Imtiaz Sait, who trains Pronto Pronto, a front-line contender for the McDowell Signature Premier Indian Derby to be run at the Mahalaxmi racetrack this Sunday, feels fitness on the day and luck of the race will decide the Derby winner.

Trainer Imtiaz Sait leading in Pronto Pronto, Richard Hughes alongwith
owner Shapoor Mistry. Pic/RS Gupta

"Don't get me wrong," Sait explains, "the horse must possess all the attributes of a champion -- class, speed, stamina, but in the end the one who will be fittest on the day, and also the luckiest, will win the glory."

If that makes you feel Sait is a superstitious man, nothing can be further form the truth. On the contrary, he is quite the opposite, having deliberately chosen number 13 as suffix for his email address to prove there is nothing wrong with what is thought to be the most unlucky number.

"But in the case of a race like the Indian Derby," Sait adds, "I strongly believe it's destiny." Sait can't be faulted for thinking that way because despite being a top trainer in western India for three decades, he has won the Indian Derby only once (with Exhilaration in 1989), missing out many more times under unusual circumstances. Two of the horses -- Star Fire Girl & Storm Again -- whom he lost to other trainers, went on to win the Derby; and Saddle Up, whom he trained for Vijay Mallya, was disqualified after winning the Derby due to a drug positive.

When asked who he thinks will win the Indian Derby on Sunday, Sait says, "May the best horse win. I have told my owners we have a good horse, and I hope he will not let us down." Pronto Pronto, Sait's runner in the Derby, is owned & bred by Shapoor Mistry of Manjri stud, and will be ridden by jockey Y S Srinath.

Srinath is not in great form presently, but that does not bother the trainer. "We were lucky to have Richard Hughes when Srinath was indisposed last time.

"But Srinath has a very good tuning with the horse, in fact, he was the one who despite getting knocked off in the Poonawalla Million confidently told me Pronto Pronto is a Classic horse, and he would win the colts championship with him -- and he did," he says.

"Srinath has the temperament for the big races," Sait adds. "He is a mature jockey and has a big hand in Pronto Pronto's successes. I am confident he will give him a great ride as usual."

"Pronto Pronto is not a great-looking horse, but he is all guts, all heart," Sait says with conviction, "Richard Hughes called him a 'street fighter', and I think that very well sums up his spirit. Once he gets involved in a fight, he can be really menacing."