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Renaissance is the best word I can think of when looking at what is now happening at Guindy Race Course. There is optimism in the air. Yes, the course is being renovated. There is an upward curve in the quality of racing as well. After 11 years, Guindy will host the Indian Turf Invitation Cup on Sunday.
The late M.A.M. Ramaswamy made a promise in March 2015 that the Madras Race Club would hold India’s most prestigious racing weekend in 2016. His passing has been the inspiration and his commitment the motivation for the team spearheaded by R. Ramakrishnan, the Chairman of the Club. The Secretary, Dr. Karthikeyan, determined to make the extravaganza an unqualified success, is overseeing a renovation project that defies description.
The first Invitation Cup in 1963 in Mumbai was won by Mount Everest, a Chennai-based horse. It was 1965 and it was Guindy’s turn to run the Invitation Cup. There was drama when four horses completed the 2400-metre strip despite a false start being declared. Esquire, Billy Stevens up, delivered for Mr. A.V. Thomas. There was a shocker in 1968 when Mother’s Boy, cleverly ridden by Stan Smith, held Bhishma, the darling of the local fans. I was fortunate to be in Chennai at that time.
The incomparable Lester Piggott made a rare trip to Guindy for the 1991 edition. Delage did not disappoint. An absolute backmarker until the field took the final turn, Delage was set alight and produced a turn of foot that had to be seen to be believed. Finding gaps and using them to advantage is the mark of a great rider which Sir Lester Piggott is. Delage gave Mr. Vijay Mallya his first Invitation Cup victory.
Then there is Be Safe. A runaway winner of the 2015 Indian Derby, the late MAM-owned Be Safe found his stretch rally falling short by a neck in the Invitation Cup.
Quasar, hailing from Malesh Narredu’s yard, is on a history-making mission. A win in the Invitation Cup will give Quasar earnings of over seven crores of rupees. It will also make Quasar the first five year-old to win India’s championship horse race. Desert God has several Derby prizes in his bulging bag. The Padmanabhan ward is in the form of his life.
MAM’s Southern Regent was a clear cut winner in 2005. When 2010 rolled along, the Madras Race Club gave up its turn. Now it’s that time again as Guindy readies itself to conduct the 54th running of the Invitation Cup.
The course is being spruced up. Watering is done to make the course Invitation Cup-worthy. To improve safety, synthetic rails are being installed. There is every reason to believe that the visiting professionals will find the Guindy environment satisfactory.
The 2016 Invitation Cup marks a new beginning for the Madras Race Club. Races are being framed with the distinct aim of encouraging out-of-town participation. R. Ramakrishnan has made it clear that his intention is to put Guindy back on India’s racing map.
Venu Reddy, a member of the Club, for 40 years, is excited about what the future holds for racing in Madras. “I see dedication and renewed hope. Given what is happening, I am confident that Guindy is embarking on a path that will bring our good days back.”
It was October 2007 and I was in Paris for the Arc De Triomphe at Longchamp.
The races over the weekend promise to be competitive. The Invitation Cup races in Chennai have been characterised by high drama and this year will be no exception. It is what I want to call an ‘unmissable’ event.