Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"My Three Derbys" : Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'A Maharaja's Turf'

Article by Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla
in The Sporting Times, February 5, 1943

“My Three Derbys”
(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.
Tipster, an Indian horse bred in Kunigal, 
who won the Country Bred Derby in 1919 
when ridden by ‘Bunty’ Brown, the famous Australian jockey

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.
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.
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 13thDerby 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).
*           *           *           *           *
The Maharaja concluded the article by saying that King George V invited him to the Royal Box and congratulated him on the great triumph.

Jockey 'Bunty' Brown's full name is Perry Robert Brown.

(Author of ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ Indra Vikram Singh, Prince of Rajpipla and grandson of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji, can be contacted on email
Follow Indra Vikram Singh on Twitter @IVRajpipla. 

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links :
A Maharaja’s Turf  ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket  ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century  ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory  ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Distributed in India by :  
Variety Book Depot, 
AVG Bhawan, 
M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus,
New Delhi - 110 001.
Tel. (011) 23417175, 23412567.

Indra Vikram Singh’s books are available in leading bookstores and online on many websites.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

‘I didn’t think I would win the Derby – I knew' : Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’

Article by Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla 
in Racing Post in August 1934

‘I didn’t think I would win the Derby – I knew'

When Windsor Lad won the 1934 Derby,
it was the greatest day in the life of its owner,
the Maharajah of Rajpipla.
Later, ‘Mr. Pip’ penned his memoirs and, reproduced here,
offer a fascinating insight into the joys of owning an Epsom hero

PHOTOS : Windsor Lad wins the 1934 Derby for the Maharajah of Rajpipla, a victory witnessed by the massed hordes of racegoers at Epsom.

Years ago I made up my mind to win the Derby, but it was not until the end of Windsor Lad’s two-year-old career that I realised I had a chance of achieving my great ambition. I have never owned racehorses on a big scale; but, then, I have to keep up two racing establishments, one in England and the other in India.

It was in the summer of 1932 that my trainer, Marcus Marsh, came to me and said he had bought me a future Classic winner. It was a yearling colt by Blandford out of Resplendent, and he bought it at the Newmarket sales for 1300 gns. I agreed to take the colt, and he certainly proved a wonderful investment.

I have a house near Windsor, and it was for this reason I called the colt Windsor Lad.

To me it was one of the most interesting and enjoyable things I have ever experienced to watch Windsor Lad growing up. My trainer and I always had tremendous faith in the horse and I knew it was going to be the first chance I had ever had of winning an English classic race. Month by month I watched him grow into the splendid animal he now is. Nothing ever went wrong with him, which is very unusual in a really good horse, and he was never sick or sorry, like most other racehorses become at one time or another.

Windsor Lad made his first appearance in public exactly a year after I bought him. He was not nearly fit and finished well down the course, but I was not in the least worried, as I knew he would take a long time to develop. It was not until the end of October that season that Windsor Lad won a race, but from then until now he has only once been beaten, and then most terribly unluckily.

At the beginning of 1934 I thought I had a chance of winning the Derby but I was not confident. Then Windsor Lad came out and won the Chester Vase, and from that moment I was absolutely convinced I would win the Derby. At the time there were tremendous stories going around about the wonders of Colombo: that he was the best horse ever seen in England, and that he was the biggest certainty ever known in the Derby. Nearly all my friends thought I was mad when I told them Windsor Lad would beat Colombo. I did not think I would win - I knew. In fact, a few days before the Derby was to be run, I was at a private party at which there was a fortune-teller. I was persuaded to have my fortune told.

“You are going to win a big race; I think it is the Derby,” the fortune-teller said.
“You’re telling me!” I replied.

The days leading up to the Derby were filled with much anxiety as to whether Windsor Lad would keep sound and well. The critical time in the Derby horse’s preparation is the last week, and my trainer hardly left Windsor Lad for a moment.

At last Derby Day arrived. I invited a party of friends to my box at Epsom to watch the race. I do not bet much, but on this occasion I was tempted to have a good deal more on than usual. I had backed Windsor Lad at long prices weeks before the race, but I put some more on when I got to Epsom. It was very thrilling waiting for the great race to take place. Several times on the way to Epsom people recognised me and shouted out good wishes.

Most of them I had never seen before, and it was very encouraging to feel that if I won it would be so popular.

My trainer was equally as confident as myself before the race. My jockey, Charlie Smirke, would not hear of defeat. Colombo was still the raging favourite, and everybody seemed to think he was a good thing.

Curiously enough, it was the 13th Derby I had watched, and when the draw for the positions at the start was announced it was seen that Windsor Lad was drawn at No.13.

This coincidence made me even more confident than ever, as I had travelled to England from India in cabin No.13.

At last came the parade, one of the many impressive preliminaries before the Derby. Windsor Lad was looking great. And then the canter to the post. Those few minutes before the Derby seemed like an eternity; I thought they would never start, but after what seemed hours the barrier went up and the race began.

