932 that my trainer, Marcus Marsh, came to me and said he had bought me a future Classic winner. It was a yearling colt by Blandford out of Resplendent, and he bought it at the Newmarket sales for 1300 gns. I agreed to take the colt, and he certainly proved a wonderful investment.

I have a house near Windsor, and it was for this reason I called the colt Windsor Lad.

To me it was one of the most interesting and enjoyable things I have ever experienced to watch Windsor Lad growing up. My trainer and I always had tremendous faith in the horse and I knew it was going to be the first chance I had ever had of winning an English classic race. Month by month I watched him grow into the splendid animal he now is. Nothing ever went wrong with him, which is very unusual in a really good horse, and he was never sick or sorry, like most other racehorses become at one time or another.

Windsor Lad made his first appearance in public exactly a year after I bought him. He was not nearly fit and finished well down the course, but I was not in the least worried, as I knew he would take a long time to develop. It was not until the end of October that season that Windsor Lad won a race, but from then until now he has only once been beaten, and then most terribly unluckily.

At the beginning of 1934 I thought I had a chance of winning the Derby but I was not confident. Then Windsor Lad came out and won the Chester Vase, and from that moment I was absolutely convinced I would win the Derby. At the time there were tremendous stories going around about the wonders of Colombo: that he was the best horse ever seen in England, and that he was the biggest certainty ever known in the Derby. Nearly all my friends thought I was mad when I told them Windsor Lad would beat Colombo. I did not think I would win – I knew. In fact, a few days before the Derby was to be run, I was at a private party at which there was a fortune-teller. I was persuaded to have my fortune told.

“You are going to win a big race; I think it is the Derby,” the fortune-teller said.

“You’re telling me!” I replied.

The days leading up to the Derby were filled with much anxiety as to whether Windsor Lad would keep sound and well. The critical time in the Derby horse’s preparation is the last week, and my trainer hardly left Windsor Lad for a moment.

At last Derby Day arrived. I invited a party of friends to my box at Epsom to watch the race. I do not bet much, but on this occasion I was tempted to have a good deal more on than usual. I had backed Windsor Lad at long prices weeks before the race, but I put some more on when I got to Epsom. It was very thrilling waiting for the great race to take place. Several times on the way to Epsom people recognised me and shouted out good wishes.

Most of them I had never seen before, and it was very encouraging to feel that if I won it would be so popular.

My trainer was equally as confident as myself before the race. My jockey, Charlie Smirke, would not hear of defeat. Colombo was still the raging favourite, and everybody seemed to think he was a good thing.

Curiously enough, it was the 13th Derby I had watched, and when the draw for the positions at the start was announced it was seen that Windsor Lad was drawn at No.13.

This coincidence made me even more confident than ever, as I had travelled to England from India in cabin No.13.

At last came the parade, one of the many impressive preliminaries before the Derby. Windsor Lad was looking great. And then the canter to the post. Those few minutes before the Derby seemed like an eternity; I thought they would never start, but after what seemed hours the barrier went up and the race began.

I could not realise that it was actually the Derby in progress and that Windsor Lad was one of the field. I watched the race through powerful glasses and never took my eyes off my colours, which, by the way, are purple with a cream sash and quartered cap. As they came round Tattenham Corner, Smirke dashed Windsor Lad through on the rails. He showed a wonderful nerve and daring to gain the key position. Halfway up the straight the great crowd began to realise that Windsor Lad might win.

As Easton and Colombo drew up to him there was wild excitement, and the cheering and shouting on all sides was deafening. I myself did not call out anything; I was so certain he would win.

It was really a wonderful finish to a wonderful race, and Windsor Lad pulled out an extra little bit in the last few yards and won me my first Derby amid thunderous cheers.

I felt bemused at first, and could not realise that I had actually won the world’s greatest race.

Then my friends pushed me down the stairs to hurry out on to the course to lead in the winner. I did not realise what I was doing, as it did not seem possible that I had really won the Derby, but the beaming faces of Marcus Marsh and Smirke assured me that such indeed was the case.

As I led Windsor Lad down the course and into the unsaddling enclosure I was given a wonderful reception by the British public. They were magnificent, and everybody seemed genuinely pleased that I had won.

The moments that followed are too hazy for me to recollect what I felt or said. Everybody shook hands with me and I was congratulated on all sides. The coolest of all was Windsor Lad, who never turned a hair, and I think he could have run another race a few minutes after.

Then Brigadier-General Tomkinson, the King’s manager, came and asked me if I would go up to the royal box, as His Majesty was anxious to congratulate me. I went up and was congratulated by the King and Queen and other members of the royal family, and His Majesty insisted on my drinking a glass of champagne. Everybody was wonderful, and I felt very happy.

Eventually I motored back to London, where I gave a big party at the Savoy for all my friends to celebrate my victory.

Yes, winning the Derby is a wonderful feeling and one that few people experience.

Two months after the Derby, Mr M H Benson offered me £50,000 for Windsor Lad, and after due consideration I decided to sell him, providing that he left the horse with Marcus Marsh. I was very sorry to part with my horse, but I had not a stud in England, so there was no point in refusing such a big offer.

I wish Mr Benson every good luck with him, and I think he will make a great sire.

Who knows, I may win the Derby again. At any rate, I bought several fine yearlings at the last Doncaster Sales, and I think I may have another Windsor Lad!

(Author Indra Vikram Singh, Prince of Rajpipla and grandson of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji, can be contacted on email teddy.rajpipla@gmail.com).

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2 thoughts on “Excerpts from ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ ….. 24 – Chapter 15 : ‘I didn’t think I would win the Derby – I knew’

    • Dear Mr. Rowsell,

      It is wonderful to hear from you.

      Your great-grandfather Mr. Martin Benson was owner of Beechhouse Stud near Newmarket, and founder of Douglas Stuart Ltd., the biggest firm of racetrack bookmakers in the world at the time, employing 400 clerks in its offices at Stuart House, Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

      Mr. Benson did indeed buy Windsor Lad from my grandfather Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla for £50,000 after he won the Derby on 6th June 1934. Windsor Lad then went on to win the St. Leger as well the same season.

      Right through 2013 I have posted a lot of excerpts on this blog from my book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’. Excerpt nos. 4 and 14 of January and June 2013 respectively have references to Mr. Benson and Douglas Stuart Ltd.

      Do keep in touch.

      All good wishes,

      Indra Vikram Singh

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