Pesi Shroff is perhaps the most recognisable face of horse racing in India.
Not only is he an eight-time Indian Derby-winning jockey, he’s also part of Mumbai’s swish set, having ridden 1,740 winners, including 106 Classic races for corporate czars such as Vijay Mallya and Deepak Khaitan.
Which is why the rejection of his membership application by the 16-member balloting committee of Mahalaxmi’s prestigious Willingdon Sports club has raised eyebrows inside and outside the club.
The committee, which includes members who are horse owners, decided to ‘blackball’ the famous jockey and horse trainer, conforming to the club’s old tradition of barring horse trainers and racers as well as film actors.
Blackballing is an old custom, which involves members casting a negative vote against an application by pushing the black ball on a billiards table.
More ironic is the fact that the club shares a close association with the Royal Western India Turf Club, located right across Willingdon. Both these are high-profile meeting points for horse lovers and owners .
A 47-year-old media consultant and long-time member of Willingdon says: “Pesi applied for membership after he was assured of its acceptance by everyone at the club. Many members are aghast at his rejection, because he was actually invited and encouraged to apply.”
He adds that the incident has been a wake-up call for several of the club’s members.
“At the next club meeting, the issue was discussed openly. There was a mood among many of the members to reevaluate the old rules and see what makes sense in the modern context.”