Indian derby build-up: Laced with optimism

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Suraj Narredu astride Lady in Lace
Suraj Narredu astride Lady in Lace

Growing up in a racing family and watching my father (Satish) and uncle (Malesh) riding as top jockeys, shaped my destiny, and I started riding at a young age. Though record books will tell you that I climbed the ladders of success rather swiftly, no jockey can experience a real sense of fulfillment unless he wins the greatest race of them all — the Indian Derby at Mahalaxmi.

And because both, my father and uncle, had won the great race as jockeys, it was almost a question of continuing the family tradition. So it was a dream realised when I won the 2015 Indian Derby with Be Safe (trained by Malesh), who matched the record of my father, having won the big race both as jockey and trainer. Be Safe thus marked a new chapter in my career. Now I get another opportunity to have my moment in the sun. This Sunday, I will ride another, very capable Derby aspirant in Lady In Lace, trained by Prasad Raju of Hyderabad. Here's why I consider her so special.

I was on the bench with an injury when Raju sent her into the care of my trainer-brother Rajesh Narredu in Bangalore. From the sidelines, I watched her winning two races — one with an apprentice rider (M Ayyer), and the other, with jockey YS Srinath, who also went on to win two more races, including the Fillies' Championship, when she went back to Hyderabad. The trainer optimistically pitched her in the Hyderabad Derby, and in blinding rain, Prevalent Force (ridden by jockey Srinath who had switched allegiance) had to go to the bottom of the well to contain Lady In Lace.

It was a big let down for Raju. Though I had not ridden the filly yet, I felt she was high-class material. The Pune Derby was round the corner. I used my persuasive skills to convince Raju that Lady In Lace should take her chances. She was supplemented at a prohibitive cost with a late entry fee. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Lady In Lace put up a jaw-dropping show. It was Raju's first Derby winner, and I was thrilled to be part of his team.

Later, Lady In Lace did not even break a sweat when winning the Golconda 1000 Guineas. Shapoor Mistry, a keen judge of horseflesh, opted to buy a 50% share in the filly — that's vindication of the class I always knew she had. She further confirmed my opinion about her when storming past her adversaries late in the lane in the Indian 1000 Guineas. An infection disrupted her training schedule, and she skipped the Indian Oaks. However, she was impressive in a recent mock race. I galloped her on Monday over a mile, and she could not have done better. I strongly believe Lady In Lace is peaking at the right time.