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Master Of The Game!
(FEBRUARY - MARCH 2011)
As I walked out of the Rohan Lifescapes plush office, my mind was filled with admiration for the gentleman I had spent the last two hours with. Haresh Mehta, a successful builder, dapper, dynamic and adventurous. A horse lover! A huge player when it comes to buying quality horses. As I made myself comfortable in the cab I couldn’t help recall a famous line from an old Bollywood hit – Rampur Ka Laxman. Vinod Khanna’s line – “Bacche, tum jis school mein padte ho, hum wahan ke Head Master hain” (Son, I am the head master of the school from where you are still learning your ropes). Haresh Mehta knows what he is talking about. He has his ear to the ground and if there is something he doesn’t know then it is not worth knowing.
Born into a typical, orthodox, middle class family, Haresh Mehta thought it better to pursue a lucrative business The shrewd and wily businessman saw the property markets as a potential goldmine.
that holds good as my racing mantra too”.
The construction magnate and self-made man started searching for greener pastures. He started investing in property development with a partner, but only as an investor. In fact his first personal property deal came to him through a contact at Mahalaxmi racecourse itself.
Haresh recalls, “My father’s friend from the racecourse, Mr Parikh wanted to sell a property he owned and that was the first deal that I did on my own. Over the years I learnt the ropes and figured out how to deal with tenanted properties, registration laws and basic construction guidelines. I kept buying properties and over the years as they appreciated in value, the profit margins kept increasing. To be honest, as recent as four years ago, if someone would have said that Rohan Lifescapes would scale the heights that it has, I would have been very skeptical. Yet, catering to the niche markets has always been my policy and the rest as they say is history.”
In spite of working hard to run his new business which took up a great amount of his time, Haresh always found time to spend his Sunday afternoon at the racecourse. He admits that he was a full fledged racing enthusiast and would look forward to being at the races.
“My earliest recollection of the races is still fresh in my mind. I vividly remember watching the filly Sweet Memories race and would marvel at her abundant ability. In those days most big races would be contested by two prominent colours, the first being of the Maharaja of Gwalior and the second being those of the Goculdas family. There were popular jockeys like Ernie Johnson, Vasant Shinde and Nelson Rueben that I remember. I watched and applauded Ranjit Bhatt leading in his three consecutive derby winners trained by the great R R Byramji. I would like to make special mention of Jagdish, who was associated with Byramji through the golden years, who stands out in my memory as a gentleman rider. He was a very clean and uncontroversial professional, a trait that was as difficult to find back then as it is today!” said Haresh nostalgically.
Indian jockeys, Haresh feels, do not lack in talent, but attitude is something they could work on. “Indian jockeys in my opinion are a talented lot. Some of them can be successful anywhere. However, I have noticed one disturbing trend. They are not as mature and upright as their overseas counterparts. They are not as expressive either. Some of them are even overawed at times. I can understand this when they are just blossoming or during their early days. It happens to anyone.
career rather than academics. Always one to flirt with luck and brave in taking risks and chances, Haresh was drawn to Mahalaxmi racecourse when still in college and got hooked on to horses right from the outset. “I fell in love with horses at first sight, and seeing them gallop away majestically thrilled me no end. I knew at once that I will not be able to keep away from these beautiful creatures since they had already created a deep impact on my mind.”
Haresh developed a strong desire to own a string of horses so that he could experience the heady feeling of walking into the paddock and then ultimately savouring the thrill of leading in a winner. In the early eighties these were mere dreams and fantasies like any young man would harbour. However, Haresh was not one to just let dreams remain dreams. Back then, even as to this day, he found means to an end.
Says Haresh, “In the year 1983, all that my family had, was a small surgical instruments retail shop. We had salesmen who handled the day to day affairs, so I decided to branch out on my own. I started out by importing photo copying machines, and believe me; in those days importing anything was an art in itself…tough customs’ procedures, but high profit margins. I stayed in that business for many a year but over time the profit margins started dwindling. I have always believed that in any venture I get involved in, I am willing to take calculated risks, as long as there is a high profitability margin…guess
also play an important part in moulding one into a top of the line jockey. Even if we spot one such talent from each batch, it will be worth the investment and effort.” Who among the current Indian jockeys does Haresh rate highly? “You see, these apprentice boys find it hard in the beginning. The trainers or for that matter owners are reluctant to declare a five-kilo claimer on their horses. Some of them do well but only as long as they are allowance claimers. Once they complete their 40 wins, very few graduate to the higher level. Dashrath Singh is one jockey who I feel has the potential to go further. He has a cool temperament; he is a good judge of pace and one with a clean image. Now he has a good career ahead. He needs to grow in confidence and perhaps show a bit more aggression. Make his presence felt, you know what I mean?” Haresh is of the opinion that Indian jockeys need to pull themselves up if they are to serve their own cause. The trainers are more or less established and have little fear of competition. How about the owners? Do they know their horses well enough and consider themselves ‘horsemen’? “Well, as an owner I keep tab on my horses and also the competition. It always helps to keep abreast on developments, almost on a day to day basis. But how many owners have the time to spare? I have known owners who buy a string of horses, enjoy a few winners and they get such a high, that their next purchase go awry and suddenly you find them totally gone out of the game. Unfortunately some owners do not know too much about horses. This suits the pros well. Owning a horse requires a lot of time to be spent in the stables, and most owners being busy with their personal agendas, find this difficult to do”. “Success or otherwise is part of the game. The idea is to sustain. You are in the game for the joy of it. In the bargain, if you hit upon a winning streak, enjoy the moment. When times are not so good, one must take it in one’s stride. That way you remain in the game you love the most”.