I could not realise that it was actually the Derby in progress and that Windsor Lad was one of the field. I watched the race through powerful glasses and never took my eyes off my colours, which, by the way, are purple with a cream sash and quartered cap. As they came round Tattenham Corner, Smirke dashed Windsor Lad through on the rails. He showed a wonderful nerve and daring to gain the key position. Halfway up the straight the great crowd began to realise that Windsor Lad might win.

As Easton and Colombo drew up to him there was wild excitement, and the cheering and shouting on all sides was deafening. I myself did not call out anything; I was so certain he would win.

It was really a wonderful finish to a wonderful race, and Windsor Lad pulled out an extra little bit in the last few yards and won me my first Derby amid thunderous cheers.

I felt bemused at first, and could not realise that I had actually won the world’s greatest race.

Then my friends pushed me down the stairs to hurry out on to the course to lead in the winner. I did not realise what I was doing, as it did not seem possible that I had really won the Derby, but the beaming faces of Marcus Marsh and Smirke assured me that such indeed was the case.

As I led Windsor Lad down the course and into the unsaddling enclosure I was given a wonderful reception by the British public. They were magnificent, and everybody seemed genuinely pleased that I had won.

The moments that followed are too hazy for me to recollect what I felt or said. Everybody shook hands with me and I was congratulated on all sides. The coolest of all was Windsor Lad, who never turned a hair, and I think he could have run another race a few minutes after.

Then Brigadier-General Tomkinson, the King’s manager, came and asked me if I would go up to the royal box, as His Majesty was anxious to congratulate me. I went up and was congratulated by the King and Queen and other members of the royal family, and His Majesty insisted on my drinking a glass of champagne. Everybody was wonderful, and I felt very happy.

Eventually I motored back to London, where I gave a big party at the Savoy for all my friends to celebrate my victory.

Yes, winning the Derby is a wonderful feeling and one that few people experience.

Two months after the Derby, Mr M H Benson offered me £50,000 for Windsor Lad, and after due consideration I decided to sell him, providing that he left the horse with Marcus Marsh. I was very sorry to part with my horse, but I had not a stud in England, so there was no point in refusing such a big offer.

I wish Mr Benson every good luck with him, and I think he will make a great sire.

Who knows, I may win the Derby again. At any rate, I bought several fine yearlings at the last Doncaster Sales, and I think I may have another Windsor Lad!

(This article was written by Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla two months after he became the only Indian owner to win the blue riband of the turf on 6th June 1934. Author of 'A Maharaja's Turf' Indra Vikram Singh, Prince of Rajpipla and grandson of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji, can be contacted on email

Follow Indra Vikram Singh on Twitter @IVRajpipla. 

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links :
A Maharaja’s Turf  ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket  ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century  ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory  ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Distributed in India by :  
Variety Book Depot, 
AVG Bhawan, 
M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus,
New Delhi - 110 001.
Tel. (011) 23417175, 23412567.

Indra Vikram Singh’s books are available in leading bookstores and online on many websites.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Half a million cheered “Good old Pip” and the King hailed the triumphant Prince. Epilogue to Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’.

('A Maharaja's Turf' is a collector's edition on the triumph of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla in the Epsom Derby 1934, the only Indian owner ever to win the much-coveted blue riband of the turf as his Irish-bred horse Windsor Lad finished first on that damp afternoon of 6th June that year. The book has been written by the Maharaja's grandson Indra Vikram Singh).

This is the story of a man who followed his dream, of a prince who set his eyes on a lofty goal, worked towards it assiduously, relentlessly and intelligently, with passion and patience, and eventually won the biggest prize of them all. Horses were the passion of Maharana Vijaysinhji, ruler of Rajpipla. He wanted to own the best horses in the world, and to win the most prestigious horse races devised by man. Minor successes did not satisfy the ambitious young man. He wanted dearly to reach the pinnacle, and did. That is why it is such an inspiring tale.

Succeeding his father Maharana Chhatrasinhji as ruler of the 4,000 square kilometres first-class Rajpipla State in the Rewakantha Agency of the Bombay Presidency in the year 1915, the adroit Vijaysinhji established himself as a leading light of the Indian racecourses very early. In 1919 he won the first-ever Indian Derby, then known as the Country Bred Derby and run in Calcutta, with his Kunigal-bred horse Tipster, ridden by the famous Australian jockey ‘Bunty’ Brown.

Having been bestowed with the title of Maharaja in 1921, Vijaysinhji then set his eyes on the centre of the Empire and travelled extensively the next year in the British Isles, Europe and United States of America, not just exploring the racing world and western society, but also studying the workings of modern governments, systems and institutions. He called on President Warren Harding in Washington, and visited New York to gain first-hand knowledge of the stock exchange. Back in England, he bought himself an estate near London on the banks of the Thames, with a 27-room Victorian mansion and extensive grounds, named ‘The Manor’ at Old Windsor in Berkshire.

