One can say without the fear of being contradicted that Indian racing would not have been what it is today but for the colorful presence of Dr Vijay Mallya. He brought glamour, glitz, style, and fashion into the sport. At a time when sponsorship of the sport was cause for frustration to the authorities, he came to their rescue by his generous sponsorship through the UB Group of companies of which he is the Chairman. He kept expanding the scale of support every year.
Today Dr Mallya owns the best of the thoroughbreds that has enabled him to set records which would be hard to beat. With his horses always running true to their potential, he brought a clean image to the Sport of Kings, which was increasingly suffering due to the tendency of owners to go in for coups. ``The race going public has immense faith in my horses and me. My horses always run true to potential and I have had a clean image which is what makes me proud,’’ says the racing baron.
The Indian Derby would have been shorn of its gloss but for Dr Mallya who ensured that the event became a social occasion and the record crowds that kept increasing each year made it an event more eagerly looked forward to by the racing fraternity and the irregulars as well. The pre-Derby build up, fashion shows, which have become an integral part of it, have given a new dimension to the sport.
Dr Mallya owns horses in a big way at Mumbai and Bangalore, the premier racing centers in the country. Thanks to his pioneering efforts, live telecast of racing has become a reality and the day is not far when night racing becomes an integral part of Indian racing. But for the obscurantist forces within the industry, Dr Mallya would have ensured far-reaching changes to the exciting sport of thoroughbreds, aptly renamed the Sport of Skill. The sport is sorely in need of his marketing skills to make it more vibrant.
Dr Mallya is not content with just owning horses. He is a breeder, striving to improve the standards of breeding. He owns a sprawling stud farm at Kunigal, about 60 kms from Bangalore, which has the distinction of breeding horses of the likes of Saddle Up in its second year of starting the operations itself. Saddle Up who went on to become the champion horse of India in 1999, has given a boost to Indian racing by his exploits at Malaysia where he won two listed races in great style. Dr Mallya has had his horses racing in most parts of the world and one of his champion wards Adler, won a race at the USA some years ago. The Kunigal Stud Farm is set to conquer new heights in the coming years.
How did he drift from the daredevil world of motor sports where he was a distinguished race driver into the exciting, unpredictable world of horse racing? During my stint at Kolkata, I had leased some horses from the Tollygunge Club, which were ex-race horses, and I raced them under the charge of Shivender Singh and won quite a few races! The racing bug bit me then although it took a few more years for me to take it up on a bigger scale. Incidentally, the association with Shivender Singh has continued, with the trainer giving up his trade to become the Racing Manager for the beer baron.
Today, Dr Mallya has won every big race in the country. What has been his memorable moment thus far? ``When I entered the field, I was told that it was big enough to have a horse running in the Indian Derby. But what I achieved was something sensational. I won the event in my very first year through Cordon Bleu, with my horses taking the first three slots! What more can one ask?
I wanted to win 100 Classics in ten years and I did so. I have broken the jinx of no owner in the history of Indian racing winning the Indian Derby more than four times. Storm Again which won the 2001 edition of the McDowell Indian Derby gave me a unique place in the history of Indian racing.’’
Dr Mallya keeps track of the racing program of his wards despite his busy schedule, which sees him in different parts of the globe each day, to oversee his worldwide operations. He makes sure that he is present whenever his horses run in big races and takes great joy in leading them in. His excitement when winning a big race is infectious and though he is close to winning 200 Classics, his enthusiasm has not dimmed a wee bit.
Dr Mallya, Derby wins, fashion, lifestyle, glitz have become an integral part of Indian racing. Winning has become a habit while generosity has become second nature to him. Indian racing is bound to benefit immensely by his flamboyant presence for years to come.
Racing in India has indeed passed on to the tycoons of the industry from the Maharajas