The decision of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) stewards to let off jockey Suraj Narredu without even a wrap on the knuckles for his questionable ride on Be Safe has shocked the racing fraternity all over the country.
It may be noted that Be Safe, going into the Indian Turf Invitation Cup (Gr 1) as a piping-hot, half-money favourite, had lost to stable mate Quasar by only a neck after his jockey Suraj Narredu tried to bridge a gap of more than five lengths in the final furlong, leading to violent protests by race goers who went on a rampage. The crowd's anger stemmed from the fact that both Quasar and Be Safe were trained by Malesh Narredu, whose son Yash was astride the 30/1 winner Quasar whereas nephew Suraj rode the loser, who only a month ago had won the Signature Indian Derby in record time, beating the same Quasar by nearly five lengths.
An inquiry was held into the running and riding of Be Safe, and the stipendiary stewards, headed by the new chief, Shujat Hussain, held both trainer Malesh Narredu and jockey Suraj Narredu guilty of unsatisfactory running and riding of Be Safe, and made a very clear case of their reasons in the following report:
"It was noted that there was a change of running tactics of the horse in this race as compared to his run in the McDowell Indian Derby (Gr.1) where the horse was settled in a much better position and he was in a striking position at the top of the straight, whereas in the race in question, he was settled too far behind and the Jockey did not bother to improve his position between the 1000 and 800 metres, and thereafter on entering the straight he again waited for nearly 100 to 150 metres to make his move, and allowed QUASAR (App.Yash Narredu) to take a long lead which has cost him the race."
They also recorded their surprise about trainer Malesh Narredu's statement who said he was "satisfied by the ride given to Be Safe", and therefore, decided to hold both of them guilty of "unsatisfactory running and riding of Be Safe". Using the powers at their discretion, the stipendiary stewards fined the trainer a sum of Rs 10,000/- and suspended the jockey's riding licence for 11 days, before referring the matter to the stewards of the club for further action.
The fact that Dr MAM Ramaswamy, owner of Be Safe, had moved all his horses from Malesh Narredu to his private trainer Karthik Ganapathy's yard immediately after Be Safe's shock defeat, had already sent the rumour mills into overdrive, and almost everyone who was not happy with Be Safe's ride hoped the RWITC stewards will enhance the punishment given to Suraj Narredu. All eyes were on the RWITC stewards as Be Safe's loss continued to be hotly talked about in racing circles all over the country, and on racing websites and internet blogs. To their utter shock, the stewards not only cancelled the sentence awarded by the stipes, but also completely absolved the trainer and jockey from the charge of "unsatisfactory running and riding" of Be Safe. However, the stewards decided to "caution" the jockey for his ride.
All round condemnation
Going by the initial reactions, almost every race-goer seems to be incensed by the stewards' verdict, as is clear by some of the representative reactions produced below. "This is unbelievable," said a prominent member of the race club on the condition of anonymity, "I mean do they really think that ride was satisfactory? They should have made an example out of him (Suraj) to send a warning to all the leading riders—you know too many of them have been in the eye of a storm of late."
"It was a daylight robbery," Vijay Joshi, a stock market consultant from Vile Parle, told mid-day, "I had seen the ride Suraj gave to Be Safe in the (Indian) Derby, and was shocked when I saw him trying to gag the horse against the animal's wish soon after the start in the Invitation Cup. Did they ask him why he had to do that? I cannot even give him the benefit of a doubt, it was a clearly a mala fide ride." Rajesh Bijlani, an executive with a city firm dealing in jewellery, visits Mahalaxmi only on the big days, and had attended both the Derby and the Invitation Cup this season. When mid-day asked for his reaction on the stewards' decision, this is what he said, "Can the learned stewards kindly explain what they cautioned the jockey for if they found his ride satisfactory? Ridiculous!"
Body blow for the sport
"An ill-judged decision follows a culpable ride," Shashi Kumar from Bangalore, who had specially visited the Mahalaxmi racecourse for the Invitation race, described the latest development, before adding, "by allowing his (Suraj's) appeal, the stewards have delivered a sucker punch, which is sure to damage the integrity of the sport." No one expects the stewards to toe the line of stipendiary stewards in each and every case, or go after a professional just to please the public (though RWITC stewards have been guilty of such act in the past), what the mandarins of the race club's justice system have failed to do in this particular case is to compare both the recent runs of Be Safe in the light of pace fractions, timing and the kind of ride he was given.
Had they done so with professional help, the real picture would have emerged. Because then it would have become clear that though the racetrack played much faster on the Invitation Cup day, despite going all out and covering the final furlong in an incredible fraction of 11.38 seconds, Be Safe actually clocked the overall time which was more than a second slower than his Derby effort—confirming the horse underperformed by at least six lengths—now, if not the jockey, the stewards must make it clear who or what they think was responsible for this under-performance?