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By Mahendra Mallya | 02 Feb 2020 | MUMBAI

War Hammer (Suraj Narredu Up), winner of The Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr.1)

The Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr1) a spectacular race over 2400 meters, has produced some extraordinary results over the decades. This time the shock-wave across the racing fraternity was not about who won it, but the sheer power with which it was won. War Hammer nailed it and how! Sired by the impressive stallion Air Support out of Soviet Lake and bred at the historical Kunigal Stud Farm, the big made dark bay colt shrugged off several concerning factors between the two Sundays. He had run a hard race over the mile and half and won the Bangalore Derby, which can take a toll on any athlete and then start off on his journey by road in the confines of the float (Horse van) nearly a 24-hour ordeal. And he was doing it for the first time, having never embarked outside his home turf. “He wouldn’t eat when on the move I was told and they had to halt a couple of times so that he ate in peace. He is a personality and wants things his way,” says jockey Suraj Narredu who is even more popular with the masses and has gained fans across all centres in the country, but quickly adds, ‘He also gives you what you ask off him on the race track. So a little pampering and giving in to his whims is fully justified”.

Prasanna Kumar, War Hammer’s trainer is a demure gentleman who is focussed and has come up the hard way. Not in the ‘rags to riches’ kind of way, but has had to step right from the bottom rung of the ladder to reach the top as he stands today. “War Hammer impressed me ever since he won his first race exactly a year back, said trainer Prasanna Kumar. “He won by over five lengths beating Sir Supremo (Winner of the South India Derby) and that joy of his facile victory still lingers in my mind. It didn’t take any exceptional sense of judgment to understand his special talent. I only had to nurture him steadily and he blossomed. He suffered a shin-fracture after his fourth successful victory and then had to be laid off for nearly six months. He returned with the same flair with a resolute victory and then peaked to his now famous Bangalore Derby success. He had taken the race well, hence he was on his way to Mumbai soon after.”

The moment War Hammer entered the paddock he was making heads turn. He looked a massive mass of muscle, calm as can be and rightly deserved the award for the best turned out horse. He seemed to mock at the bookies who offered a generous 3/1 on his winning chances.

The starter and his team of handlers did a neat job of packing the 20 horses in the gates and the start was an even one. Consigliori sailed smoothly to lead the field with Wizard of Stocks in second, War Hammer moved quickly to settle in the third spot and stay up with the pace, a move which was in total contrast to his choosing to stay at the back in the Bangalore Derby.  This was a bold ploy by jockey Suraj Narredu, who explained. “I expected that Consigliori would go for the lead as he usually does and also Wizard of Stocks who likes to run in the front. I didn’t want a pile of ‘dead’ horses falling back in front of me later on if I stayed well behind; also I thought it might add the ‘surprise factor’ on the opposition as most would have expected him to stay off the pace. All I had to do was settle him well and save him for the last. I didn’t want him to make any extra effort in the homestretch either, so I thought it best to sit behind those two reliable front-runners and keep off the perils of a potential traffic jam.”

True to what Suraj mentioned, War Hammer was all fresh legs entering the homestretch. Consigliori faded out as Wizard of Stocks surged past to take the lead. War Hammer picked up speed and shot past Wizard of Stocks with about 300 to go and sealed the issue there and then! What War Hammer displayed thereafter was mind-boggling as he galloped away powerfully, blazing past the packed Grand Stands. He won by a margin of close to eight lengths! Trouvaille improved in the straight to beat Wizard of Stocks for the second slot but was no match to War Hammer. Wizard of Stocks effort was fairly satisfying as he stayed on to take the third spot. Juliette did not have the clearest of passages, the very thing Suraj was apprehensive about, but she too finished on to catch a slot in the Derby frame right alongside Wizard of Stocks.

For owners Dr CA Prashanth, M/s Gautam Basapa, BS Manjunath and P Apana Subaiya the joy was boundless. It was good to see the owners along with their family members basking in the glory of an equine super star that their colt War Hammer had just emerged to be. Every single person at Mahalaxmi racecourse was on his or her feet applauding the fine display on track. A standing ovation and shouts of congratulations and ‘well done’ rented the air as the connections walked through the aisle. For trainer Prasanna Kumar, it was a job well done indeed. “I am delighted and War Hammer has given us something incredible that will last a lifetime. These are the landmarks we as trainers look for and work for and I thank the Almighty for it, he concluded.”

While War Hammer zipped past the winning post, “A page of history will be written” screamed race caller Deepak Rajpal who too made an off the track record of calling out 25 Indian Derbies. The veteran race commentator has been the voice of Indian race-calling and his mammoth achievement of calling races for three decades without a hitch is commendable as well. “It’s been a great career looking back,” said Deepak Rajpal. The Indian Derby is never an easy race to call as the massive crowd and the electric atmosphere gets into you. This is one race that makes me touchy despite having called it for years. This is my 25th calling of the Indian Derby, a silver jubilee of my personal profession,” he added laughingly. “Yes I have seen several great winners in this race and I must say that War Hammer is one who would be in the company of the legends of the turf,” he said, before walking away to prepare for his next race call.

War Hammer could have settled the arguments about the ‘too short a time’ and the ‘rigours of travel’ debates for a while now at least. He didn’t even have the common or mandatory ritual of a fast gallop on the Mahalaxmi track. He seemed to have saved everything for the Mega show – the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr1). The name War Hammer sounds menacing, could we now call him as a weapon of mass destruction on the turf?