Former jockey-trainer Uttam Singh reminisces the 73 years at the race course
From the British Raj to the days of Independence and now the modern era,Uttam Singh has spent substantial years of his life at the race course. Even today,at 93,he visits the race course for a walk every single day,a regime he has stuck to,from decades.
Having started his career as an apprentice to ride,just out from school,Singh was one of the two skilled riders chosen by the principal of his school in Jodhpur to join the Poona Race Course. Major Gulliland had noticed that there were no Indian boys training to be jockeys at that time. So he telephoned the principal of my school in Jodhpur and asked him to send the best student riders to the race course to learn jockeying. Out of over 2000 boys,only me and Kheem Singh were selected and sent to the Poona Race Course for our apprenticeship, recalls the nonagenarian.
The two boys were groomed and taught the technicalities of jockeying before being indentured to a stable in 1952,where was required to learn training the horses and other skills like cleaning,feeding and taking care of the horses. I used to learn under a trainer named Mister Forsyth. It is easy for a jockey to learn how to train the horse as he already knows the behavioural patterns of the horse and spends so much time with the animal at the race course,he says.
Singh began his career as a trainer with seven horses which belonged to the Late Maharaja of Idar,Rajasthan. Interestingly,he still remembers the name of the horse that was trained by him,which won the race. His name was Fulhurst and the horse was ridden by Kheem Singh,my friend from school days, he adds.
The peak of his career,he says,was in 1969 when his horse Venus DeMilo won the Invitation Cup. In the entire career span,Singh won over 20 Classics,1000 guineas and oaks. However,there is one unfulfilled desire. Although,many of my trained horses participated and some even placed,none of the horses won the Indian Derby, says Singh,who had to quit gentleman riding seven years back due to a vertebrae problem.
Going to the race course,he says,has become a way of life for him. Ask him when he would retire and he snaps back How do I retire from what I know of as life? I have gone to the race course,trained horses all through the 73 years,its too late for me to sit at home now. Even these days,Singh is very much involved at the happenings at the stable. Horse racing is a gentlemans sport. It used to be played for pleasure but now its mostly about the money, he concludes.