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Lahore Race Club. -File photo

THE 66th running of the most cherished annual event of the country’s turf, the Pakistan Derby 2012, scheduled to be run at the Racecourse in Lahore on March 4, has a long tradition to lean on.

A term race for four-year-old colts and fillies, the Derby exemplifies elegance, colour and grandeur and provides a real test of speed, stamina and endurance of the thoroughbreds’ bloodline for the breeders to improve their quality breeding.

It carries the greatest prestige and the biggest slice of prize-money. Derby winner’s purse this year will be rupees half a million plus a glittering trophy.

The colts or fillies occupying second, third and fourth positions will bring for their owners Rs175,000, Rs85,000 and Rs45,000, respectively besides a special prize for the breeder of the winner.

Lahore being the Derby home is at present afflicted with the Derby fever and the quest for picking the probable Derby winner has already started.

In the race club, stables and the restaurants where race fans, owners, trainers are sitting probable Derby runners are the topic of their discussions with special reference to their past record of achievements and track work they are being given in morning exercises.

The Pakistan Derby was instituted in 1947 after the founding of the new country, Pakistan.

Since then, it has become an event for great horses, great jockeys, owners and trainers. The pomp, pageantry and splendour have never been seen on any other occasion.

Before independence, the event was known as the Punjab Derby and according to available official record it was first introduced in 1924 when a group of equine enthusiasts started holding Meeting races at the Lahore Race Club (LRC).

In its chequered history, the Pakistan Derby was first run over 2,000 metres and won by H.O. Hay’s Abbot Ray in 1947.

The race distance remained the same till 1954 when 400 metres were added to bring the distance to international standards that saw Mohammad Aly’s filly, Seven Seven winning the race.

The winner was trained by Khuda Bux Peshamby and ridden by jockey S. Laloo, one of the leading jockeys of that time.

The Derby was not held in 1978 due to shortage of runners.

Later, the Derby distance was reduced to 1,600 metres in 1979 but was increased to 2,000 metres in1980, two years later it was again brought to international standards in 1982.

Since then the Derby has remained the biggest classic and feature event in the country’s racing calendar.

The Derby is a truly unique and colourful occasion that combined highly competitive and very best racing action with a real taste of day-long equine activity, nothing compares in the rest of the year racing.

The event also attracts a bumper crowd of sports fans, mostly those who otherwise never attend races.

The Pakistan Derby over the 65 years of its inception has both sweet and sour memories.

In 1956, the Derby race was won by Dodo, but the Derby was awarded to Golden Harvest on objection, when the LRC stewards upheld the objection, a single such instance in the race history.

Later in 1967, the Derby race was run twice. First on a start declared false by the starter Sardar Yahya Jan as one horse failed to take the start while other horses completed the race, which was won by colt Wasser Matter.

It was a story of fluctuating fortunes when it was re-run in which the original non-starter Shatir (trickster) lived true to his name and won the race.

Yet again as it happens in races an accident involving three horses, paved the way for the victory of the filly, Millionairess.

In another mishap, filly High Again won the race following the mysterious fall of jockey A. Hameed from the favourite colt, New Market in 1977.

It is to note that fall of a jockey in a race could be accidental but otherwise too.

Among owners, who were lucky to have won the Derby more than once are: H.O. Hay’s, Nawab Jamal Khan Leghari, Sardar Mohammad Khan Leghari, Sardar Ata Mohammad Khan Leghari, H.S. Khawaja, Syed Shah Mardan Shah II, Pir Pagaro VII, Khalida Yasmeen Khan, Zafar Yousuf Khan, Syed Pervez Shah, Sohrab Khan and M. Attiq.

Pir Pagaro had the distinction of winning the Derby four times as a single owner in the country.

Only three women owners have so far won the Derby. They are: Sahibzadi Fareeda Begum, Syeda Abida Hussain and Khalida Yasmeen.

The more fortunate among trainers to win the Derby more than once are: Tymon, Shaukat Ali, Captain Jack Fownes, Khuda Bux Peshamby, M.H. Shah, Fateh Khan, Mohammad Ashraf, Haji Fazal Hadi, Raja Mohammad Azad and Amjad Ali II.

Among the jockeys, the feat has been achieved by Faiz Mohammad, S. Laloo, Bill Alford, Khadim Hussain, F. Hussain, Christopher Fownes, A. Razzaq, Memrez, Flatcher, Salahuddin II, Aamir Pervez and Shahid Rehman.

Trainer Jack Fownes won the Derby seven times which is a record while trainer Mohammad Ashraf is next to him with five Derby wins, and Amjad Ali II third with three Derby victories.

Jockeys Flatcher and Shahid Rehman are tied up at the top Derby winners with five Derby wins each, Jockey Faiz Mohammad and Salahuddin II four times each are the next in the line.

Once the leading jockey of Karachi, Flatcher achieved hat-trick of Derby triumphs in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

Since Shahid Rehman is still riding, he has a chance to get on top of the jockey’s performance table with regard to Derby wins.

Many of the lucky owners, trainers and jockeys are not with us today but their names will live in the annals of racing forever.