In loving remembrance

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It’s been three years since a beautiful journey of 44 years was interrupted by fate. For everyone who’s had the pleasure of knowing late Villoo Poonawalla, the most vivid memories of Cyrus Poonawalla’s better half are about her remarkable kindness and her genuine love for horses.

Gifted with an adventurous spirit and indefatigable zest for the outdoors, Villoo was a born sportsperson. She played hockey in her youth and was one of the few women fencers of India, but her passion for horseriding was unrivalled. She was just 18 when Cyrus first met her and he still recalls how magnificent she looked as she rode bareback in Mahabaleshwar. A stunning picture of Villoo confidently astride a rearing stallion has pride of place at Serum Institute, where her presence is still felt by old timers.

It was Cyrus’ concern for her safety made him plead with her not to ride in the Gymkhana races - it’s something she always complained about he personally regrets now - but Villoo did remain a regular at the Amateur Riders Club for the longest time. So when it came to a tribute for his departed soulmate, what could have been more apt than setting up an international stud farm in her honour? Though the Poonawalla Stud Farm remains one of India’s best known nurseries of thoroughbreds, the new one Cyrus has started in the UAE is nothing short of spectacular.

He’s sparing no expense as he handpicks the best horses from the around the world for this one — he recently spent over Rs 7 crore to acquire a racehorse named Kenhope at the Arc Sale in Paris through his new company, Villoo Poonawalla Racing and Breeding. Another heartfelt tribute to the grand lady of Pune will be unveiled during this year’s racing season. Cyrus has offered to sponsor the The Indian Oaks, also known as the Ladies Derby, which will be renamed the Villoo Poonawalla Foundation Million. As an equally ardent horse lover, this diarist salutes Villoo, Cyrus and their beautiful love story.

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