As an owner Haresh Mehta had to counter one hurdle when he set out to buy horses – the other big players in the game. Owners like Dr MAM Ramaswamy, Dr Vijay Mallya and Mr Deepak Khaitan were the most sought after by leading breeders. They always had the first choice, the cream of the crop. Haresh, despite being willing to pay the price was concerned about the fact that he would have to look at the third or fourth pick from the farms. This suggestive trend led him to believe that it would be a worthwhile proposition to breed his own
But with more exposure and experience one ought to mature into a complete professional. That professionalism I find is lacking in our boys. Well, I am speaking about a majority and not about all. We do have some seasoned pros who have maintained their high standards. But these, you can count on your fingers. I would add, even among these top boys, a couple of them have had success go to their head. That’s a sad thing. One must understand that team work is most important for success!”
For the patriot in me those words weren’t exactly sounding like poetry. I had to put my point across that Indian jockeys could take on anyone on home turf. Why, hadn’t our own local boy T Mahesh got the better of the great Richard Hughes? Haresh could not hide his amusement. He read my discomfiture and wisely added, “Our boys can do with a bit of counselling. The authorities should invest in creating a top of the line jockey school, with expert training, imparting knowledge not only about horse riding and race riding, but also about diet control and specific workouts. Sessions on conduct and career growth wouldn’t be out of context either. We had a good bunch of jockeys in the nineties with Jagdish, Vasant Shinde, Aslam Kader, Robin Corner who were all top notch professionals. We must find out if any of these would be available to guide current aspirants and show them the way. Keeping with present day trends, a sports psychologist or a counsellor would
horses. That was a major step in what he feels was the right direction, and he started procuring mares in foal and chose to breed them at friend and partner, Sultan Singh’s Sohna Stud Farm in the north. “Yes, I was a little uncomfortable with the fact that I was left with little choice from where I had to pick horses. That was the trend, as the bigger owners of repute, naturally, were always the preferred clients for the stud farms. I was serious about possessing a good string and it suited me to look at better options. I put my thoughts into action and now the breeding venture is proving a worthwhile decision. The next couple of years are going to be crucial but the signs are auspicious and encouraging”. Haresh Mehta comes about as a very practical man. He has had his moments of success and savoured each one of them. The feeling is heady; he admits, the sweet taste of success lingers on. However, there have been some close calls which have not exactly gone his way. How does he swallow the bitter pill? “I am sentimental but I have my emotions well in check. I don’t get too carried away. It is best to accept the results as they come. If’s and but’s can be never ending and tedious too, so I would rather shrug my shoulders and brush it off. It is easier when those who have beaten you are good friends. For example when Becket was fighting with Jacqueline in the Derby, I was shouting for Becket. They were getting pretty close and Becket was ahead. Then Jacqueline got Becket in the last part. The owners of Jacqueline are good friends and that helped cushion the disappointment. I am not complaining at all, as I had the last laugh in the Invitation Cup. That evened it out; this is the glory of the game”. He is philosophical too when it comes to tragic incidents. Like the death of his top horse Versaki. “Yes it hurt. But such things happen. Don’t we overcome the loss of our dear ones? And when you have a large string, such incidents are bound to happen. Time is the best healer in such cases. Life goes on”. Despite his various business interests, Haresh balances his time astutely. “I mix business with pleasure and since I am overseas frequently, it also comes about as a forced vacation. I feel
relaxed and I return to India with renewed vigour”. Since he restricts his racecourse visit mainly to the Mumbai racecourse, he has enough time to devote to his family and leads an active social life. I love to drive and although I have a chauffeur to drive me to work, I prefer driving myself during family outings. I drive a S Class Merc and I love my car too”. When time permits Haresh likes to catch up on other sports as well. The final few overs of a T20 or an ODI cricket match catches his un-waivered attention. “I thoroughly enjoy the final furlong of any sport” he laughs. It is a well-known fact that Haresh’s company Rohan Lifescapes is a major sponsor of races and recently has pumped in a lot of money into the sport for bringing live telecast of horse racing into the living rooms of people. “Horseracing as a sport, has given me a lot of pleasure and I certainly would like to give something back to the sport. The television medium has a large audience and is the right platform to popularise the game. I am happy to do my bit and help the sport expand and create a larger patronage.” Does he harbour any intention of getting into the administration of the sport by way of getting into the committee that run the sport? “Oh no, that’s not my priority at the moment. I don’t think I will get into that ever. I think the present committee is devoted to the cause. It is easy for people outside to be judgmental without contributing anything themselves. The committee members are taking time out from their tough personal schedules and it does take a lot of time and effort. That is something I sincerely appreciate. It is a great responsibility and is best left to the experienced group that is dealing with it.” Haresh Mehta is certainly an enterprising individual. He has worked his way up and earned his success. He has built it all brick by brick. From being a man with a humble background, he has soared to great heights with alarming foresight. He has backed himself with confidence and has ventured to put to practice what he believed. Haresh Mehta truly comes about as the “Master of the Game”. Or should I be saying ‘Head’ Master of the game? After all his initials too do correspond – HM
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