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Derby to set alight race course as owner pins hopes on wonder filly

When people from a cross-section of the society in Mumbai make their annual pilgrimage to the hallowed turf of the Mahalaxmi Race Course on Sunday to witness the greatest race of the Indian racing calendar,the McDowell Indian Derby...

Liquor baron Vijay Mallya is banking on horse racing to bring back his winning smile

When people from a cross-section of the society in Mumbai make their annual pilgrimage to the hallowed turf of the Mahalaxmi Race Course on Sunday to witness the greatest race of the Indian racing calendar,the McDowell Indian Derby,and rub shoulders with the who’s who of the city’s elite,the man behind the mega event will also be anxious to step on to the winner’s podium after a decade-long wait.

Liquor baron Vijay Mallya,who sponsors many sporting events from Formula One to football and tennis,is banking on his first love — horse racing — to bring back the winning smile he has been starved of in any discipline for quite some time. ‘Set Alight’,the wonder filly owned by the showman,has conquered every challenge thrown at her and that shows that Mallya’s hopes aren’t misplaced. No wonder,he is looking to erase the painful memories of constant failures on the sporting field.

“He is definitely pumped up with excitement,” says Zyan Mirza,Mallya’s horse racing manager. “Set Alight’s exploits have cheered him up and he is dreaming to sport a winner’s smile on Sunday.”

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Supervite was the last horse to have given the glamour man of the Indian racing his previous Indian Derby glory — way back in 1999,albeit in a controversial manner. That race was won by Saddle Up,also owned by Mallya but he was found guilty of doping. As a result,he was disqualified and second-placed Supervite was declared winner. “Set Alight is special,” said Mallya. “I have always had good luck with fillies and I’m sure Set Alight will not disappoint me.”

However,Set Alight is also up against a millennium jinx. No favourite has won the Indian Derby in the new millennium. “But hasn’t the time to break the jinx come?” asks Mirza.

Away from the spotlight,many are looking towards Sunday to be in the midst of top hats,coat tails and diaphanous veils along with the ladies in micro-minis,deep necks,glitterati gossip,thick make-up and thin bodies. “As usual,I have again stitched a new outfit for Sunday,” admitted ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh.

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To help the Derby enthusiasts bear the mid-April humidity,a specially-designed 9,000-sq ft air-conditioned hangar for the comfort of the race-goers has been erected in the members’ enclosure,which will have a flea market,tarot readers,sale of Derby hats,face sketching and several other attractions for the visitors.

For the statistically-oriented,in its 66-year-old history,15 fillies have won the grand derby while 10 contenders had their names starting with S. Will Set Alight be the 11th?

First published on: 12-04-2009 at 03:04:48 am
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