Friday, February 19, 2016

Mahalakschmi Races - the nervous horse always wins!

When I am having a bad day and the noise, pollution, long working hours and even more hours spent in traffic become too much, I miss London. And one of the things I miss most about London are the countless opportunities you have when it comes to culture and entertainment. Theatre, concerts, musicals, sport events - you name it - London has it.

When living in London, I always tried to make the most of these options, I would get standing 8 Pound tickets for the opera, put reminders in my calendar when concert tickets came on sale and watch the football, tennis, cricket or whatever else was happening.

One of my worries about moving to Mumbai was that it would not offer as much as London. And let's be honest, it doesn't (but they very few places do) - but while London can be an overload of choice, Mumbai has a few things on but then does them well, at least most of the time. The last two weekends, I spent going to the "Mumbai derby" and the "Mumbai Jazz festival" and have had an amazing time so here is my (still limited) insight into Mumbai's cultural life part 1

Mahalakschmi race course for the Mumbai Derby

Two weekends ago, a girl I met at one of the Internations events (organisation that sets up events for international people in cities around the world) said she was going to the race courses and asked whether I wanted to join. Tickets were 8 pounds (same as the standing ticket in the Royal opera) and it sounded fun so I was all in. Someone from Internations was organising the tickets which was convenient as I don't actually know whether you could buy them online and turns out getting a ticket is more complicated than expected. We were informed that ticket prices had changed and instead of 800, they were now only 300 but if you wanted to take your mobile phone, you would have to pay an extra 500. Seriously? Pay more for your mobile phone to go to the races that for yourself... As Indiadam always says "this is India" - so don't think about it too much. So I confirm that I want a ticket for me AND my phone (sounds like a date) and we are all set for the big day.

On the race day itself, we arrive for the 2nd race into a very nice enclosure that has lots of Kingfisher (local beer) advertising, trophies on show, betting boots and food and drink stalls. 

Pretty much like the races in England but with guaranteed perfect weather. This is one of the best things about Mumbai in the winter. In 3 months, I haven't ONCE checked the weather forecast. Every day is around 30 degrees and sunshine, It has not rained once and it's pleasant to eat outside in the morning and evening. I know it won't last but at the moment it is amazing..

Back to the races... After having a bit of a look around, we decide to get some drinks. You need to buy coupons so we decide to get 1000 rs worth (around 10 pounds). Turns out a bottle of Kingfisher is only 100 so a day of boozing ahead :) Kingfisher have gone all out on the decoration with "Kingfisher girls" sitting on swings in the trees. Not sure what they are for but if the beer is cheap, I don't mind. You also have to drink quickly as the beer does get warm quite quickly in the midday sun.

This might be a good time to admit that I know very little about horse racing. We head to the paddock where I knowingly observe the horses and share my insight that "the most nervous horse will win" which is met by very doubting looks by the others.

With the first race nearly starting, we head to the betting booths. There are lots of different ones where you can do different bets that all sound complicated, I decide to go for the one that looks most straightforward and obviously put my money on the horse with the best name. Or rather, I put my friend's money on the horse with the best name as he gets the "first round" as I don't really like betting very much.
It's race time and I am very pleased to say that MY HORSE WON! Suddenly, betting is fun and I want more. We keep putting a couple of pounds on a few races, mainly based on names and the limited information in the little booklet we got. We obviously don't win again and I am back to not liking betting. But the main race, the Mumbai Derby is still to come.

The winning ticket!

In the meantime, we have a wonder around - there are small stores selling some cool stuff, I buy some presents, we listen to the (quite good!) live band, eat waffles, drink some more beer and overall it is very very nice and well organised. Until it comes to the point where we want to get our winnings from the first race. We get sent from one booth to the other but all of them only let you place bets but don't give money back. Clever concept. After doing about 3 round of the racecourse, we find the right counter and because by now we are hooked, put all money on the Derby. All in!

We get a spot right at the start/finish line for the derby and as we have around 20 pounds on the race (various horses), I'm actually a bit nervous. I'll keep it brief, we don't win and as soon as the race is over we race out of the place as there are a LOT of people there by now and one things the race courses don't have is an organised parking system. Luckily, we get out quickly and although we (or rather my friend Colin) lost some money, it was a great day and much better than any horse racing I have been to in the UK. There were even some Ascot worth hats on show!

Here a video from the final race - and they're off!

One other interesting fact, the race course is names after the Goddess Lakshmi, she is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity. I clearly didn't benefit from her spirit but it's a nice name for a race course :)

Oh and if you've ever wondered what happened to my 500rs ticket for my phone. So I got a pretty bright green armband which has my name and the type of phone on it (!). It wasn't checked once but you could clearly see the other idiots who had paid the extra money and were running around with green armbands...

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