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By Mahendra Mallya | 03 Mar 2019 | MUMBAI

Dr Cyrus S Poonawalla & trainer Rajesh Narredu leading Star Superior (Suraj Narredu Up), winner of The Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr.1)

Mumbai city is blessed with a kind charismatic splendour that few other cities can match. Be it the awe for Bollywood or the worship for cricket in all formats; add-in theatre and Fine Art, the city celebrates every talent and pulsating action in a unique manner. For a city that is spoilt for choices, one event in particular that stands out – The Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr1). The glamour, fashion,  thrill and sheer admiration, that draws masses in their thousands to throng the Mahalaxmi racecourse run on the first Sunday of February each year has now become a tradition and one of the most loved events of Mumbai. The real action may last just under two-and-half minutes alright, but the hype and hysteria it creates is unparalleled!  

The beeline of high-end luxury cars was on display as usual on the day. The stands were not exactly ‘bursting at its seams’, but a sizable crowd had endured long queues at every entrance around the mammoth racecourse, where even ‘VIPs’  waited their turn without complaining. After all, the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby has always been a terrific equalizer on its turf for people of all strata.

Necks craned as the 14 contenders paraded in the paddock each one turned out at his/her best. Sir Cecil the unbeaten star had turned up in bandages as he had done for the Guineas as well. There were murmurs galore despite him walking around nonchalantly. Among the 14 however, Star Superior was a stand out in the paddock. Looking prim and proper he caught the eye of the experts and was later adjudged the ‘Best turned out horse’ in the paddock. The various camps in the paddock were busy with trainers, jockeys and anxious owners in a huddle churning out Plans A B & C if need be. Then, finally, the horses left the paddock towards the gates as the crowds too ran across to find the most vantage points to view the horses gallop around the 2400 meters circuit.

The roar of the crowd ensured that all of Mumbai knew that the Indian Derby had been flagged off. The quick-action force of the quine kind rushed into the act with Valegro donning the mantle of the pacemaker. He was off at a good clip and that meant a crisp pace for the race. Sacred Roman settled in second, a good couple of lengths behind; Sir Cecil took the third spot with Augustus Caesar in fourth. Star Superior was fifth while Adjudicate preferred to stay off the pace, closer to the rear end of the field.

Valegro did well keeping up the strong pace all through until into the straight. Sir Cecil made an early move and got past Sacred Roman to set up his final finishing run. Jockey Suraj Narredu got into the action just at the right time and he came down hard at Sir Cecil, who he knew only too well. Star Superior shifted gears and picked up speed fluently and the moment he came alongside Sir Cecil, it was clear that it was going to be his day.

Star Superior (Excellent Art – Ramjet, Poonawalla Stud)  was simply too good and he surged past Sir Cecil with surprising ease and then Suraj Narredu tightened the screws getting Star Superior to unleash a tremendous burst and sustaining it all the way to the wire. This was no anti-climax though as the fall of Sir Cecil, the universal favourite, was taken in the stride and the focus shifted to admiring the emergence of the new champion Star Superior by the sporting Mumbai spectators. The roar and cheer was deafening, as it was defining, in hailing the new champion colt for his stupendous victory in the most prestigious race of the land. Even the seasoned jockey Suraj Narredu was seen thumping the air in joy while passing the winning post, with a good five-length margin.    

Adjudicate finished on well to beat Sir Cecil and grab the runner-up berth, while Sir Cecil finished third well ahead of Sacred Roman.

Sir Cecil’s worst fears had surfaced as he had been under a cloud on his fitness. Jockey David Allan dismounted soon after passing the winning post and sadly Sir Cecil did suffer and all the talk regarding his lack of 100% fitness came to the fore.

Star Superior, who had always played second fiddle to Sir Cecil in their three encounters thus far, had turned the tables in the race that mattered most! The winning connections were understandably ecstatic. Dr Cyrus Poonawalla had the bragging rights alright; after all, he had predicted Star Superior’s victory well in advance. He had voiced his awareness on Sir Cecil not being at his best and that Star Superior was at his personal best, hence the latter’s victory was more-or-less certain Dr Cyrus had professed. That prediction had turned out to be spot on.

Jockey Suraj Narredu was most gleeful. “It was a perfectly run race for me. Star Superior settled beautifully and I had my sights on Sir Cecil all along. The moment we turned into the straight, I saw my chance and got Star Superior going. He responded as expected and the rest you have witnessed. I was happy and a lot more confident during his last workout. He had ticked all boxes and all we needed to do was to wait for this moment. His preparation for this race was near-perfect if not perfect. And the results were on expected lines for us,” said jockey Suraj Narredu.

For trainer Rajesh Narredu, this was a defining moment in his career. He had tasted the Indian Derby success as a part-owner with Super Storm earlier, but the Indian Derby conquest as a professional came pleasingly early in his career. “I thank the support staff for their sincere efforts. Also my brother Suraj, he knows what’s best in such circumstances and that made by job easier. It is indeed a fantastic feeling and a high sense of satisfaction. And when the family stands firmly behind me the joy is boundless and it is even greater to share the success with everyone connected,” said Rajesh Narredu.

The ever-enthusiastic Zavaray Poonawalla was unfortunately hospitalized, but jumped out of his hospital bed and rushed to the racecourse to savour the moment soon after the race. His daughter Simone Poonawalla was as jubilant. “It is delightful to see the spring in dad’s feet as he has monitored the progress of Star Superior very closely. He had also provided his observations and inputs in the preparations and he is most thrilled with the Derby triumph. He simply had to be here to relish the moment,” said Simone.

Mr Zavaray Poonawalla along and his brother Dr Cyrus, were keen on buying back Star Superior early in his career. They had seen the potential champion in him and had persuaded Rajesh Narredu and co-owner Sanjay Kumar Shinde to buy back a major stake in the ownership. That foresight and the hefty sum the Poonawallas offered to buy a share in Star Superior proved to be a very successful move.

Star Superior was the real star of the day who made a tough assignment look simple. He won with unexpected ease and showed depth in talent both in speed and in stamina. Any doubts over his staying prowess he dismissed with disdain. He clocked 2:28:92 which is zippy for the distance. Derby conquered, Star Superior will take a couple of days off and return home to Bangalore. But there won’t be much time to relax. He will get back to work, preparing for the Invitation Cup at Hyderabad on the first Sunday of March. The way he towered over the rest in the Derby, Star Superior would be the favourite to win the Invitation Cup. As for Sir Cecil, he looked in bad shape post the race. That he managed to finish third is a brave effort and should be respected. He will take a while to recover and is unlikely to race very soon. Not the best development and such occurrences while they prop up now and then, do cause grave disappointment to the fans and followers. The racing fraternity would wish Sir Cecil a speedy recovery and if there is anyone who can get him back to his best, it would be his trainer S Padmanabhan. The big question is - how soon?

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