Trainer Sunderji: Rochester fulfilled a long-awaited dream

Updated: Feb 05, 2018, 09:15 IST | Prakash Gosavi

In a stunning homestretch, jockey CS Jodha rides Rochester to clinch maiden Derby victory at Mahalaxmi racetrack

Jockey CS Jodha guides Rochester to victory during the Indian Derby at Mahalaxmi race course yesterday
Jockey CS Jodha guides Rochester to victory during the Indian Derby at Mahalaxmi race course yesterday. Pics/Bipin Kokate 

In the end it was neither Prevalent Force, nor Lady In Lace - and not even Manifold. It was Rochester. The Phoenix Tower-Krasnaya colt bred at the Manjri stud kept his date with destiny when jockey CS Jodha powered him past Lady In Lace (Suraj Narredu up) in the final furlong to a glorious victory in the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr 1), the blue riband of Indian racing that was run at the Mahalaxmi racetrack yesterday. Rochester's authoritative performance gave his owners, trainer and jockey their first Derby victory.

Rochester is owned by a syndicate in partnership with breeder Shapoor Mistry, and ran in the silks of Akhtar Peerbhoy to the delight of his co-owners Saba Peerbhoy, Pramod Churi, B Agarwal and AK Arora. "It's great teamwork," said Akhtar Peerbhoy during the post-race interview, and made it a point to thank the farm hands who nurtured the champion horse, trainer Shiraz Sunderji and his wife Irene for training and taking care, and jockey Jodha for giving an exemplary ride.

Trainer SK Sunderji holds aloft the trophy. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Trainer SK Sunderji holds aloft the trophy. Pics/Bipin Kokate 

Easy victory
Jodha, who, despite talent and consistency, was never regarded as a top league jockey because of his humble roots. No wonder he punched the air with a raised whip hand even before passing the winning post. Keeping Rochester in mid-bunch all the way, Jodha made his move almost at the same moment Suraj Narredu astride put Lady In Lace in top gear. The latter was the first to grab the lead midway in the homestretch, but had no answer when Jodha challenged him with menacing strides.

The commentator, Deepak Rajpal, had no hesitation in calling out the verdict as soon as Rochester passed the tiring Lady In Lace, because both Manifold (D Probert up) and favourite Prevalent Force (YS Srinath up) who made up some ground in the final furlong were unlikely to pose any threat.

Top of the world
"I feel great, almost on top of the world," trainer Sunderji said. "Rochester fulfilled a long-awaited dream for me," he added. For Sunderji, the dream had begun 27 years ago when he trained a horse named Desert Warrior and won the Pune Derby with him. However, due to family pressure, he quit the trainer's career and went abroad, taking a sabbatical for 18 months. Ironically, Desert Warrior who was sent into the care of another trainer, Altaf Hussain, ended up winning the 1990 Indian Derby at Mahalaxmi.

"I came back and started training again, but had to wait for nearly 20 more years before I got another chance with the 2011 Derby favourite Ocean And Beyond. But I am sorry to say Richard Hughes gave him a very bad ride and he lost by only a length and a quarter to another horse (Moonlight Romance) owned by the same owner. Rochester finally realised that dream for me," Sunderji said.Asked whether Rochester's next target would be the Invitation Cup at Kolkata next month, the trainer refused to speculate. "Let us first watch Rochester for a week to check how he comes out of this race, only then we will take the call," he said.

Record jackpot collection
Thanks to the carried over amount of R50 lakh added to the jackpot pool collection on the Derby day and allowing most other racing centers in India to participate in it, the collection grew to a record figure of R1 crore 45 lakh. "This is a very encouraging sign for the sport," an upbeat Khushroo Dhunjibhoy said.

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