Photographer Raghu Rai was invited to the Mahalakshmi Race Course recently to captured key moments in the history of the iconic institution. The images show the horses in their various avatars — some taking a dip in the pool, some preparing for the races and some resting in the stables. Fifty such pictures have been exhibited at the Race Course to celebrate 130 years of its existence.

Alongside Mr Rai’s photographs are equestrian paintings by British artist Jeremy Houghton. “We thought this was a good way to celebrate what the race course stands for,” said Vivek Jain, chairman of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC).

“It is not often that the Royal Western India Turf Club gets to celebrate a grand happening other than its yearly homage to the Indian Derby. So, when we stumbled upon the fact that racing moved to Mahalakshmi as far back as 1883, it deserved to be given a special remembrance,” said Mr Jain.

The race course, which is now a listed heritage structure (grade 2 B), was not always so sought after. Racing originally started in Byculla in 1870. It was in 1883 that racing shifted to this 226-acre expanse of swamp land by the sea in Mahalakshmi. The Indian classics races — restricted to horses bred in India — were introduced in the colonial period. Princess Beautiful, a Maharaja of Baroda filly, won the Indian 1000 Guineas, the Indian 2000 Guineas and the Indian Derby.

Over the last two years, race course authorities are locked in a tussle with municipal authorities over the renewal of the 99-year-old lease, which expired last year. Dissenters have been talking about the misuse of the green lung in the heart of south Mumbai. Several activists, environmentalists and government officials feel that only the rich and powerful have access to the open space.

“The issue of renewal of the lease is still hanging in the balance. We are in talks with politicians and are hoping to sort the matter after the election. We have plans to create a bio park and put the non-racing space to use so that the general public can access it,” said Mr Jain.