Way back in 1868, a young lady by the name of Mrs. Boswell, popularly known as Gipsy Lee, made a forecast that no horse with a ‘W’ in its name would win the Derby until a year after her death. The story goes that a peer, as he walking past Gipsy Lee just as the Derby of 1868 was about to start, asked her to predict which horse would win. She was wearing a blue dress and replied, “Look at my frock.” The brusque lord told her to write it down, and she scribbled, “Blew Gown”. As it happened, Blue Gown won that Derby.
Just as he was passing by again, the aristocrat threw a sterling at Gipsy Lee and scoffed, “Go learn some spelling.” Miffed at this condescending behaviour, the furious soothsayer shot back, “You will not live to see another Derby and no horse with a ‘W’ in its name will win the Derby till the year after I die.”
Gipsy Lee lived to a ripe old age and during her lifetime no horse with a ‘W’ in its name was able to wrest the Derby, even though Orwell and William IV were heavily fancied. She died in 1933.
This is no apocryphal tale, for 1934 being the year after her death and Windsor Lad being one of the fancied horses, though not the favourite, there was incredible excitement all around. Everyone from the racegoers to the mammoth media contingent was abuzz with the prophesy of Gipsy Lee. Would her prediction come true, was the question? And so it came to pass that Windsor Lad did indeed triumph. The non-believers were nonplussed, the believers were jubilant.
Whether this was a quirk of fate, or whether Gipsy Lee was actually psychic, it is hard to say. The fact is that her prophesy did come true.
There was another mystical saga around this Derby – the lucky number 13 of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla. There were so many coincidences around the number 13 relating to this 1934 classic. To begin with, the Maharaja was entitled to a 13-gun salute. Windsor Lad was bought for ₤1300 on July 13. The Maharaja sailed in cabin no. 13 in the ship that brought him to England, and this was the 13th Derby that he was attending. And when the draw for the race was made, Windsor Lad was slated to stand 13th at the start. It was for this uncanny recurrence of the number 13 that the ladies backed Windsor Lad.
As if this was not enough, the clairvoyant Gene Dennis predicted that Jack Petersen would win the big boxing bout with Len Harvey on Monday, and Windsor Lad would claim the Derby on Wednesday.
Colombo might have been a ‘dead-cert’ for the experts and the bookmakers, but Windsor Lad was the definite favourite as far as the oracles were concerned. The media made no bones about all the augury either.
(This is an excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book A Maharaja’s Turf ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6).
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Author Indra Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, can be contacted on email email@example.com.
Follow Indra Vikram Singh on Twitter @IVRajpipla.