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By Mahendra Mallya | 14 Oct 2018 | PUNE

Mr Jaydev M Mody & Mr Sarosh Mody leading Pioneer (P Trevor Up), winner of The Pune Derby (Gr.1)

Two stunning performances on Derby day provided a new high for the racing fraternity, probably even injecting greater spirit and awe, much needed to the sagging fortunes plaguing the glorious sport of horseracing in recent times. The gritty performance of Pioneer under the astute saddle artistry shown by ace jockey P Trevor in the suspenseful three-way finish for the Pune Derby (Gr1) 2018 was worth going miles to witness. And there could have been no better precursor to the top race as the one provided by Ruffina a race earlier. These two thoroughbreds turned the otherwise ordinary season on its head, and the Pune Season 2018 will be etched in our memories for the glittering Derby day conquests of these two young superstars.

The Derby line-up had just seven in the fray out of which Cavarozzi and Truly Epic and perhaps even Knotty Ash running more out of hope than conviction. Bushtops had his share of supporters after his impressive win coming into this race. Desperado was the prime favourite and justifiably so after his successful raid without suffering a single battle scar on the new turf when he set hooves on the Pune track for the first time a few weeks ago. His runaway win beating the locals to pulp over the mile without dropping sweat convinced most of the pundits to  prop him up as the candidate to lift the coveted trophy on D day. The markets quoted him at a miserly 12/10 at race time.  

Excellent was on a winning streak and had even won the SA Poonawalla easing up, beating Adjudicate and even Pioneer comfortably, yet fetched a high return at 5 /1, while Pioneer, who had shown that touch of spark while finishing on in the SA Poonawalla, was at a nourishing 6/1.

The first half of the race was predictable as Cavarozzi was pushed hard to get past Knotty Ash to swing into the lead and make the pace. Knotty Ash had made a bold move by going into the early lead and then letting Cavarozzi go past. Desperado raced in handy third spot a couple of lengths behind was Excellent with Pioneer stalking him, then came Truly Epic with Bushtop sticking to the tail end all the way until the turn, and all including Bushtops well within range.

Knotty Ash made the first move and darted ahead soon on turning for home. The big made Desperado soon set about in chase, Excellent was produced on the outside and was shaping well to make his final assault, while Pioneer went for the gap along the inner railings. With a furlong to go, it loked anybody’s race and one would not be blamed if Desperado was being hailed as the most probable winner.

Desperado caught up with Knotty Ash but the Akshay Kumar ridden colt was not one to surrender. Knotty Ash went eye-ball to eye-ball and that got Desperado under pressure. These two battled hard and stride for stride. Excellent did not quicken as expected and was beaten well before the winning post. Trevor made a bold atop Pioneer and got the Malesh Narredu ward to shift towards the inside for the rails and saw the gap well in time to make a go for it. Pioneer moved under the whip and with 100 to go a photo finish was inevitable. Knotty Ash, Desperado and now Pioneer were abreast scuttling towards the winning post. Pioneer finished on fastest to get past the fighting pair and lunged forward in the last couple of strides to snatch victory by a neck. Knotty Ash held on stubbornly to take the runner-up spot a short-head in front of Desperado in a thrilling finish. Excellent completed the frame ending fourth – less than two lengths behind them.  

“It is a very happy moment for me, my owners and my family too. Pune is my home town so it’s special for me to win the biggest race here. I have very fond memories of the Pune Derby, as a jockey I had a good run in the Derby winning it a record six times. As a trainer too I won it with Quasar and now with Pioneer both in Mr Jaydev Mody’s silks. I also want to add that my brother Satish too has won the Pune Derby with Scenic Royal and Forest Fantasy. My nephew Suraj has won the Pune Derby thrice partnering Hills And Stars, Quasar and Lady In Lace. Winning a Derby has its’ own charm and glory and this monsoon my family members have had good success with my nephew Neeraj Rawal winning the Calcutta Derby, and Rajesh and Suraj Narredu won the Hyderabad Derby with Star Superior and now I got the Pune Derby,” said a delighted trainer Malesh Narredu.

“I am thankful to the Almighty and to all the owners without whom this would not be possible. Special thanks to jockey P Trevor for the excellent ride on Pioneer. I felt he rode just like I would and seeing him reminded me of my good old riding days. He followed the instructions to the ‘T’ and he is riding exceptionally well. I felt Pioneer should have won last time too, but Chouhan didn’t have the luck of the race, but he was finishing on well in the SA Poonawalla Million. That run made me believe that Pioneer would go the distance and I now feel he has the potential to go even further,” concluded Malesh.

Ruffina (Excellent Art – Miss Danehill, Villoo’s Greenfield Farm) doesn’t cease to amaze. She is an extraordinary filly blessed with blinding speed and when she is at her best, she makes even top class sprinters look mere mortals. That’s exactly what she did when she flew in to clinch the Noshir & Dolly Dhunjibhoy Sprint Million (Gr3) in a manner that took one’s breath away.

Wild Fire hit the front and tried the runaway tactics that simply didn’t work. She showed good early speed while establishing a sizable lead, but it all came to a naught as they turned for home. Wild Fire faded away as soon as Lincoln came by to snatch her lead, Congressional was not making much headway either. Ruffina, with Neeraj Rawal in the saddle, seemed to have the luxury of pausing to decide which way to manoeuvre and then opted to go inwards nudging past Governor General and stealing the gap. Once the passage was clear, the Dallas Todywalla ward simply outclassed her opponents and sprinted ahead to shut the opposition out completely, displaying lightning speed and notching up victory by a margin of four lengths and shattering the course record to bits, creating her own – stopping the clock at an amazing 1:07:930, the fastest timing in the history of racing in India!