• Ruffina wins The Sprinters Cup (Gr.1)
  • Azzurro wins The Dr M A M Ramaswamy Stayers Cup (Gr.1)
  • Whomakestherules wins The Maj P K Mehra Memorial Super Mile Cup (Gr.1)
  • Kangra wins The Indian Turf Invitation Cup (Gr.1) in record timing
www.indiarace.com - Four long years have passed since Major Pradeep Kumar Mehra, the founder of India's leading Thoroughbred nursery, the Usha Stud & Agricultural Farm Pvt. Ltd., was tragically killed in a helicopter crash near Mussoorie in January 2001.

Four long years have passed since Major Pradeep Kumar Mehra, the founder of India's leading Thoroughbred nursery, the Usha Stud & Agricultural Farm Pvt. Ltd., was tragically killed in a helicopter crash near Mussoorie in January 2001.

It's a tribute to Maj. Mehra and his foresight that the edifice he constructed, from the foundation up, was so strong and resilient that the performance of his brainchild has not suffered a whit. In fact, so successfully has the baton been passed on to his daughter, Ameeta, that Usha-breds have been enjoying a banner year, smashing all opposition in the country, when naysayers and the prophets of doom were predicting the stud's downfall!

Choosing a career in the Indian Army, the 1939-born Maj. Mehra joined the National Defence Academy and soon became an avid follower of the horse, excelling at Polo. Upon getting his commission, he chose to join Hodson's Horse - reportedly against the advice of friends. After a year there, he requested reassignment to the 61st Cavalry. This enabled him to pursue his Polo interests more seriously. Some years later, he was promoted to the President's Body Guard (PBG) and served there for five years as Commandant.

Maj. P.K. Mehra

Grey Gaston

Towards the end of this period, he commenced the horse breeding activities that were to win him international acclaim. His initial breeding stock was boarded at the now defunct Alwar Stud, where his very first imported mare, Eagle Don*, was sent. In 1966, she foaled a grey filly by Entanglement, which was named Mica Express and won the South India Oaks of 1970. Usha Stud was on its way!

Soon, Maj. Mehra imported his own stallion, Grey Gaston*, who arrived in 1973. In fact, the very first of a long and endless succession of stars to emanate directly from Usha, Manitou, was foaled in the backyard of the official bungalow Maj. Mehra occupied in New Delhi by virtue of holding the post of Commandant, PBG.

Maj. Mehra then left the Army to further his bloodstock interests. With the aid of a bank loan, he acquired a plot of land in an obscure Haryana village not far from New Delhi's Palam Airport, and stocked it with a few imported broodmares, thus giving a permanent home to his operation.

Apart from Manitou, who went on to a fairy tale win in the Indian Derby - the easiest victory on record - that first crop of Grey Gaston* included Aureole Queen and Rose Of Shiraz, both Class 1 performers. This was an extraordinary beginning for a newly established stud farm and provided the first indications of how much of an impact Maj. Mehra was destined to have on the Indian Turf.


Usha Stud's first champion



All the stallions he selected and imported changed the contours of Indian bloodstock breeding: each and every one begot multiple classic winners. Grey Gaston* was followed by Common Land[GB], whose first crop contained Indian Triple Crown winner Almanac; next came Treasure Leaf[USA] (sire of Treasure Girl in his first crop); then Razeen[USA], about whom one could write a whole chapter or more! Suffice it to say here that with almost 20% stakes winners to foals, Razeen[USA] has emulated his own illustrious sire, Northern Dancer.

A few years later the under-rated Steinbeck[USA] arrived and showed he was no slouch with the likes of Running Flame (apart from recent stars like Venus Arising and Star Of Windsor). Knight Of Medina* and Track Lightning also spent part of their stud careers at Usha. In fact, one can firmly state that each and every one of Usha Stud's imported stallions was successful and two of them - Grey Gaston* and Razeen[USA] - qualified for the ranks of "breed-shapers".

Leading in the 1997 Indian Triple Crown winner, Indictment with daughter Ameeta Mehra

Leading in Running Flame,
Horse of the Year 1999

Accompanying the stallions were several broodmares, both imported as well as locally acquired. The latter group consisted in the main of home-breds. On several occasions, Maj. Mehra told this writer that his formula was to concentrate on speed and conformation in the mare. Most of his imported broodmares possessed these qualities, even if they were light on pedigree.

On the rare occasion he deviated from this norm - as sometimes happens at auction sales in the heat of the moment - his acquisition failed to set the Yamuna on fire, a good example being the stoutly-bred Peaceful Run[GB], who did not have the best set of forelegs. Incidentally, she was a flop and her family has since died out.

Maj. Mehra brought into the Indian breeding industry horse and farm management practices not used before in the 1970's by other farms and thereby truly revolutionized this aspect of the game. Later, appreciating the concept that overcrowding would decimate the empire he had so assiduously built up, he made heavy investments from time-to-time in land and facilities. A separate state-of-the-art yearling farm was set up at Pataudi in 1993, and the value of this became evident when Usha Stud bounced back from a temporary drift in its fortunes in the late 'eighties and early 'nineties.

Throughout his turf career, Maj. Mehra was considered by his rival breeders to be exceedingly lucky. For example:

 - cheap purchases like Traxana* and Clocked*, which might have been scoffed at by most other breeders, became foundation broodmares

 - when Track Lightning went wide in the Indian Derby, he still found his nose in front in the photo finish

 - when Camino failed in the Blue Riband of the Indian Turf, another from the stud, the so-called "no-hoper" Nelston, sporting Maj. Mehra's own colours, stepped into the breach

 - when Sheikh Mohammed kept Warrshan[USA] and sold the full-brother, Razeen[USA], it was the latter who turned out indisputably the superior of the pair at stud.

The Mehra Stud at Pataudi

On the other hand, Maj. Mehra himself never believed that luck was responsible for his being able to acquire a succession of top stallions and superb broodmares, nor for his being able to produce an endless range of top performers, including for example five Indian Derby winners in a row. Rather, he was firmly of the opinion that it was his, and his team's horsemanship - and eye for a horse - that deserved the credit for the phenomenal accomplishments of his operation. So close was he to his beloved horses that he had requested that his ashes be scattered over the paddocks of Usha Stud when he passed on, a request that was honoured by his family members.

Still, whether it was ill-luck or some quirk of fate that turned against him, as it did that fateful day with such tragic consequences, no one will ever know. Unexpected though his departure from this life was, at least he can be counted amongst that small number of persons through recorded history about whom it can be said that they left an indelible imprint - a legend…….