When the British royal family saw Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla winning the Epsom Derby of England in 1934. Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’


At the head of the great cosmopolitan assembly on the Epsom Course were King George V and Queen Mary. Their Majesties left Buckingham Palace by car at 12.20 p.m. Just before the King’s car drove out of the garden gate, Prince Albert and Princess Elizabeth – the Duke and Duchess of York – who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, parents of the present Queen Elizabeth II; and Princess Mary – the Princess Royal – and her husband Lord Harewood, drove into the palace quadrangle. Their cars waited at the side of the forecourt and then as the royal car drove out, followed in procession. Prince Henry – the Duke of Gloucester – who was staying at Buckingham Palace, was in one of the cars. One of Queen Victoria’s great-grandsons, King George II of Greece – then in exile but destined to become monarch again the next year – also travelled with the royal party. The King and Queen led the procession of royal cars from London to Epsom, each of which had a crown on the front for the guidance of traffic police. 

A large crowd assembled at the back of the stands to witness the arrival of the King and Queen who received a tremendous ovation. Some had been waiting more than an hour. The royal party arrived at the stands at one o’clock and as their Majesties alighted amid light rain a great cheer went up. The royal visitors were received by the stewards Lord Lonsdale, Lord Rosebery and the Marquess of Crewe. They immediately walked to the royal apartments in the grandstand, where lunch had been prepared for them. The Prince of Wales, who succeeded his father just about a year and a half later as King Edward VIII, but abdicated within eleven months, choosing marriage to the twice-divorced American Mrs. Wallis Simpson; and Prince George – Duke of Kent – motored to Epsom from Fort Belvedere, Sunningdale, reaching just in time to see the second race. Interestingly, the Prince of Wales, after his abdication as King in 1936, became Duke of Windsor. Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught, and Prince and Princess Christian of Hesse and their young daughter, Princess Augusta, also attended. 

The King wore morning clothes and a silk hat. The Queen was in a dress of delicate pearl grey wool georgette with a vest of chiffon – on which a large aquamarine and diamond brooch were pinned – with a toque to match.

Stafford Sentinel reported: “The King raised his hat again and again to the cheers, and the Queen bowed. The Duchess of York was a smiling figure in blue with a white fox collar. The Princess Royal wore a broad-brimmed green hat with a costume of the same colour. Mounted police and other officers had some difficulty in clearing a path along the road for the royal cars.”

When he entered the royal box, the King, without a single detective to guard him while he watched the race, congratulated Lord Lonsdale on not being hurt. Glasgow Bulletin observed, “During the proceedings, the King, the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and most of the royal party had gazed down from their high vantage point, observing the great demonstration and appearing extremely pleased with all they saw.”


Ferdinand Kuhn jr. wrote in The New York Times: “Windsor Lad, the superb 3-year-old owned by the Maharajah of Rajpipla, won the English Derby by a length today after one of the most thrilling last-minute struggles in all the 151 years of racing on Epsom Downs. Lord Woolavington’s Easton finished second. He was ridden by Gordon Richards, England’s champion jockey, who narrowly missed gaining the first Derby triumph of his career. A neck behind Easton came Lord Glanely’s Colombo, the overwhelming favourite, who had failed only after an effort which left most hardened racegoers spellbound. From a good start Medieval Knight was the first to show in front. At the mile post he was still in front but yielded the pace setting to Tiberius as the field sped downhill on the back stretch. At Tattenham Corner Tiberius was still in the van but jockey Smirke had moved Windsor Lad fast into second place. Down the broad straightaway under the eyes of King George and perhaps half a million of his subjects these three had shot ahead out of a field of nineteen and until the last three had thundered along almost neck and neck. Close to the rails was Windsor Lad, his jockey crouching low and cracking the whip to urge the horse on. In the middle was Easton, with Richards straining every nerve to win. On the outside, nearest the packed grandstand, Colombo was making the fight of his life as if conscious of all the hundreds of thousands of pounds that had been staked on him. His jockey had lost his position against the rails rounding Tattenham Corner, but Colombo soon forged ahead from behind. To the astonished crowd it looked as if the favourite might snatch the victory away from Windsor Lad after all. But fifty yards from home the strain was too much. Once they headed for the judges, the Maharajah’s colt quickly bounded for the front while Colombo swung wide. That move may have cost the race as Smirke took Windsor Lad the shortest way home. Colombo, who had never been beaten before, dropped behind while the purple and cream colours of the Maharajah flashed past in front. Windsor Lad finished in 2 minutes 34 seconds, thus equalling the all-time record established by Hyperion last year.


Windsor Lad had shown a clean pair of heels to his two challengers, and Maharaja Vijaysinhji created history. He became the first, and even till date, the lone Indian owner to bag the coveted title. Certain of success he might have been before the race, but the glorious triumph, when it did arrive, took time to sink in. There was almost a sense of disbelief. As he sat, seemingly dumbstruck, he had to be reminded by his friends in the box that he now had to go down to lead his victorious horse back. He rushed out, tailcoat, top hat and all, binoculars dangling from his shoulder, acknowledging cheers and accepting congratulations all around, quietly dignified, but all excited inside. The composed horse, the jubilant jockey in the purple and cream Rajpipla colours, and the beaming, gleeful trainer completed a memorable picture. Never again in the annals would such an intriguing combination win the greatest horse race in the world. If it seemed unlikely to begin with, it definitely looked exotic now.

The Illustrated Weekly of India in the Coronation Supplement dated May 9, 1937 referred to this  “red letter day”, adding: “A wonderful demonstration took place when H.H. the Maharaja of Rajpipla led Windsor Lad (Smirke up) into the paddock, after his horse had won him the Blue Riband of the turf. Cheers rang out for the Maharaja and his gallant horse with the cry resounding in the air ‘Good Old Pip’. His Highness was delighted with the nickname and repeatedly waved his grey top hat to the cheering crowds. Later on, he said, ‘I am glad Windsor Lad won, not so much for my own sake as for the British public which gave me such a wonderful reception’.” It was indeed a memorable scene out in the middle of the course as an estimated populace of a quarter to a half million from Britain and the world over hailed the Indian prince. As People reported, the triumphant Maharaja returned the salutations of his good friend the Aga Khan who waved congratulations with his umbrella.

The Evening News reported: “Trust the London crowd to find a name they can pronounce for someone whose name presents a little difficulty! Thus His Highness The Maharaja of Rajpipla became ‘Good old Pip’ to the crowd on Epsom Downs this afternoon. ‘Good old Pip’ shouted a thousand voices as the Maharajah led in his horse after the race. His dark face was all smiles, and he waved his hat gaily to the crowd. ‘…..am very, very happy indeed,’ he said to me in the unsaddling enclosure. “I knew the horse was good, and said so from the beginning. I am glad that he has won, not only for my own sake, but also for all the people who had faith in him. Since I came to England the British public have given me a wonderful reception. Now I am glad to be able to give them something in return.” The Maharajah was then escorted to the Royal box by Lord Lonsdale and was heartily congratulated by the King and the Royal party.”

(Author Indra Vikram Singh is grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, and can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

A Maharaja’s Turf

Published in India by Sporting Links

ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6

Fully Illustrated

Hardcover with jacket 8.75 x 11.5 x 0.6 inches (landscape)

140 Pages

Available on Amazon at an attractive price https://www.amazon.in/Maharajas-Turf-Indra-Vikram-Singh/dp/8190166832/


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