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Alesh Naidoo - KZN Racing Personality of the YearAlesh Naidoo receives the award for 2012 KZN Racing Personality of the Year
(Photo: Gold Circle)

“As a nation, Indians embraced the British sports
of polo and horseracing very early in the era of the Raj.”

mick gossMick GossIt’s an awful long time since I was at school, and while that may be something of a disadvantage in terms of how many years I have left, the time in between has at least provided an opportunity to reflect. And how this country of ours has changed. Mind you, the whole world has changed significantly since then. When I first went to school, Winston Churchill had just led the Allies to victory in World War 2, and America was the unchallenged supremo of the international economy. There is something ominous though, about empires at their peak, and there is an inevitability about decline. In that scenario, there are opportunities for others to take their places, and that lot usually falls to those who’ve come from nowhere, have nothing to lose, and have aspirations of emulating the rich and the powerful.

When I was at high school, most of the academic prizes fell to boys from the Jewish community, who had the intellectual resources and the hunger to excel. Remember, it was the Jews who’d suffered most at the hands of Hitler and the Russians, and here they were making not only a new home for themselves, but a new name as well. About ten years ago, I was back at my alma mater, the speaker at their Speech Day, and it was noticeable how much the school had changed. Apartheid was gone, the entire demographic was different, and budding young stars like Imran Khan, Hashim and Ahmed Amla were bursting onto the cricketing scene. The quadrant in the old school hall where the prize-winners sat was packed with brown faces. Now it was the turn of the Indians, who’d taken up the running when it came to the top academic achievements.

These days we’re seeing it in the racing world, where the prosperity which flowed from liberty and opportunity, is evident every day on the racecourses of the country. There was an old saying in America, around the time of General Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn, when, on the eve of a raid by the local Indians, the townsfolk would cry out “the Apaches are in town”. The truth is, in racing parlance these days that’s exactly what’s happened, our “Indians” have arrived, and there’s a great wave of fresh investment in racehorses in the community. Enterprising people like Sunil and Ashnee Devachander, Dayalan Chinsammy (the National Yearling Sale’s biggest spender this year), the indomitable Alesh Naidoo (recent recipient of KZN’s Racing Personality of the Year award), his partner Anthony Govender (Owner of the Month for November) and the irrepressible Satch Mathan.

These guys have sent out a veritable slew of top horses in recent times, Chinsammy leading the charge with Rock Of Art’s dramatic victory in the R2.5million Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup, while the Devachander’s Killua Castle was closing fast for third. Earlier that day, Naidoo and Govender’s Love Struck sailed home by 6.5 lengths in Durban, and followed up with a commanding performance in the KZN Guineas a fortnight later. A graduate of the Summerhill Yearling Draft of 2011, Love Struck has set sail for the R1million Cape Guineas (Gr.1) this coming weekend, and he’s said to be sizzling.

As a nation, Indians embraced the British sports of polo and horseracing very early in the era of the Raj. We shouldn’t forget that it was only when they sought refuge in India from the ravages of what was happening in modern day Iran, that one of the greatest racing dynasties of all time, the Agas Khan, was born.

Editor’s Note: Keep following us. We’ll give you the full story on the Agas.

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Reader Comments (1)

Dear Mick

I enjoy reading your articles and find them most enriching and historically informed. The Aga Khan story is fascinating.

In polo we have found Indian folk attraced to the game and even tried to help one get started but he had no seat and showed no sign of ever getting one. We also hosted India this year for a few tests and it was interesting to meet them. I thought that your Indian case could be made stronger with a look at polo history which has ancient and prehistoric roots.

You wrote that "As a nation, Indians embraced the British sports of polo and horseracing very early in the era of the Raj. "

The Wikipedia entry says "The modern game of polo, though formalised and popularised by the British, is derived from Manipur (now a state in India) where the game was known as 'Sagol Kangjei', 'Kanjai-bazee', or 'Pulu'.[12] It was the anglicised form of the last, referring to the wooden ball which was used, that was adopted by the sport in its slow spread to the west."

All the best to you and your team for 2013.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMalcolm Draper

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