Mumbai: The Royal Western India Turf Club Limited (RWITC) is one of the oldest and most well-known horse racing clubs in the country with a history spanning over two centuries.
Like cricket, horse racing in India is a legacy of the British Raj. The nomenclature of the Indian Classics (1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St Leger) devised in 1814 and even the clockwise running of the horses at the RWITC follow the British practice.
Captain G. Hall, Sir Charles Forbes, A. Campbell, P. Hadow and others formed the Bombay Turf Club in 1802 and they acquired land in Byculla to conduct racing. For the major part of the nineteenth century, racing continued to be held at Byculla Club Ground. In 1883, the venue was shifted to Mahalakshmi on land made available by Sir C N Wadia.
The race course was originally built under the direction and supervision of Major J E Hughes which is the exact replica of the Melbourne race course. The course is of 2400 metres with a straight chute to enable races upto 1600 metres. Shortly thereafter the name was changed to the Western India Turf Club.
Going by the fact that world dignitaries including the Queen of England, the erstwhile Shah of Iran and the King of Saudi Arabia made it a point to squeeze a visit to the Mahalaxmi Race Course in their crowded itineraries, it is no exaggeration to say that it is a showpiece of theUrbs Prima In Indis. The spontaneous accolades from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, herself a horse lover, owner and breeder par excellence, are a treasured memory in the Club Archives.
The horses racing in India in the early days were cavalry horses and chargers imported from Great Britain and Arabia. The owners were mostly British, at times titled aristocracy and army officers. The first-generation Indian owners were the Maharajas of Cooch-Behar, Burdwan, Baroda, Idar, Morvi, Kolhapur, Rajpipla and Mysore among others. Two of the then big owners in Britain – His Excellency The Aga Khan and Sir Victor Sassoon also had some of their horses running at the club.
In 1935, King George V – Emperor of India bestowed the privilege of prefixing the club’s name with “Royal” and the club came to be known as The Royal Western India Turf Club. Additionally, the spectacular Mahalaxmi Grand Stands have recently been accorded Heritage status.
The Club took the pioneering step of introducing classic races, the 1000 and 2000 Guineas and the Derby, for Indian breds in 1943.
As the enthusiasm for racing grows, as more owners, more professionals and more horses come into racing, the demands on the club increase proportionally. The RWITC is fully in tune with developments and keeps pace, stride for stride, with them. It has been a continuous ongoing process and it will continue to be so.
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