It is nearing dusk but the Mahalaxmi Racecourse is still throbbing with hooves of impatient horses. The day is hardly over. At 6.45 pm sharp, jockey-turned-horse trainer Pesi Shroff walks in wearing pristine white semi formals and a smile to match. The man, who began his career as a jockey at the age of 16 way back in 1981, is one of the most successful horse-racing jockeys the country has ever produced. Despite having over 1,700 titles to his credit, including 100-plus Classic wins, he is surprisingly humble. As we settle down for a freewheeling chat under the waning sun near the stables, he orders some tea and insists sitting in a place from where he can watch his horses.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. You have already won the Invitation Cup seven times as a jockey. How has the event changed over the years?
A. I have been associated with this annual event as a professional—first as a jockey and now for the past 10 years as a trainer. The event is held each year in different states of the country and it is by invitation only. You can’t just enter any horse in this race, only the best are eligible. That is why it is such an honour to participate in the event. What has changed the most is the prize money — it has increased manifold!
Pesi Shroff with one of his horses. Pic/Sameer Markande
Q. Your horse Amazing Grace is one of the favourites in Sunday’s race. What are her chances?
A. Amazing Grace is the princess of the stable. Everybody fusses over her and she knows it. She is very talented. She had a few hiccups during her training but now she is doing quite well. We have our fingers crossed. However, there are many good horses in the race and Amazing Grace will find a tough competitor in Be Safe, the colt that is trained by former jockey Malesh Narredu. He and I have quite a history. We faced each other many times in the past — first as jockeys and then as trainers. However, the rivalry is strictly confined to the racing tracks.
Q. How are Indian horses performing at international events?
A. We are not really making much progress there. It is very difficult to run our horses at such events. Exporting a horse can be quite an ordeal. Then there are health restrictions, quarantine restrictions and regulations for jockeys. Also, our horses need to go a long way, and by that I don’t mean just the physical distance.
Q. Do you think our jockeys are at par with their foreign counterparts?
A. Our jockeys run shoulder to shoulder with their foreign counterparts. A good rider is a good rider, irrespective of his country of origin and we have some very good jockeys in India.We have enough talent as well as training centres. But there is no need to be complacent. There is nothing like ‘sufficient training’— the more the training the better the outcome. Although an improvement in infrastructure would definitely motivate the younger jockeys to work harder.
Q. What is the most important factor to win a race — the horse or the jockey?
A. It is the horse-jockey combination and most importantly, destiny!
Q. Which has been your most cherished win till date?
A. I cherish each win. Racing is a high-octane game where a match is won or lost based on a series of consecutive split-second decisions. There are so many factors that impact the outcome. The only thing you have control over, is your horse. There are interferences —some you have prepared for, and some totally unexpected. All these make each race distinctly different from the other and each win as sweet.
Q. Your daughter Anya is following in your footsteps. How do you feel about her career decision?
A. She is into amateur riding and is interested in show jumping and dressage. But as things stand now, she is not taking this up as a profession. She is enjoying the events and it is entirely her decision. Also, I need to see where the industry is heading before I even encourage her into taking it up more seriously.
Q. What is your advice to newcomers who want to pursue horse racing?
A. I have just three words for them — hard work, dedication and passion. Behind all the glamour that is associated with horseracing, there is a lot of hard labour. You are on the job 24X7. There are no Sundays, no 5-O’clock bells to go home. And to keep such long hours and put in so much energy, you need to be in love with your job.
Q. What has changed as far as horse racing is concerned?
A. Earlier, the seasons were much shorter. There would be lesser races. Now, it is becoming mundane and a drag. Although the horses get adequate rest, as we don’t run the same horses in consecutive events, it takes a toll on the jockeys. Apart from getting physically exhausted, they also get mentally tired. And this, in turn, affects the quality.
Q. Do you think a weak competitor takes away much of the glory from a victory?
A. As a sportsperson I feel the better the competition, the sweeter the win. Human beings have a propensity to work as little as possible and achieve the desired impact. A strong opposition makes winning difficult and thereby pushes you to improve your standards.
The Indian Turf Invitation Cup is being held today at Mahalaxmi Racecourse from 5.15 pm onwards.