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Indian Derby is no race, it's a seductress

I have never believed in astrology & astrologers, but I might be tempted to consult one if the Indian Derby continues to remain elusive for me again this year. So far, the Indian Derby has been a case of so-near-yet-so-far for me, having saddled eight runners on eight different occasions, all of them finishing less than three lengths off the Derby winners.


S Padmanabhan

However, the most talked about--and also the most ironic--loss that I suffered in the Indian Derby was in 2003, when I was absolutely certain my horse Zurbaran will beat Classical Act, the 5/4 favourite ridden by Pesi Shroff. But a strange quirk of fate deprived me of that honour. Zurbaran's owner, Mr K N Dhunjibhoy, "borrowed" from his friend Vijay Shirke a no-hoper horse named Noble Eagle, who we thought would set a suitable pace for the race so that our horse, Zurbaran (with Aslam Kader in saddle), can make his move at the opportune time. But the plan misfired as the 50-1 shot Noble Eagle, who did set the pace as planned, overstayed his role and just ran away from them all, including Zurbaran who finished a tame second to the winner.

It's not me alone, winning the Indian Derby at least once is every professional's dream, whether he's a trainer, jockey, breeder or a horse owner. Sometimes I feel the Indian Derby is not a race, she is a seductress! Once you set your eyes on her, she casts her spell in such a way that there is no escape until you win her over. Once a trainer feels he has a horse that can take a shot at the Indian Derby, his entire focus shifts to the first Sunday of February as the countdown begins.

I have two horses in the Derby fray this time--In The Spotlight & Field Marshal. Like me, both my owners--Captain Jamshed Appoo & Haresh Mehta respectively--have yet to win the Indian Derby, the latter having missed it narrowly twice, when Holding Court & Becket finished very close second toVelvet Rope (2006) & Jacqueline (2010).

In The Spotlight, I feel, may have a tryst with destiny because there was a time when as a two-year-old she was given a 50-50 chance of survival by the vets after she suffered a very serious bout of colic. They were about to perform surgery on her as last resort when she suddenly--and miraculously--recovered; and the rest, as they say, is history. She has won group races at four different centers before coming here for the Derby, and she is the only one in the line up who has won two Classics. In The Spotlight will be ridden by Martin Dwyer. Field Marshal, on the other hand, set a new record while winning the Mysore Derby, and if you consider the fact that the great Elusive Pimpernel was among the Mysore Derby winners of his time, that's quite an achievement. He will be ridden by David Allan.

I honestly think I am taking a decent shot at this year's Derby with these two runners, and I hope the goddess of luck will smile on one of my horses. If not, like I said in the beginning--I have never believed in astrology & astrologers, but I might be tempted to consult one if the Indian Derby continues to remain elusive for me again this year.

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