Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When the entire British royal family saw an Indian prince win their greatest race at the height of the Raj. Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’


At the head of the great cosmopolitan assembly on the Epsom Course were King George V and Queen Mary. Their Majesties left Buckingham Palace by car at 12.20 p.m. Just before the King’s car drove out of the garden gate, Prince Albert and Princess Elizabeth - the Duke and Duchess of York - who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, parents of the present Queen Elizabeth II; and Princess Mary - the Princess Royal - and her husband Lord Harewood, drove into the palace quadrangle. Their cars waited at the side of the forecourt and then as the royal car drove out, followed in procession. Prince Henry - the Duke of Gloucester - who was staying at Buckingham Palace, was in one of the cars. One of Queen Victoria’s great-grandsons, King George II of Greece - then in exile but destined to become monarch again the next year - also travelled with the royal party. The King and Queen led the procession of royal cars from London to Epsom, each of which had a crown on the front for the guidance of traffic police. 

A large crowd assembled at the back of the stands to witness the arrival of the King and Queen who received a tremendous ovation. Some had been waiting more than an hour. The royal party arrived at the stands at one o’clock and as their Majesties alighted amid light rain a great cheer went up. The royal visitors were received by the stewards Lord Lonsdale, Lord Rosebery and the Marquess of Crewe. They immediately walked to the royal apartments in the grandstand, where lunch had been prepared for them. The Prince of Wales, who succeeded his father just about a year and a half later as King Edward VIII, but abdicated within eleven months, choosing marriage to the twice-divorced American Mrs. Wallis Simpson; and Prince George - Duke of Kent - motored to Epsom from Fort Belvedere, Sunningdale, reaching just in time to see the second race. Interestingly, the Prince of Wales, after his abdication as King in 1936, became Duke of Windsor. Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught, and Prince and Princess Christian of Hesse and their young daughter, Princess Augusta, also attended. 

The King wore morning clothes and a silk hat. The Queen was in a dress of delicate pearl grey wool georgette with a vest of chiffon - on which a large aquamarine and diamond brooch were pinned - with a toque to match.

Stafford Sentinel reported: “The King raised his hat again and again to the cheers, and the Queen bowed. The Duchess of York was a smiling figure in blue with a white fox collar. The Princess Royal wore a broad-brimmed green hat with a costume of the same colour. Mounted police and other officers had some difficulty in clearing a path along the road for the royal cars.”

When he entered the royal box, the King, without a single detective to guard him while he watched the race, congratulated Lord Lonsdale on not being hurt. Glasgow Bulletin observed, “During the proceedings, the King, the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and most of the royal party had gazed down from their high vantage point, observing the great demonstration and appearing extremely pleased with all they saw.”

* * * * *

One of the first newspapers to report this glorious win was The Evening News of that Wednesday, 6th June 1934.

Owner, Jockey, Trainer Say

EPSOM, Wednesday,

Trust the London crowd to find a name they can pronounce for someone whose name presents a little difficulty! Thus His Highness The Maharaja of Rajpipla became “Good old Pip” to the crowd on Epsom Downs this afternoon. “Good old Pip” shouted a thousand voices as the Maharajah led in his horse after the race. His dark face was all smiles, and he waved his hat gaily to the crowd. “… very, very happy indeed,” he said to me in the unsaddling enclosure. “I knew the horse was good, and said so from the beginning. I am glad that he has won, not only for my own sake, but also for all the people who had faith in him. Since I came to England the British public have given me a wonderful reception. Now I am glad to be able to give them something in return.” The Maharajah was then escorted to the Royal box by Lord Lonsdale and was heartily congratulated by the King and the Royal party.

“Winning All The Time”

Charlie Smirke, the jockey, was delighted with himself and with Windsor Lad. He said to me: “I felt that I was winning all the time. From Tattenham Corner I was sure. Tiberius was the only horse in front of me, and I knew I could go to the front when I wanted to. Once I had taken the lead Windsor Lad went on to win.”

Mr. M. Marsh, Windsor Lad’s trainer, had just one thing to say, and he said it with a grin, “I told you so. In fact I’ve been telling you for weeks. Windsor Lad is a great horse, he won a great race, and I’m not a bit surprised.”

Just a word from Johnstone, Colombo’s jockey: “I was not unlucky. I had every chance, but it couldn’t be done.”

There will be great rejoicings in Old Windsor at Windsor Lad’s victory. The Maharajah of Rajpipla has an estate there, and they say that every man, woman and child in the village had “a bit on” Windsor Lad. Most of the people of Old Windsor were at Epsom to see the race. Their cheers when “their” horse won was the loudest of all.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh - grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla - can be contacted on email and His other blog is

A Maharaja’s Turf  

ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

How Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla relentlessly chased his dream and finally triumphed. Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’

This story begins in the early years of the 1930s. “Steve Donoghue (the famous jockey) tipped me on the shoulder, ‘Marcus,’ he said, ‘I’d like you to meet the Maharajah of Rajpipla’,” so wrote Marcus Marsh, the future trainer of Windsor Lad, in his book Racing with the Gods (Pelham Books Ltd., London, 1968). Marsh continued, “The Maharaja was small and dark and handsome and possessed of considerable charm. He steered me into a quiet corner. ‘I would like you to train for me,’ he said. I came to know him very well in the months and years that followed. He was very kind-hearted and you couldn’t help liking him. The racecourse crowds were particularly fond of him and referred to him affectionately as ‘Mr. Pip’. He had a big Victorian mansion outside Windsor and lived in a romantic twilight world of the Charleston, champagne, and the like. Whenever I think of Pip, I see him in my mind’s eye emerging from his chauffeur-driven Rolls, beautifully turned out, a cigar in his hand.”

