Despite the European decor and the seemingly stiff upper lip attitude among patrons, there was a sense of Indianness at the Mahalaxmi race course in the early 90s due to the presence of star jockeys like Pesi Shroff (now a trainer) and Vasant Shinde. But for four years, it has been foreigners who are riding the champions to victory.
Richard Hughes, David Allan, Martin Dwyer Jimmy Fortune have won the races since 2010 respectively. And this season, Murioi (one of the favourites), was supposed to be ridden by Sreekanth B — a Bangalore-based jockey — but CD Hayesfrom Ireland has replaced him.
Sreekanth’s replacement is reportedly because owners of Murioi, which is the foal of champion racer Dubawi, do not want to entrust the reins of their high pedigree horse into the Bangalorean’s hands.
“It is true that foreigners have better exposure but I believe it is all about being a good rider. The international jockeys were there during my time too. I believe these days the owner do not want to take risks, they want an experienced rider. The foreigners ride a lot,” says Shroff, who holds the record of most number of Derby wins (eight) as a jockey including a hat-trick.
The English, Irish and Australians reportedly have numerous jockey training centres, which is not there in India.
“You need to judge the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and compare that with your horse. It is a part of the homework. Nothing in a race goes as planned and you need to take split-second decisions. Think that very moment and things happen too fast. That is the key,” added the 49-year-old.
Mahendra Mallya — a race enthusiast and commentator for the Royal Western India Turf Club — believes that international jockeys have a better sense of pace and judgement overall.
“In order to run 2,400m, you need to conserve the energy of the horse, reserve the stamina and then hit it at the right moment. The last 200m is very crucial. And foreign jockeys are well-trained in all this,” he says.