The world’s leading trainers and jockeys were regular guests at Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s sprawling seaside ‘Palm Beach’ Nepeansea Road residence at Bombay, and the grand ‘Sommerville Guest House’ at Nandod (New Rajpipla town), the capital of Rajpipla State. Steve Donoghue, an expert on the great Epsom Derby, was a visitor in 1924. Quizzed about the path to a Derby win, the legendary jockey advised his host to buy a good yearling or two every year. On returning home Donoghue purchased Embargo for the Maharaja that summer, and rode him to victory in the Irish Two Thousand Guineas as well as Irish Derby in 1926. Vijaysinhji, who had been knighted the previous year, felt convinced that he was well on the way to realising his big aspiration.

Winning the blue riband of the turf was, however, not such an easy ride. A caller in 1932 was the celebrated trainer Fred Darling, whose input was to start breeding with good mares (which matter 75 per cent as the Maharaja himself held) and a proven stallion. And so the keen Vijaysinhji started a stud in England with Embargo as sire, even as he continued buying high quality yearlings.

In July the same year, Darling’s protege Marcus Marsh, now training for the Maharaja, spotted a promising colt at the Newmarket sales, and received approval to purchase him. They named him Windsor Lad. The genial animal shaped extremely well under the tutelage of Marsh, a younger son of the late Richard Marsh who had trained three Derby winners for King Edward VII, and later trained the horses of the reigning King George V.

In 1933 Windsor Lad won the Criterion at Newmarket. As a three-year-old in 1934 he finished at the head of the field in the 1 ½ miles Chester Vase and the mile-long Newmarket Stakes. His discerning owner was now certain that the colt had the requisite stamina as well as speed.

The favourite for the Derby was the unbeaten Colombo, winner of seven races in 1933 and two in the current season of 1934. But he had not proved himself in a twelve furlong race, and Maharaja Vijaysinhji confidently stated that Colombo did not worry him. So sure was he of Windsor Lad’s prowess that in a signed article later he declared that he didn’t think he would win the Derby, he knew.

An estimated half a million people began descending on the Epsom Downs right since daybreak on 6th June 1934. Around noon dark clouds drifted in and a sharp shower broke the three-week-long dry spell. Just at this time the royal cavalcade drove in led by the Rolls-Royce of King George V and Queen Mary; and followed by those carrying the Duke and Duchess of York, who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, parents of the present Queen Elizabeth II; other members of the family and the King of Greece. The Prince of Wales, who succeeded as King Edward VIII but abdicated soon, joined them a little later.

There was a huge buzz around the race as usual, but more so for the prophesy of Gipsy Lee, made as far back 1868, that a horse with a ‘W’ in its name would win in 1934. There were also a number of uncanny coincidences around the number 13, which particularly enchanted the ladies, who backed Windsor Lad.

They were off five minutes after the scheduled 3 o’clock start, and Donoghue on Medieval Knight set a fast pace by the side of the rails, with Colombo right behind. But reaching the top of the hill, the leader cracked and Colombo was baulked coming down the hill towards the iconic Tattenham Corner. Seizing the opportunity, Tiberius slipped through, pursued closely by Easton and Windsor Lad.

Just after taking the big bend to the left, Tiberius began to fade and was passed. The dashing Charlie Smirke – returning after a ban of five years – soon breezed Windsor Lad along the rails past Easton. Meanwhile Colombo recovered and made a great run on the outside in the centre of the course. The crowd thought that the hitherto invincible favourite would carry the day yet again, and began yelling “Colombo wins”. In the final furlong the three horses were bunched closely together. At this moment Colombo’s stamina failed him even as Windsor Lad surged to the post, equalling the record of 2 minutes 34 seconds set up by Hyperion the previous year.

The jubilant 44-year-old Maharaja was already a popular figure on the English racecourses and had been affectionately nicknamed ‘Pip’ by friends and the public alike. Now the multitude roared “Good old Pip” as he led his victorious colt back to the unsaddling area. Soon the King invited Maharaja Vijaysinhji to the royal box, high up above the finishing post, and raised a toast to this exhilarating win.

Lady luck had indeed smiled on the Indian prince when Colombo got hemmed in behind Medieval Knight, but ultimately it was the deft training of Marsh, the speed and stamina of the muscular Windsor Lad, and the skill of Smirke that carried the day.

No other Indian owner had won the Derby before, nor one after, in its history dating back to 1780. One of the first to congratulate Maharaja Vijaysinhji was his close friend the Aga Khan, himself a distinguished Derby winner. Dreams do indeed come true, if you persist long enough. During the Second World War, Maharaja Vijaysinhji donated two Spitfire aircrafts named ‘Rajpipla’ and ‘Windsor Lad’, and the headlines ran “Windsor Lad will fly”. The Maharaja was honoured with an MBE in 1945, and when the winds of change wafted in, he merged his State with the Union of India in 1948, bringing down the curtain on the 600-year rule of the Gohil Rajputs over Rajpipla State.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh, Prince of Rajpipla and grandson of HH Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji, can be contacted on email

Follow Indra Vikram Singh on Twitter @IVRajpipla. 

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links :
A Maharaja’s Turf  ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket  ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century  ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory  ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Distributed in India by :  
Variety Book Depot, 
AVG Bhawan, 
M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus,
New Delhi - 110 001. Tel. (011) 23417175, 23412567.

Indra Vikram Singh’s books are available in leading bookstores and online on many websites.