MiD DAY trophy: Gerome triumphs at Mahalaxmi race course

Gerome (S Zervan up), who opened second favourite at 11/4 against Forest Vision before receiving an overwhelming vote of confidence from punters of all hues to be thumped down to 2/1, justified the confidence of his supporters to post a sensational victory over unfancied Cyclops (C S Jodha up) to bag the MiD DAY Trophy yesterday at the Mahalaxmi racecourse.

Horse race

The winner was saddled by Pesi Shroff on behalf of trainer Shyam Habbu, while the runner up, whose gallant show won the hearts of many, including the winning connections, was trained by Magansingh Jodha. Jockey Zervan positioned Gerome, the Choisir -Kobalt Sea colt, in mid-bunch, but not far away from the pacesetters, as the 10 runners jumped out from the starting stalls for the stellar event of the afternoon.

Favourite Forest Vision (B Sreekanth up) threw in the towel with two furlongs to go as the contest heated up and it soon became clear that Gerome would be able to launch an assault against Cyclops, on whom jockey C S Jodha was trying every trick in his arsenal to keep going.

After a hair-raising duel in which both Gerome and Cyclops matched each other stride for stride, both horses went past the winning post locked together, and the photo finish camera had to be called in to decide the winner. The verdict, one of the shortest in the history of any race ever--merely a hundredth of a second -- went in favour of Gerome, owned by RWITC chairman Khushroo N Dhunjibhoy along with Burgess Minoo Desai.

My Heart was in my Mouth: Dhunjibhoy
It seems Khushroo Dhunjibhoy, present chairman of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC), has some karmic connection with the MiD DAY Trophy. Since the time the race club instituted the prestigious trophy to celebrate its media partnership with MiD DAY, Dhunjibhoy has won it thrice in five years!

Before Gerome nosed out Cyclops virtually in the last stride at the wire yesterday at Mahalaxmi to win the fifth running of the popular race, Il Tabarro and Michele Marieci, who donned the same silks as Gerome did yesterday, had won the same honour for the owner during the second and third running of the race. Ironically, last year too Dhunjibhoy had a share in a horse named Sorrento, who carried not his silks but his friend Byram Jeejeebhoy’s, and as luck would have it, Sorrento had to play second fiddle to the eventual winner, Ishpingo.

“Yes, I guess this (MiD DAY) trophy has some affinity for my colours,” a happy Dhunjibhoy burst out laughing when MiD DAY pointed out the co-incidence, "I am happy to be so lucky is all I can say." Luck definitely played a crucial role in Gerome's victory because at the end of a testing 1,400-meter trip, the final verdict was a mere one-hundredth of a second. When the photo finish camera separated Gerome and Cyclops, it became evident that Gerome's nose touched the wire at 1m:24.38 seconds, while runner up Cyclops clocked 1m:24.39 seconds.

"Actually, I was quite certain my horse (Gerome) had won the fight when I saw it live," said Dhunjibhoy after the race, re-living the tense moments, "but when I saw the replay, my heart was in my mouth, and I had lost 50% of the confidence." By contrast, S Zervan who rode the winner was very confident he had had the measure of Cyclops at the post. "I knew I had won the race," he told MiD DAY later, "and I can say truthfully that I was 100 per cent confident of that after crossing the finish line."

Dhunjibhoy was all praise for the young rider, who is probably decisively heading for his first ever Mahalaxmi championship, sitting at the top of the tally with 24 wins from 56 mounts, a remarkable strike rate of 43 per cent. “He (Zervan) is patient, has a good pair of hands,” Dhunjibhoy praised the rider who rode his winning horse, “and more important, he uses his brain too.”

“Before the race, I thought maybe I would need to focus on Forest Vision (the favourite),” Zervan revealed to MiD DAY, “but when I saw her in crisis with two furlongs to go, I decided to ride my own race.” However, when Zervan asked for an effort from Gerome, who was running only the second race of his career, he was surprised to see Cyclops digging his heels in, and not conceding the advantage.

“Frankly, I was surprised by the gutsy fight Cyclops and CS Jodha put up,” said the winning jockey, “I have this habit of first getting a horse into rhythm and then asking it to go all out, and I feel that is what finally worked for us. Though it looked a close call as we raced to the winning post, Gerome really put his heart into it in the last couple of strides to snatch the verdict on the post.”

“He is a good horse--actually, he is a ‘distance’ horse,” revealed Dhunjibhoy, “you know the kind who relishes more ground. That was the reason we thought of putting him into this seven-furlong race. Now that he has won it--and he clocked a smart time too--maybe we can consider him for the PBMM (Poonawalla Breeders’ Multi-Million) over the same trip, or maybe we will skip that too in favour of even longer trips. Nothing is decided as yet.” 

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