The morning mist at the Mahalaxmi race course rises and on cue, as though responding to a curtain raiser, the actors take centrestage. Except that in this case, the actors are finely tuned thoroughbreds going through their final workouts before the big event on Sunday, the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby.
It’s a bit past 7 AM and most of the eight hundred or so thoroughbreds stabled at the race course have finished their breakfast and made their way to the track. The hundred odd spectators are a mixture of journalists, trainers, owners and even a few curious onlookers, mostly looking out for ‘Sir Cecil’, the ante-post Derby favourite.
Absolutely unmissable, he is a grey with an easy stride, looking effortless as he goes by the winning post. His regular jockey, David Allan, a Scotsman has an enviable record in this race, having won on ‘Sir Cecil’s’ sister two years ago and on ‘Desert God’ the year before that. ‘Sir Cecil’s’ master, Padmanabhan only needs to keep him happy and apart from the most minor of adjustments, there isn’t time for anything else with just three days to go to D-Day.
A quick washdown and it’s to the stable for some ice therapy followed by a massage and lunch made of oats, barley, roughage and more. A nap in the afternoon followed by a walk in the evening and the neighing across the stables announces that it’s time for an early supper. ‘Sir Cecil’ is good eater and one needs fuel in his tank to win a race as difficult as this. A mile and half at a breakneck speed of about 60 km/hr and it’s not surprising that the race horse is the fastest land animal over this distance, the perfect balance of speed and stamina. Ask a cheetah to do the same and it would collapse from overheating even before the 800-metre pole.
Thirteen will line-up against Sir Cecil on Sunday. Some will spend their last two days of exercise on the track while others will opt for either the swimming pool or treadmill. Of these, not stabled far from ‘Sir Cecil’ is the filly from Calcutta, ‘Adjudicate’. Trained by James Mckeown, she will not have her regular rider, David Allan on board and whether she misses him or not, remains to be seen. She, however, does not seem to be the type that gets perturbed easily and her ability to settle has defied the pundits who felt that the Derby distance will be beyond her reach. While she’s never had to deal with one the like of ‘Sir Cecil’ but flowing strongly to the line, she looked a million dollars, powerful and beautifully balanced,suggesting that this was a battle of sexes worth writing about.
Back at the stables, ‘Sir Cecil’ and ‘Adjudicate’ turn in for the night, unconcerned with the glare that surrounds them. They are the Ultra-Champions and for mere mortals such as us, breakfast with them was no less than a feast with the Gods.