The morning of the McDowell Signature Indian Derby carries a sense of expectancy with it, almost like a pre-race hangover from the night before.
Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is one of the most colourful people in Indian racing today and as he casually seeks an opinion on the race, I can't help but observe that even a man who must have nerves of steel to exist in the volatile world of the stock market, is a bit excited by the experience of having a Derby runner. After all, these are horses with minds of their own, very unlike the companies that have a sense of a predictability around them. From the time that they are fed in the morning to the time they jump out of the starting gates, Derby runners are exposed to a number of variables that can't be controlled and some of these do make the difference between victory and defeat.
Rakesh Jhunjhunwala's contender is a strapping grey from Pesi Shroff's yard called Jeremiah. A multiple, semi-classic winner, there is no debating Jeremiah's ability and talent for a race like the McDowell Signature Indian Derby. He has a high cruising speed, has plenty of stamina and most importantly has a temperament to match that of his owner's.
Jeremiah will be ridden by Zervan, the young, upcoming jockey from Pesi Shroff's yard and the team must be lauded for resisting the temptation to fly in a foreign jockey for the big moment. In the last ten years, Aslam Kader, Pesi Shroff, Malesh Narredu, Prakash and Rajendra have all retired from the saddle causing a void at the top. Each of these gentlemen were good enough to hold their own against the very best in the world and became so because they were given the opportunity by their owners and trainers to ride the best horses in the best races. Zervan is being given that chance today and win, lose or draw, he will be a better jockey for the experience.
Jeremiah's main rival on the other hand, Murioi will have the services of Chris Hayes from the U.K. for the first time in his life. His regular rider, Sreekanth will be on the stable's second string and for the young jockey, while the pressure is off, he would almost certainly have switched seats with Hayes.
Murioi's owner, Dr. Ramaswamy is no less colourful than Jhunjhunwala. This is a man, who unlike Jhunjhunwala, has won many Indian Derbys and knows what it takes to win one. His decision to replace Sreekanth with Hayes is possibly based on the years and nature of experiences that has seen him at the top of the game for many years.
Selecting between the two hasn't been easy and I've put off making this call for as long as possible. Murioi is a son of one of the world's best stallions today and is immensely talented. He is also highly strung and he will have to keep his nerves about him if he is to win the Derby. Jeremiah doesn't boast Murioi's royal blood but is as hardy as a coal miner's son and more than capable of exposing his opponent's fragility. The two are very different types and with a gun to my head, my hand has come down in favour of Jeremiah in a two to one count.
The point that goes to Murioi is that the lack of a pacemaker may ease the early pace which will suit Murioi more than it will Jeremiah. Levelling it for Jeremiah is the fact that his group one performances are better on paper than Murioi's. Two regional Derbys in the last four months for Jeremiah as against a Poonawalla Breeders' Multi-Million for Murioi from a year ago makes a strong case for the grey. And, it is from this fact, that the scales tip in favour of Jeremiah. The fact is that no horse has ever won the Poonawalla Million and Indian Derby. This has nothing do with jinxes and the like but is due to the fact that it takes two very different types of horses to win these two group one races. Murioi will be the first in history to do so if he wins at 5:30 this evening. Either way, this will be a race and a match-up that is likely to capture the imagination of all who will witness it.
Article by - Mohit Lalvani