Maharaja Shri Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, ruled the 4,000 square kilometres princely State from 1915 till merger in 1948, stretching from the Narmada to the Tapti, and on the lap of the western Satpuras. He was an accomplished rider and polo player, and one of the most famous racehorse owners in the world. He headed his Rajpipla Polo Team which included his sons Yuvraj Rajendrasinhji, Maharajkumar Pramodsinhji and Maharajkumar Indrajitsinhji. His horses won many prestigious races in India, the United Kingdom and Europe. Inarguably, his biggest feat in racing was bagging a hat-trick of Derbys. It was undeniably his deep knowledge of horses, self-belief that he could realise his dream, perseverance over decades, and great passion for racing that brought all the pieces together in his great quest. In 1943, The Sporting Times invited the Maharaja to write an article on this sterling achievement. Reproduced below is the entire article.
Article by Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla in The Sporting Times, February 5, 1943
“My Three Derbys”
By H.H. THE MAHARAJA OF RAJPIPLA
(Specially Contributed to “The Sporting Times”)
H.H. the Maharaja of Rajpipla, the author of this exclusive article, has the unique distinction amongst Indian owners of winning three Derbys in three different countries. His Highness won the Indian Country-bred Derby in 1919 with Tipster, the Irish Derby with Embargo in 1926 and the English Derby with Windsor Lad in 1934.
The Indian Derby will be run tomorrow February 6th. It is not the first Indian Derby. Some time ago they started the Derby and then it fell through. If I am not mistaken, I won the first Indian Derby in 1919 (for Country breds) with “Tipster”, a Kunigal bred horse, ridden by ‘Bunty’ Brown. From that day I always wanted to win the English Derby. That is the ambition of every racing man in the world.
I started by buying a high class yearling every year. Steve Donoghue was in India in 1924. He came and stayed with me. Being an “expert” on Derbys I took his advice on “How to win the English Derby”. He was too polite to say anything else, but gave a smile. I knew I was asking a question no one could answer. People spent millions and were racing for generations and yet hadn’t won the celebrated race.
“Try,” he said “by buying a good yearling or two every year and you may never know your luck.” After returning to England Donoghue bought for me “Embargo”. My dreams were coming nearer. In short he won me the Irish 2000 Guineas and the Irish Derby in 1926. But still my ambition was not achieved. I would not give in.
Fred Darling the famous trainer, came to India in 1932 and stayed with me. I told him I wanted to win the English Derby and he smiled and said “Yes, everyone wants to win the Derby. If you don’t try, you don’t gain. You start breeding with good mares (mares count 75 per cent), and a good stallion.” I started a small stud on his advice with Embargo as sire, but it was a tedious process. It takes a long time to establish a good stud. So I continued to buy one or two high class yearlings every year.
BOUGHT FOR £1,300
My trainer, Marcus Marsh, one day rang me up and asked me if he could buy a yearling at the Newmarket sales for me. I told him to buy one upto one thousand pounds. That evening after the sales he rang me up and said he had bought one for £1,300 – a Blandford colt. I told him, “I gave you the limit of one thousand or a little over, why did you pay thirteen hundred?” He told me he would give me £500 profit if I did not want the colt. I said “Let me think about it and I will tell you tomorrow.” Tomorrow came and I said “No I will keep him. That is my Derby dream.” That was Windsor Lad. From that day on, some how or other I was more and more convinced that this was my Derby hope.
As a two-year-old we kept him backward and only gave him two or three runs and at the end of the season he won the “Criterion” at Newmarket. That year as a two-year-old Colombo was unbeaten and next winter he became the Derby favourite. In 1933 we had a big Christmas party and Prince Aly Khan was a member of it. We had many friendly arguments and he said his father’s horse Umidwar would be hard to beat.
BACKED AT 40 TO 1
At that very time I backed Windsor Lad at 40 to 1 with Ladbroke. The more the press and public ignored him, the more I got confidence in him, as I saw him improving into a big, fine horse as a three-year-old. The first man to give me confidence was Freddie Fox when he won the Chester Vase on him. He told me that anything that could beat him would win the Derby. No horse had won a 1 ½ mile race before the Derby. I then felt that he could stay. After that he won the Newmarket Stakes one mile. So I was convinced he had the required speed.
A Derby horse must have speed, staying power and be able to go up hill or down hill and turn like a Polo Pony at Tattenham Corner at Epsom, and be able to act in any going; hard or soft; wet or dry.
I went to the Press Luncheon on the eve of the Derby and was assailed with all sorts of questions from veteran sportsmen and racing experts beginning from Lord Lonsdale downwards, as to why I thought Windsor Lad was good enough to win the Derby. I was sitting at the table between H.H. The Aga Khan and Sir Humphrey de Trafford, a Member of the Jockey Club. When my turn came to give the Derby tip I didn’t know what to say as this was the first time I had a horse with a chance in the Derby.
I said I was afraid of no horse, as Windsor Lad had proved by winning the Chester Vase (1 ½ miles) and the Newmarket Stakes (1 mile), that he could stay and had speed. Whatever could beat him would win the race. I was taking on a lot by making this statement. Anyway the day came and thank God I won the English Derby, the Blue Riband of the Turf and my ambition and dream were realised by the kindness of God.
In the 1934 Derby there were several good horses who after all won important races afterwards, viz., Colombo, Easton, Baddrudin, Alishah, Tiberius, Admiral Drake and others.
Gipsy Lee before she died had said “in 1934 someone from overseas will win the Derby and the horse will have W in his name.” So, many people backed Windsor Lad on that prophesy. There were other incidents of note, this was the 13th Derby I attended and I travelled to England from India in cabin No.13; furthermore Windsor Lad was drawn No. 13 at the start.
(Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla wrote this article on the eve of the revival of the Indian Derby that was run in Bombay on February 6, 1943. The Indian Derby began in Calcutta in 1919, which the Maharaja’s horse Tipster won. This article is reproduced in the book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ by the Maharaja’s grandson Indra Vikram Singh).
Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ is available at an attractive price on Amazon: https://www.amazon.in/dp/8190166832
A Maharaja’s Turf
Published by Sporting Links, 2011
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