By then, of course, Maharana Shri Sir Vijaysinhji, KCSI, Maharaja of Rajpipla, had already come a long way. When he was born as Kumar Shri Vijaysinh on 30th January 1890, his grandfather Maharana Gambhirsinhji was the 34th Gohil Rajput Raja of Rajpipla, the British Empire was at its zenith and Queen Victoria was in the 53rd year of her momentous reign. Automobiles were just about being invented, and kings, warriors and men of means still rode horses. Infant Vijaysinh’s parents, the then Yuvraj Chhatrasinhji and Yuvrani Phul Kunverba, daughter of the ruler of Wankaner, could not have realised at the time that their son’s reign would turn out to be the pinnacle of the 600-year sway of the Gohils over the principality, and Rajpipla would appear indelibly on the map of the racing world.    

Like his father, young Vijaysinh received his schooling at Rajkumar College, Rajkot, and like all princes learnt to ride and shoot at a very early age. As The Illustrated Weekly of India noted many decades later in its Coronation Supplement dated May 9, 1937, the prince “even as a boy, showed great skill as a sportsman having himself ridden a horse to victory and won a reputation as a marksman when not much over 10 years of age.” By then he was already Yuvraj, or heir apparent, of Rajpipla. He went on to become head boy of Rajkumar College in 1908, a recognition of his allround excellence. Military training followed at the Imperial Cadet Corps, Dehra Dun.

When his father Maharana Chhatrasinhji passed away suddenly in 1915, Vijaysinhji succeeded to the gadi or throne of Rajpipla at the age of twenty-five. His accession took place up above in the hills of the western Satpuras, and deep in the forests, in the mediaeval fort at Juna Raj or Old Rajpipla. Even as he carried out several reforms and initiated numerous works of public utility in his 1,518 square miles (nearly 4,000 square kilometres) first-class State in the Rewakantha Agency of the Bombay Presidency, lying largely between the rivers Narmada and Tapti, Maharana Vijaysinhji’s fascination for horses only grew stronger. The end of the First World War saw the young ruler come into his own.

At a very early stage, Maharaja Vijaysinhji decided to follow his passion, horse racing. Success on the turf came to him early. His horse Tipster won the first-ever Indian Derby, held in Calcutta in 1919. On 1st January 1921 the British bestowed on him the hereditary title of Maharaja, and increased the permanent gun-salute from 11 to 13-guns.

In 1922 Maharaja Vijaysinhji set sail overseas and extensively toured the United Kingdom, Europe and United States of America. He saw his first Epsom Derby, which kindled in him the intense desire to one day bag this blue riband of the turf. He registered his colours in England in 1924. Soon, on 1st January 1925, he was knighted (Order of the Star of India). He was barely thirty-five years of age then.

Triumphs abroad too did not take long to come. His horse Embargo won the Irish Two Thousand Guineas, and the Irish Derby at Curragh, in 1926, ridden by the famous Steve Donoghue. Embargo next won the City and Suburban, and the Grand International of Belgium at Ostend, in 1927. He also ran second as a three-year-old for the Royal Hunt Cup. The Maharaja’s eyes were now set firmly on Epsom.          

And the ambition of every owner of thoroughbred racehorses is to win The Derby, the pinnacle of triumphs at the courses. It is a remarkable story of a man pursuing his goals relentlessly, with patience and perseverance, intelligence and commonsense, and with single-minded determination. He sought the advice of everyone who mattered. As a consequence he bought a thoroughbred yearling colt or two each year. He even started a small stud farm in England with his Irish Derby winner Embargo as sire.  

As Marcus Marsh observed in his Racing with the Gods: “In the state of Rajpipla, Pip ruled a-quarter-of-a-million subjects and his every wish was their command. They would fight for him, and, if need be, they would die for him. So naturally enough, his outlook differed from ours. Racing success had come to mean a great deal to him. He had the desire for it. He had the money for it and he could not understand why the rest shouldn’t follow. I only wish it could have been that simple.”

Sure, it was not that simple. Maharaja Vijaysinhji always spent his money wisely even when he was chasing his dream, and notwithstanding the fact that he earned sizeable sums from the sport. He did not own hundreds of horses like some other Indian princes. Rather, he chose experts to pick out colts that could win the big races. In addition to his ambition to win classic races, Maharaja Vijaysinhji knew that thoroughbreds make a very good investment. As Michael Seth-Smith wrote in Country Life, “…..bloodstock is accepted as an international currency on a par with gold, silver and diamonds.” Like his collection of Rolls-Royce cars and priceless properties, a part of Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s fortune was stables of some of the finest horses one would ever find anywhere.

A Maharaja’s Turf  

ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6

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