One of the most beautiful, earth-to-sky open spaces in Mumbai is the Royal Western India Turf Club’s racecourse at Mahalaxmi. The RWITC is one of the oldest and most well-known horse racing clubs in India. The landscape and architectural style of the oval-shaped 2400-metre Mahalaxmi race track is inspired by the Flemington Racecourse by the Maribyrnong River in Melbourne, Victoria (Australia). Flemington hosts Australia’s most famous thoroughbred horse race, the Melbourne Cup, the richest two-mile handicap in the world and one of the richest turf races, on the first Tuesday of November every year. The first race was held on its grounds in 1861.
The Mahalaxmi race track’s elite equestrian play has witnessed regal heads of state like Queen Elizabeth II of England attending its racing calendar in 1961, as also the Shah of Iran and the King of Saudi Arabia. The Mahalaxmi racecourse is of the essence in the architectural narrative of Mumbai, and the equestrian legacy of India. Founded in 1800 by Sir Charles Forbes, G. Hall, A. Campbell and P. Haddow as the Bombay Turf Club in the Byculla Club Grounds, it went on to being renamed the Western India Turf Club in 1864. But it was only when philanthropist and industrialist Sir Cusrow Nowrosjee Wadia donated 225 acres of land to the Western India Turf Club in 1878 and advanced an interest-free loan to the club to build the racecourse and grandstands, that it was built under the direction of Major J E Hughes, and horse racing shifted to its current and permanent home in Mahalaxmi in 1883. HRH King George V, the then Emperor of India, allowed the club to add the prefix ‘Royal’ to its name in 1935.
March 8, 2020 saw industrialist Ness Wadia in attendance, with his nephew Jah and niece Ella, at the 76th edition of the CN Wadia Gold Cup. The CN Wadia Gold Cup is held every year at the racecourse in Sir Cusrow Nowrosjee Wadia’s honour for his largesse and equestrian patronage. Sir Cusrow was born to Nowrosjee Nusserwanjee Wadia (August 30, 1849 – December 19, 1899) who’d established the Bombay Dyeing & Manufacturing Co. for textiles in 1879. Nowrosjee was awarded the honour of Champion of the Indian Empire (CIE) by the British government in 1889 for his business strengths and extensive socio-economic philanthropy and his wife, Bai Jerbai Wadia, built baugs or housing colonies in Mumbai between 1908 and 1956 on more than 35 acres of land for lower income groups in the city. Inspired by their parents, both Cusrow and Ness, the sons of Nowrosjee and Bai Jerbai, built the Nowrosjee Wadia Maternity Hospital and the Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Women and Children in their memory and continued the philanthropic legacy they’d inherited till they were alive.
Mr Zavaray Poonawalla, Chairman, Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) lauded Wadia’s philanthropic pursuits and thanked him profusely for his family’s continued patronage of the racecourse. Poonawalla also honoured him with a commemorative trophy to mark the occasion. The CN Wadia Gold Cup 2020 (Gr. 2) was won by seven-year-old Vulcan, ridden by A. Sandesh, who also won three other races on the day.
After the race, children afflicted by heart ailments, who have been successfully treated by the Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Children, performed a little song and dance routine in the paddock – a heartening moment for all. The little kids looked healthy and happy, and cheerfully posed for pictures in the warm, afternoon sun.
The CN Wadia Gold Cup is supported by the Wadia Group and their companies – Britannia Industries Ltd, Bombay Dyeing & Manufacturing Co, GoAir, Bombay Realty, Bombay Burmah Trading Company Ltd, National Peroxide Ltd, and the Wadia Hospitals.
“It is a moment of pride for me to represent the Wadia Group on this special occasion to commemorate the immense contributions made by Sir Cusrow Nowrosjee Wadia, not only as a successful businessman, but as a custodian of the legacy of philanthropy his parents left him. A keen horseracing enthusiast, Sir C N Wadia was instrumental in giving Mumbai it’s first and only world-class racecourse, which is one of Mumbai’s greatest architectural landmarks. The lasting legacy left behind by him has been a huge responsibility for successive generations of the Wadia family to carry on, and I am certain that our future generations will continue to walk the path laid down by him,” said Wadia of his presence.
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