Cyrus J. Madan
Few races anywhere in the world will compare with the history and tradition in which the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Gr.3 is steeped in. Run traditionally on the second Saturday of February (11th February, 2017) at the Calcutta Racecourse under the auspices of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, the race traces back well over a century and a half – To 1856 to be precise.
Of course it has gone by different names since inception when it came into existence asThe Governor General’s Plate and thereafter renamed The Viceroy’s Cup. Lord Lawrence decided to do away with the race when he took over as Viceroy and from 1864 to 1868 it was scrapped altogether. But in 1869 it was back and this time it was run without interruption until 1946. From 1947 to 1949 it was run as The Governor General’s Cup and then in 1950 King George VI gave the race that truly Royal Touch and it was named The King George VI Cup until he passed away in 1952. On the 6th of February 1952, Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne and from 1953 till today the race has been run as The Queen Elizabeth II Cup and the Trophy to the winner is still consigned from Buckingham Palace who place an order for the same with the Royal Jewellers in London.
The race itself is a Weight For Age (with penalties) and run over a gruelling distance of 2800 metres or a mile and three quarters.It has been won by some of the greatest horses that ever graced the Turf in India, with the English gelding MAYFOWL being the only one to have won it four times in succession and that included a historic Dead Heat with a mare named BROGUE in 1912. What made the 1912 verdict even more dramatic is the fact that Mayfowl and Brogue were ridden by C.Hoyt and A.Hoyt , both closely related to each other.
The Maharaja of Scindia owned FINALIST also lays claim to having won four times but that winning sequence was interrupted by another legend named BAQLAVA who denied him a straight quartet. Finalist came back and won two more on the trot in 1941 and 1942. The Race was won exclusively by English and Australian bred horses until 1964 when Hovercraft became the first Indian bred to record a victory. This was post Independence because the Records will show that in 1858 and 1859 a Countrybred mare named Meg Merriles came out victorious.
The stories that surround the QE II Cup abound, especially the ones that revolve around the 1961 Winner Pa Bear who was owned by Mr.and Mrs. Adeshir Billimoria. Trained by Mac Galstaun and ridden by Wally Swinburn, Pa Bear’s victory was truly special because Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was there in person to witness the race and she presented the Trophy to the Billimorias who were ecstatic and in seventh heaven to have received the Cup from her.
But the romance and the lure of the Queens Cup has never been highlighted and brought to the fore better than by the novelist Rumer Godden who crafted her book THE DARK HORSE around one of the winners of The Viceroy’s Cup.The story revolves around a horse named DARK INVADER. Of course records will show that no Dark Invader won the Viceroy’s Cup. But the fact that Godden a very successful and well known novelist based in India even chose to write a novel which revolved around the Viceroy’s Cup shows just how significant a niche the race held in India.
The story goes that he was sold as a Yearling and sent to Dilbury on the Berkshire Downs. He came under the care of an absolute gnome of a stable lad named Ted Mullins and both took an instant dislike to each other. Dark Invader was treated horrendously by Mullins and as a result he failed to perform and was shipped off to India. In Calcutta he was stabled not too far from the Calcutta Racecourse and with patience, kindness and care Dark Invader was nursed back to form. He was being touted as the favourite for the Viceroy’s Cup when disaster struck.
Ted Mullins the man who hurt and ruined his prospects in England heard about the transformation in Dark Invader and came all the way to Calcutta to see if it was true. He made a secret visit to the Stables about a fortnight before the race was scheduled. The horse recognising him went berserk and broke out his stall and ran out onto the Main Road (now called A.J.C. Bose Road) and after galloping along in a frenzy ducked into an open gate which was the entrance into a Convent run by The Little Sisters of The Poor.
The Nuns awoke early morning to see a big dark bay horse standing in their courtyard looking spooked and petrified. Their first reaction was to praise The Lord for answering their prayer and sending them the horse that they had been praying for as they had only recently lost their old cart horse who would haul their carriage to market each morning. They befriended Dark Invader who loved the care and attention and the carrots that the nuns smothered him with and he settled down so well that on the third day he was harnessed to the cart and he obligingly trotted along.
On their way back to the Convent from the market he was spotted by the man who trained him and he followed them back to the Convent and explained the situation to the Nuns who after being assured of a replacement tearfully handed Dark Invader back to his owner. The Little Sisters Of The Poor were among his most vociferous supporters who lined the outer railings as Dark Invader romped home to win the Viceroy’s Cup. That night they visited the Horse that the Lord had sent them with carrots and lumps of sugar which the 16 hand thoroughbred devoured with all the gentleness of a puppy. And even today the legend lives on.
The Camera now hardens on February 11th, 2017. The 65th running of The Queen Elizabeth II Cup is at hand. A field of 10 will line up to fact the Starter and Buckingham Palace will be gearing up to send a congratulatory message to the winner from her Majesty the Queen. There may not be a Mayfowl or a Finalist in the field of ten and while the 1,75 million rupees to the winner is certainly an enticement, it will never compare to the silverware that is crafted by the Queen’s very own jewellers in London which will be presented by her Representative.