The Mumbai high court yesterday offered ad-interim relief to trainer Pesi Shroff by granting a stay on the suspension imposed on him by the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) Ltd, and posted the matter for final hearing on January 11, 2016. The 90-day suspension had begun on Monday, but Shroff challenged it on the same day by filing a petition in the court of justice A K Menon at Mumbai. The judge had heard the arguments of counsels from both sides on Monday, and had reserved the verdict for Tuesday.
It may be noted that Shroff was awarded a 90-day suspension by the stewards of the RWITC, of which 60 days were for vicarious liability on account of two of his horses testing positive for a banned substance O-Desmethylvenlafaxine, an antidepressant generally used to treat menopausal women. The trainer had appealed against this decision, claiming environmental contamination and offered analytical and scientific evidence, backed by world renowned scientists, as mitigating circumstances. The Board of Appeal (BoA) of the race club, however, rejected his appeal on December 14, ordering the suspension to take effect from Monday, Dec 21.
The ruling came as a relief for the ace trainer and his owners as it makes clear the race club cannot restrain Shroff from discharging his duties as a trainer during the period of relief. It may be noted that Shroff is the most successful horse trainer in the country, with a huge fan following, and commands patronage from many wealthy horse owners among which are counted names like Vijay Mallya, KN Dhunjibhoy, Vijay Shirke and Rakesh Jhunjhunwalla.
Pesi Shroff, who held record for the highest Indian Derby wins (8) as a jockey, has also excelled in his second innings at the turf as a horse trainer. In a career spanning 11 years, he has won nine championship crowns at Mumbai and two at Pune. Having saddled 837 winners as trainer, he has won 111 graded races (33 of them Gr 1 races), which also include 39 Classics.
Thanks to his phenomenal strike rate, especially for hot favourites, he is also extremely popular among race goers, and this fact was borne out loud and clear when this Sunday afternoon at Mahalaxmi the crowd chanted "Pesi, Pesi" when Shroff walked up to repeatedly to the dais to collect trophies after winning three races on the trot.
"Stewards were fair": Jain
Vivek Jain, chief of marketing of the RWITC and former chairman of the club, reacted on the verdict in these words: "The stewards had waived two-thirds of Shroff's suspension taking into consideration the alleged contamination theory which remains unproven, and (it) was fair in our view keeping in mind the medication rules of the club. However, I am unaware of his defense or deliberations (either) at the appeal board or in court, and as the matter is sub-judice, further comment at this stage is unwarranted.
"Look before you leap": Fali Poncha
Fali Poncha, a senior member of RWITC who, as Shroff's spokesperson at the appeal board hearing, had strongly argued that natural justice was being denied to the trainer, said, "I am not reacting to the ad-interim relief as the matter is sub-judice, but generally my advice on all matters to the powers that be at RWITC is to please 'look before you leap'."
"No comments," a visibly delighted Pesi Shroff told mid-day, categorically refusing to react on the court verdict, "my horses are waiting for me at the stables, let me get back to work."