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The Indian Derby is the most prestigious horse racing event in India. Held on the first Sunday of February at the famed Mahalakshmi Racecourse in Mumbai, it is attended by the who’s who of this lifestyle and glamour sport.

This year’s race, on February 6, attracted some 15,000 spectators, with the prize money, a whopping Rs1.2 crores. The winner was Mirra, the fastest four-year filly on the track.

Ridden by Antony Raj, trained by Arjun Mangalorkar, Mirra belongs to Ameeta Mehra, the owner of the Usha Stud Farm in the national capital region.

Mirra came in from behind, with 10 to 1 odds, in a final dash in which she overtook another Usha Stud horse, King’s Ransom, in thrilling finish in the final leg.

Over the year horses from the Usha stables have won over 300 major races in the country, including 15 Indian Derbies, 18 Indian Oaks, 16 1000 Guineas, 16 Bangalore Summer Derbies, 17 Sprinters’ Cups, 12 P.K. Mehra Memorial Super Miles, 11 Turf Invitations, 9 Indian St. Legars, and 7 Indian 2000 Guineas.

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In fact, this year’s Indian Derby was totally dominated by Usha horses. “It is a great moment for us as we created Indian Derby history when all the first four finishers were bred at our stud farm in the golden jubilee year of its existence,” said Mehra.

In an emotional moment after her victory, Mehra recalled her father the legendary international polo player, P. K. Mehra, who founded Usha Stud Farm: “My thoughts go out to my father. I am very pleased with Mirra’s victory for another reason,” she added.

“I had sensed she was special and named her after my guru, Mother Mirra of Pondicherry.” Racing afficionados will also recall that Mirra’s own mother Myrtlewood lost the Indian Derby in 2016 with P S Chouhan as her jockey. This time it was Mirra who defeated “King’s Ransom” ridden by Chouhan. Sweet revenge, indeed.

A dream come true

It was also a dream come true for both jockey Antony Raj and trainer Arjun Mangalorkar. Raj, the 34-year old veteran, who recently won the Hyderabad Derby too, had missed the trophy on two previous occasions.

Reflecting on his triumph, he said, “I did not try to track any rival and rode as if I was riding alone. I had always dreamt of winning the Indian Derby.”

Mangalorkar did not race Mirra at the Bangalore Derby even though she won the Bangalore Oaks on January 7, earlier this year. He wanted to save her for the Indian Derby: “I brought her to Mumbai skipping the Bangalore Derby,” he said. “I could have brought her here earlier but waited for her to win a classic.” Mangalorkar, who has been a trainer for over 25 years, has already won four classics recently. But this was his crowning glory.

Speaking for myself, I am neither much of a racing buff nor a betting man, but the story of Mirra’s success has a special significance in my heart. That is because Ameeta has been a friend and a spiritual sister of sorts for decades. But there is a deeper reason.

Jockeys compete in a horse race at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai Image Credit: AFP

Throughout India’s profound and hoary civilizational history—indeed from the Vedas to M F Hussain—horses have always been a symbol of power, beauty, grace, speed, agility, and, ultimately, spiritual progress.

The Sanskrit word for horse, ashva, is a cognate to the Latin equus and Greek hippo. The first horse, Uchchaihshravas, came out of the legendry churning of the oceans.

White it colour, it was a celestial horse, winged like Pegasus. It was sent to earth, wings severed, so that it would not fly back to heaven. The chariot of dawn was drawn by seven horses, so the horse also came to be associated with the sun.

Symbolic significance of horse

In his Letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo explains the inner meaning and symbolic significance of the horse: “The Horse is the symbol in dream or vision of a Power or Energy. The Horse is the symbol of Power in motion—often of the Power that makes for rapid progress in sadhana [spiritual effort].”

Elsewhere, he clarifies that the horse represents the power of tapas or askesis and pranic or vital energy. We cannot progress in our material and spiritual pursuits unless we can harness and tame the tremendous energy of the vital power and the dynamic force within ourselves.

Ameeta Mehra is not only India’s leading horse breeder, but also the founder of the Gnostic Centre on the outskirts of Delhi. This is a very special place, an oasis of tranquility, grace, and beauty, dedicated to humankind’s spiritual progress and the transformation of consciousness. On its premises is also a school for toddlers, “L’avenir,” one of the few truly “free progress” sites of learning anywhere in the world.

I am very proud of Ameeta’s success, but the cake on the icing is her revelation that Mirra won the most prestigious race in India without being whipped. I watched the video several times and had to agree with her—perhaps, with the exception of a “tap” towards the end!

Even more startling was her closing quip when I met her last Saturday, “You know, when the trophy was handed to me, the tiny golden whip on it fell off. It was the most meaningful affirmation of my injunction to the jockey not to whip Mirra.” Ameeta then took out the broken whip from her handbag, carefully preserved in an envelope, to show us.

They will put it back on the trophy, but this broken whip will remain Ameeta’s memento for the exceptional love and care that both her dad and she bestow on their thoroughbreds.