Ruckus at Mahalaxmi; jockey Sandesh suspended

Amid slogan-shouting by irate punters who marched into the paddock area and squatted on the racetrack, the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) authorities were forced to abandon the last race on the Sunday card yesterday.

An angry mob alleged that Sandesh, champion jockey and a darling of the railbirds until the last season, had deliberately lost the race astride favourite Congressional, and demanded immediate action against him. Sandesh was engaged to ride six out of eight races on the card, and had failed to boot home a single winner from his first five mounts.

His sixth and last ride was astride favourite Congressional, trained by Bezan Chenoy, in the penultimate race of the day. The event, titled the Rotary Club of Bombay Queens Necklace Cup, was won by second favourite Rule Downunder ridden by P Trevor.

The mile race was flagged off some minutes after the scheduled time of 4.35 pm, and Speed King (CS Jodha up) hit the front even as Rule Downunder quickly settled in mid-bunch of the nine-horse field, With Congressional and Sandesh close behind.

After the final turn Trevor astride Rule Downunder wasted no time in making his bid and soon overpowered the runaway Speed King, with Congressional gradually improving on the inside. Just after crossing the final furlong post, Sandesh put the whip aside and started riding hands and heels, and the response from Congressional was such an instant acceleration that he surged ahead of Rule Downunder easily, slightly angling in during the process.

With winning post in sight, Sandesh then once again took out which and, rather strangely, used it with left hand on a horse that was already angling in, surrendering the lead in the process. It was this act of his that upset the racing crowd who seemed to be convinced he rode to lose as they stormed the paddock.

The authorities attempted to hold the last race by sending runners and riders to the starting gates by a secluded route away from the irate punters, but about 15-20 people then rushed onto the racetrack and squatted on it. Police was called in, but the protesters refused to relent and finally the last race had to be abandoned.

Inquiry initiated
The stewards finally announced an inquiry into the riding of Congressional, and suspended Sandesh with immediate effect until the conclusion of the inquiry.

At the time of going to the press, neither Sandesh, nor any of the authorities were available for comment as the stewards' meeting was still in progress at the racecourse.

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