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Gallop, glam gear & winter gala
Eveready presents New Year Derby, held in association with The Telegraph

Deepak Saraf, a designer and manufacturer of Indian outfits, opened his New Year with a win. Or so he thought.

“I always follow The Telegraph when it comes to racing. Based on their tips I placed my money on horse No. 3 (Afrah) in the first race. And it won! But then the race itself got cancelled,” rued the New Alipore resident.

The Eveready presents New Year Derby, held in association with The Telegraph, at Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) got off on the wrong hoof with the first race of the day, The Sunrise Song Cup, being disrupted by a group of men running into the horses’ paths, strewing paper, waving flags and raising slogans.

The race was declared null and void and all bets were reimbursed. But even as the crowds swelled and the club lawns came alive with music and chatter, the actual racecourse fell silent. Announce-ments were made about a “certain section of the crowd” causing “a law-and-order situation”. No one knew if and when racing would resume.

“During the running of the first race, a section of the stable employees, along with some outsiders, unlawfully invaded the race track, endangering the lives of the horses, jockeys and themselves, causing the first race to be declared null and void,” said Robin Corner, vice-president (racing), Royal Calcutta Turf Club.

“With the prompt help of the police reinforcements, the trouble-makers were arrested and all the other eight races were held uninterrupted after a delay of 45 minutes. The traditional New Year’s races witnessed a record turnout,” added Corner.

In the record turnout were the likes of 24-year-old Rakhi, who had come all prepared to try her luck with “small bets”.

“I got all decked up and came for the New Year races because I have heard a lot about race fashion. So I really hope the problem is resolved and the race begins,” she said.

The trigger behind Wednesday’s protests, according to Rakesh Singh, the president of The Race Horse and Stable Welfare Society Permanent Employees’ Welfare Union, was the death of RCTC employee Ram Prasad Paswan on December 7.

The INTUC demanded a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for his family but the management of the club refused to pay the amount, alleged Singh.

In the member’s enclosure, Rishi Agarwal, who owns a seven-year-old horse called Spectacular Style, sat dejected discussing the unfortunate turn of events with two friends.

“Of course I am disappointed about this disruption. Our New Year’s Eve party went on till 5am but we still made it a point to come here by noon because we just love it here on New Year. Now we don’t know....”

The young man suddenly got up and almost galloped away. The reason? The commentator had just announced that racing would resume in a few minutes!

The second race of the day, the Silver Cup Division I, started at 1.15pm after a delay of 45 minutes and the thunder of hooves, the cries of “come on, come on” and shrieks of delight from winners soon wiped clean the disappointed faces of before. The New Year races were back in business and how.

As the betting counters overflowed with the seasoned and amateurs alike, others made a beeline for the food court, to tuck into everything from biryani and fried chicken to herb-crusted fish, pork chops, momos, pav bhaji and more, finishing off with swigs of chilled beer under the warm winter sun.

For Class XI student Garima Poddar, making her race debut made for “a fab start to the new year”. “I am enjoying myself so much. It’s lovely to be here,” grinned the young lady, turning heads in a black hat with a bow and a flowy polka-dotted top.

Pretty heads and headgear were in full display at RCTC on Wednesday, from large straw hats to tiny fascinators, apart from bows, ribbons and even the odd flower decoration.

No wonder IT professional Niraj Basotia, who has lived in London, scored the New Year Races at RCTC a neat 7 on 10, compared with the fabled Royal Ascot races of England.

“I loved the ambience, the atmosphere and the enthusiasm. Everyone is dressed up and having a great time it seems. And in one way it’s even better than Ascot because it’s open to everyone,” smiled the Chinar Park resident.

That the New Year racing tradition was unscathed was evident from Deepak Saraf’s glowing face in the evening, the morning’s missed booty long forgotten.

“How much did you win,” he beamed at anyone who would listen, before trotting off to gather his gains from the last race.

I love going for the January 1 races because.... Tell