Indiarace: Hearty congratulations on your winning the Championship. What was your first reaction?
Narendra Lagad: Oh! It’s an immensely satisfying outcome, worth all the toil and sweat. The Pune Meeting 2007 will be a landmark in my career.
IR: What do you attribute this success to?
IR: Is there a sense of pride in your achievement?
NL: It’s the result of a good team work. I share my success with everyone associated. I acknowledge the co-operation of my owners, my jockeys, my family and last but not the least, my stable work-force. Everyone has contributed wholeheartedly for this to happen.
NL: Of course. Any little success is something to be proud about. This one is a major reward! Competing against top-class trainers that Western India boasts of, I cherish this Championship. This is every trainer’s dream – to be crowned Champion! The competition was stiff, that makes the victory sweet and the margin even sweeter. It was comprehensive. Not only did I have the maximum winners, I also had the most number of seconds and thirds! So this makes it rare and special for me.
IR: How has your career panned out?
NL: This is my 25th year in training. I recollect fondly when Grand Gesture won me my first race. He was 13 years old when he won that race - a post-retirement age for most race horses. From there on, it has been a long learning experience with each passing year.
IR: It is pretty intriguing to note that you switch jockeys as one changes shirts, while most would prefer a steady jockey-horse combination.
NL: It might seem unconventional, but it has its advantages. Having said that, I always ask the owner to pick the jockey he wants. With many good jockeys around they have a choice. It becomes competitive for the riders too and they can’t afford to be complacent. No mount is taken for granted and we opt to go for the Jockey in good form.
IR: So you don’t commit a ride to your jockey in advance?
NL: I am only committed to my owners and my horses! I strive to see that my owners’ investments in horses end up as money put to good use. Stake money should always keep adding into their accounts. The recently concluded Pune season was extremely satisfying. If you take a look at the stats, out of about 220 runners for my stables almost 50 per cent have figured on the board. My owners are earning stake money on wins and places. This is the economic perspective.
I am an owner’s trainer; I train for owners who have a small string of horses as well. Some are having just one or two horses. My ideology is, eventually, my owner has to have some return on his/her investment.
IR: If I check on stats, I also come across one that divulges that most favourites from your yard lose. Why is it so?
NL: That’s a myth. I try to win all the time irrespective of the betting ring status. If you match my number of runners to winners, my strike ratio is high enough. Let me explain. On a large scale, there are a number of times when the horses are false favourites. This, I can’t control. People perceive them as favourites. Yes, some fancied horses do take a beating, some are close seconds. This is part of this unpredictable sport. Nevertheless, you are inaccurate if you say my favourites always lose. In fact, I have a better favourite winning ratio than some of the more affluent trainers in Western India. I am not denying that I need to improve on that score, but you must understand that I have no say on the quotes in the ring. Many times the odds don’t justify the horse. To sum it up, I would put it this way – the horses that I fancy from my stables often do well. My owners would vouch for that!
IR: Does that mean if one of your horses is a ‘false favourite’ you are not concerned?
NL: Of course I am concerned! Any favourite carries a lot of public money. There is pressure on me and my jockey as well. Fortunately, with latest technology at hand there are various camera angles to view the entire race. Anyone can judge whether the horse has been given an appropriate run. After all there is accountability!
IR: Don't you think your race strategy is too predictable - “Take jump, hit front”?
NL: (Laughs) I like to ensure that my horses dictate the pace of the race. Also, when you are leading the pack you are at an advantage at the crucial home turn. No encountering traffic problems, no checks and a clear rails run is up for grabs. It helps if the Jockey gets to control the pace all through. I also believe in going for a big lead particularly in long distance races. It (the lead) proves handy, if not decisive, if others have to cover a lot of ground nearing the turn. It may even induce them to alter their plans and start riding out earlier than they would have liked to. It has worked for me most of the times. However, this is not a set mind-set.
IR: Your 'Big Race” record is not particularly encouraging. Are you not concerned about this?
NL: You are partially correct. I have won seven Million Races. My filly Timeless Beauty stretched the Triple Crown winning colt Indictment by a short head in the Indian 2000 Guineas. I have run second and third in the Indian Oaks and my Inflammable ran third to Star Supreme in the Indian Derby. You see, I only race in Mumbai and Pune. That restricts my chances to only a few cracks at the Classics. With such limited options you can't say I have done too badly.
IR: What is you specialty?
NL: I am skilled in repairing broken down horses. That’s my trait. I have successfully set right quite a few horsesand have helped in correcting horses from other stables as well.I always offer my help to anyone who has a horse with a setback. I remember Sherwood…he was totally broken down and in a bad shape. It took me a little over two months to get him right. The brave horse subsequently thrilled me by winning Three races in a row!
IR: What is your advice for aspiring trainers? Do you see any budding talents who could make it big?
NL: Training is a skilled job. You got to know your horses extremely well. They are top priority. It is tough for new comers. I would advice the aspiring lads to get the basics right. A course abroad is necessary. One has to learn the ropes and get enough exposure. Always think horses!
Faisal Abbas has good potential. He is young and learning. He should do well. Vinay Lagad, my nephew, is a Gold Medalist from the Irish National Institute. They have an elaborate theory and practical course. One gets deeper understanding of horses and astute training skills. Vinay may start off at Kolkata. I expect him to take charge of my stables when I call it a day.
IR: In conclusion, how do you foresee the forthcoming Mumbai Season?
NL: It is certainly going to be an interesting one. The big boys have had ample time to tune and get their horses in shape. Make no mistake, the show in Mumbai is going to be top-notch! Personally, my established horses have done their bit in Pune, so I reckon I will be more than happy if they do well here so soon. I have a very potent juvenile force that I am optimistic and excited about. It is too early to single out anyone, but there certainly are a few who will make their presence felt!