Indian derby build-up: Big focus on jockeys

Feb 02, 2018, 08:11 IST | Prakash Gosavi

Sunday's Derby will witness a tug-of-war between Indian and foreign riders

SA DeSousa astride Antonios after winning the 2009 Indian Derby. Pic/RS Gupta (RWITC archives)
SA DeSousa astride Antonios after winning the 2009 Indian Derby. Pic/RS Gupta (RWITC archives)

The Indian Derby is one race that attracts the best talent — not only in terms of horseflesh, but also in the riding department. Owners of Derby runners pull out all the stops to ensure that their horse gets the best possible help from the saddle during those two-and-a-half minutes which decide the champion of champions. And that means paying king's ransom to top foreign jockeys to visit Mumbai only for the Derby ride — especially jockeys from England where, like India, flat racing on turf is a major industry.

Big early lead
Right from the time in 1943 when Edgar Britt rode Princess Beautiful to the first Indian Derby victory, jockeys with foreign nationality have dominated the Derby scroll of honour. Such was the stranglehold of foreign jockeys over the Derby in the initial years that Indians had to wait until the seventh edition of the big race for Kheem Singh to break in astride Balam (1949). The foreign jockeys continued their domination by winning 23 out of the first 30 Derby races, despite the exceptionally talented Pandu Khade winning four times during that period.

Spirited fightback
In the 1970s, however, the Indians valiantly fought back, and there was a period when Indian riders won six of the seven contests between 1973-79, only E Johnson managing to score with Pyare Miya in 1975. The tug of war continued even as Jagdish added crucial four points to the Indian tally, but it looked an impossible task to wipe out old deficit.

However, the scenario rapidly changed after Pesi Shroff (now trainer) thundered on to the scene. In a record breaking feat, Shroff rode eight Derby winners in a career spanning two decades, and with the incredible Aslam Kader chipping in with three Derby victories, and B Prakash with 2, things started to look evenly poised between the two sides.

This Sunday will be the 76th running of the great race, and the score stands at 39-36 in favour of the foreign nationals.

Trainer Malesh Narredu suspended
Stewards of the RWITC suspended trainer Malesh Narredu for six race days yesterday and fined him R100,000 for assaulting rookie M Ayyer, who was assigned to him as an apprentice rider. Geoffrey Nagpal, Chairman Stewards, RWITC confirmed the suspension and added: "If there is a repeat of this violent incident, the stewards will have to reconsider renewal of his licence."

When asked whether the suspension would affect Narredu's Derby participation, Nagpal said, "No." He added that the suspension is effective for six race days beginning February 15. Narredu said he would not be able to comment since the matter is sub-judice.
Inputs from Hemal Ashar

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