January 29, 2009 1:25:15 am
The equine influenza epidemic had put the Mumbai racing season on the backburner for long. But these days,the Mahalaxmi Race Course has been Set Alight. The simmering discontent over the early November to late January rescheduling of the season is a thing of past as the buzz around the stables and stands is about the red hot four-year-old filly owned by liquor baron Vijay Mallya and trained by legendary jockey Pesi Shroff.
Born to an American father Razeen and Indian mother,Set Aside,the prize horse,has a flattering pedigree and an intimidating record. Undefeated in seven races,Set Alights most eye-catching run came in the Bangalore Derby,where she won by more than 10 lengths.
With the race season starting this weekend and speculations over odds gaining pace,there seems to be an overwhelming consensus over the favourite for the Indian Derby in April. The Set Alight story becomes more intriguing when one brings the famous owner-trainer in the picture. Shroff has seen several Derby Day highs as a jockey but he hasnt yet touched the same heights as a trainer. As for owner Mallya,the last time he was seen solely leading his horse to the podium at the end of the Indian Derby was in 1999.
The man riding Set Alight when she burnt the track at Bangalore last year was Malesh Narredu,who happens to be one of the most experienced jockeys in the country with several derby titles. When Narredu says that Set Alight happens to be the best horse he has ever ridden,one knows that the buzz around the Race Course is justified. She has too many gears. She has a big race temperament and knows when to accelerate. She is the best I have ever ridden, says Narredu. I will be honoured if I get a chance to ride her for Indian Derby. With her its an arm-chair ride.
Shroff too cant hide his excitement as he watches his flock warm up in the season opening week. Im fortunate to have a horse of her calibre and I definitely have high hopes, says the man who has a record-eight Indian Derby wins in his two-and-a-half decade-long career as a jockey.
Mallyas racing manager Zyen Mirza appreciates the effort put in by Pesi in grooming the champion horse. Pesi has done a wonderful job. God willing,she will bring us the most prestigious crown. In terms of performances,no other horse in the country can come even close to her, says Mirza.
Veteran trainer Magan Singh Jodha gives a neutral view on the prospects of Set Aside. She is easily the best in the country at present. I dont think there is any horse who can match strides with her.
Razeen: Set Alights father,born in US in 1987. Shipped to England where he scored a hat-trick of wins from his first three races over 1,600 to 2,000 metres. Started as a favourite for the 1990 Epsom Derby,considered the most prestigious flat-horse races in the world. After running a few more races with not much success,retired in 1992.
Set Aside: Set Alights mother. Won seven races (1,200m-2,000m) at Bangalore and Kolkata and reached Class I before entering the breeding shed.
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