A different race

As the thrill of races captures the city,Talk explores how the same passion also runs in the blood of some of Pune’s best jockeys & trainers.

Written by Debjani Paul | Published: September 29, 2013 4:44:06 am

The last racing weekend was all about families — the biggest race was hosted by the Poonawalla family,and many other families appeared in droves to take part in the festivities. But there was one family that took the cake — the cup,rather — as winners of the Poonawalla Multi-Million. Straddling his horse,called Falcon,jockey Suraj Narredu smiled happily,sharing the stage with his uncle,trainer Malesh Narredu. The uncle-nephew team was accompanied by Malesh’s two sons who had helped train the horse. “It was such a proud moment for us as a family,when the four of us were on the stage together,” says Malesh.

Now a well-known trainer,Malesh was a celebrity jockey in his heydays. Today,his nephew Suraj has taken on the mantle,soon to be joined by Malesh’s younger son Yash,who will make his debut as a jockey in the Mumbai season this year. “At least seven to eight members of my family are connected to racing in some way or the other,so much so that our family is known as the ‘Narredu academy for racing’,” says Malesh. Some would say that racing is in their blood,and Malesh doesn’t disagree. “My brother,my nephew and I have all completed 1,000 wins,a feat accomplished by only a handful of jockeys. That just shows it’s in our genes,” he says.

And the Narredu family is but one example of how passion and skill for racing run deep in blood. Purtusingh Jodha is now 84 years old and long retired,but he still remembers how he began as a jockey at the age of 15. He was a champion jockey for several years,after which he moved to training horses,and his son Magansingh Jodha joined him. Unlike in the Narredu family,it’s training not jockeying that runs in the Jodha clan. “You have to be very lean and light to be a jockey and I didn’t have the build for it. When my father became a trainer and had many horses to care for,I began to help him,” says Magansingh.

Over the years,the goodwill that Purtusingh earned as a jockey,and the hard work the father-son duo put in as trainers,began to earn them a reputation as one of the finest training families. And then came the third generation — Adhirajsingh Jodha. He was all of five when he began riding at the amateur riders’ club. “Training wasn’t always a part of the plan but I would drop by at the stables and soon got interested in what they were doing,” says Adhirajsingh.

Three years ago,he became the youngest trainer to receive a license,at the age of 25,a feat that he admits has a lot to do with the family he was brought up in. “My mother was a rider,and her father ran a stud farm in Jaipur. Now,my uncle and cousin run the farm. And because of the goodwill my grandfather and father have earned,many owners gave me horses to train,” says Adhirajsingh.

Sometimes,racing is embedded so deep in the bloodlines that it crosses all barriers and norms,as in the case of Nazak Chinoy,who has followed the footsteps of her father,Bezan Chinoy,an ace trainer. “There are only three other women trainers in the country,” says 60-year-old Bezan,adding,“It’s still seen as a man’s game in India and is tough for women to break into. It’s a high-stress game and I tried to dissuade Nazak from joining it,but she wanted it so much that I had to give in.” Nazak adds,“Horses are all I remember of my childhood. The stable was my playground and I grew up crawling among the horses.” It has been an uphill task for her as a woman trainer,but she says she never even considered doing anything else.

Having a trainer for a father does make it easier in some ways. “It makes all the difference; you grow up with knowledge and understanding around you,listening to the language,getting to know the people and the horses,” she says. But it’s not always easy. “It also means more pressure. You have to work that much harder to earn your place and your own respect,” she says.

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