Racing memories

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L. Davison astride Without Regrets, winner of the Mysore cup, Madras, 1940
L. Davison astride Without Regrets, winner of the Mysore cup, Madras, 1940


As I had anticipated, several readers, including a few from Bombay and Colombo, responded to my item last week on a racehorse called Without Regrets. Almost all agreed that it was a horse from Ceylon and a few thought it was either owned/trained by a European from the Island. But it was left to readers G. Venkatesh from Bombay and Ramesh Rangarajan to come up with the answers I was looking for: The horse was owned by a C.A. Laing and trained by G.N.G. Walles. Rangarajan went further and sent me a picture of the horse, with L. Davison astride, after it won the Mysore Cup. He also informed me that Without Regrets won, most appropriately, the Ceylon Cup as well as another race that year, 1940, and that the Laings finished third in the owners’ list, behind the Maharajah of Kohlapur and Walles.

In the 1930s and 1940s, owners racing in Madras included a large number of Europeans and Ceylonese. The jockeys too were almost all Europeans and it was among the trainers alone that the Europeans were a handful; one of them was the Earl of Shannon who was an ADC to the Governor. Governors and/or their wives owned horses and were regulars at the race course. Less than ten per cent of the horses were Indian bred; about 60 per cent were Arabs and the rest were English or Australia thorough-breds. Without Regrets was an English thoroughbred, which went on to race in Poona and Bombay.

The information I received about Without Regrets set me thinking about all those connected with the horse. The Laings were proprietary tea planters in Ceylon who had been in the Island at least three generations. The genial, avuncular Walles, a Ceylonese and not a European, dominated the Ceylon racing scene in those years as both owner and trainer. In 1940, Walles’ Shangri-La and Davison were pre-eminent on the Madras turf. As for Davison, I had always thought he was the best jockey ever in the South India and Ceylon of that era before Prime Minister Bandaranaike banned racing in the island nation in the late 1950s. The only other jockey in that class in my view was ‘Ride-`em-out’ Ted Fordyce, who arrived in Colombo during fellow-Australian Davison’s declining years. Fordyce, who settled in Madras in the 1960s and then in Bangalore in retirement, was the better rider in a sprint, but Davison, I thought, was a jockey for all distances.

Walles’ greatest rival as a trainer in Ceylon was A. Selvaratnam, who had three fine cricketing sons, two of whom followed in their father’s footsteps, going on to train in Bombay, Karachi and Dubai. Their sister, the tall, strikingly beautiful Rasathy married Fordyce after he had lent her a strong shoulder to lean on during and after an unhappy marriage. The last time I met her she gave me a half-completed biography of Fordyce, in which much of this story was told. After reading the manuscript, I told her it was a book well worth publishing and if she sent me the second half I’d see how I could help. I’m still waiting for that second half.

But what Rasathy did have published was a book of beautiful flower arrangements with an Indian touch to them. After the Fordyces retired to Bangalore, Rasathy ran a very successful flower and antique shop there, regularly visited by many from Madras. Fordyce passed away a few years ago.

Another jockey of the Fordyce era in Ceylon and South India was Jim Foley. His Bangalore-based son, R. Foley, is now the most successful trainer in South India.




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