• Ruffina wins The Sprinters Cup (Gr.1)
  • Azzurro wins The Dr M A M Ramaswamy Stayers Cup (Gr.1)
  • Whomakestherules wins The Maj P K Mehra Memorial Super Mile Cup (Gr.1)
  • Kangra wins The Indian Turf Invitation Cup (Gr.1) in record timing
By Madhukar Bhagawan
Sunday 27 Aug 2017
Jockey Trevor Patel

At an age when most juniors around the world feel good swaying on the wooden horse, one lad dared to take the saddle strapped to the real horse flesh. He felt the connection at the tender age instinctively and persuaded his dream to become a pro jockey in the highly competitive sport of horseracing. The more special the talent, the harder one seems to work. Success eventually comes by more often than not. The lanky lad, a ‘bit too tall’ for a jockey, has impressed one and all with his horsemanship. The crowd loves him; he is sought after by the big boys in the game and his fellow-jockeys respect him. Champion jockey Trevor Patel, on Friday, 25th August, 2017, booted home his 1000th winner partnering Turf Star at the Mysore race track. He achieved this feat in the quickest time in the Indian turf history, taking just seven years and nine months! Therein lays his dedication, hard work and passion for the sport. One may argue that the number of races has increased over the years and quicker travel options opened up new vistas. Yet to get up early, ride work day after day, races in the afternoon and catching flights at odd hours requires that element of the ‘X’ factor to reach the pinnacle of success and that Trevor has done it. In an impromptu chat with our correspondent Madhukar Bhagawan, Trevor talks about his journey so far...

Indiarace: Congratulations Trevor on completing 1000 winners. How does it feel to be up there?

P. Trevor: Thanks Madhukar! It’s really a dream come true. I just can’t believe  that I have got here so fast. I am happy, excited and satisfied is all I can say.

IR: How and when did your interest in horse racing come by?

PT: I started riding when I was 5 years at the riding club in R.W.I.T.C. I grew up watching races. My dream of becoming a jockey was that early in life.

IR:  Was it difficult to get started?

PT: It was only after I was licensed as an apprentice that I found out the difference between riding during morning track work and riding in actual races on the track.

IR:  What were the first few weeks of learning riding like?

PT: It indeed was difficult in the early days. Confidence plays an important part. My first ride was on the 24th of December, 2009, but I had to wait until February next year for confidence-boosting first win. It was on a horse called King’s Troop that paid over Rs.600 for win on the tote. I clearly remember it was a race named Romanov Red ‘Chase Your Passion’ Challenge during the Indian Derby weekend. My drive to ‘Chase my passion’ started then.

IR: Did you make friends with the lads; were you pro-active during your learning days?

PT: Yes, we did enjoy our time together. Zervan was my pal in the riding school. I could gel with the other boys as well. We were all rookies and the little bit of leg-pulling that went on eased the pressure on us.

IR:  Who were your other batch mates?

PT: Sandesh, M.A. Roshan, Prabhu Naidu, Akshay Londa and Kaviraj Singh. While all of them started riding during the Pune season, I started off a little later during the Mumbai season. Each of us felt good about another’s success.

IR: Did the first landmark of 40 winners take too long to conquer?

PT: After the Mumbai season, I ended up as the champion apprentice rider in Pune. It was in the following Mumbai season that I completed riding 40 winners. It took almost a year for it and I reckon that is not too long. I was winning with regularity and that helped me grow in confidence and belief that I can do it too.

IR: When did you feel you had the confidence to compete with the best in the business?

PT: I really never felt that I could, that is in the beginning. After completing 40 winners, I won the coveted C.N.Wadia Cup on Native Knight and that probably gave me a lot more self-belief. I guess there is always one such point of success that gets one going. I went to Bangalore the next season and had a satisfying stint and riding on different turf surely helps gain more experience and I picked up more riding tactics on different surfaces and tracks. Why, even now I feel that there is a lot to learn as a rider. Each day, each ride teaches you something new. There is no end to learning.  

IR:  What do you consider as a turning point in your career? How did it come about?

PT: Oh, my association with the URBB, without any doubt! I had come to Bangalore as an apprentice and worked with Mr. Neil Darashah. His work usually starts earlier than most trainers in the morning, hence finishes sooner. One day after finishing with the horses, he suggested that I approach trainer Padmanabhan to work his horses. Fortunately for me, Mr. Padmanabhan agreed and also gave me a few rides in the races. I remember, I got to ride ‘In The Spotlight’ in a 5 ½ furlongs race. I finished third then. Mr. Padmanabhan asked my opinion on the running of the filly and I gave him my feedback, which he took note of with a subtle smile on his otherwise poker face. I got a chance to ride Dr. Mallya’s Speed Six in the Colts’ which I lost by a ‘nose’. That loss was a bit hard to swallow; you know losing by that thin a margin is painful.

Mr. Zeyn Mirza, however, was happy with my ride and offered me a retainer as a second rider for the group and I simply could not believe my luck. I grabbed my chance and shall be ever thankful to Mr. Mirza. Things went well for me from thereon and rest is known to everyone. Yes, I consider this development a turning point in my career.

IR: Do you plan any differently for Classics?

PT: Yes. Planning is essential when you prepare for Classics. You got to consider your opponents and the riders in the fray. Then there is that extra bit of pressure because, the expectations are high for success. I am fortunate though to have the backing of my bosses. That helps ease any nerves just before the race. I have learnt a lot by riding for them, like settling a horse in a race, getting into rhythm and timing the final assault. Dr. Vijay Mallya’s presence whenever he used to come, bring in so much more excitement and energy; but in the paddock, minutes before the start, he is all calm and composed and that rubs off on me which helps a great deal.  

IR:  What part do you play in nurturing horses and preparing them for the targeted races?

PT: We work as a team in URBB. Mr. Zeyn, along with the trainer and I sit down and decide on where to run a particular horse. Basically my job is to give the feedback to the trainers concerned after the track work and races.

IR:  How important are the trainers’ instructions? Do you venture to ride differently if the situation demands?

PT:  In our team, the planning is done much before the race. Pre-race instructions are helpful and prepare you for the task at hand. However, things never always go as planned. I have the freedom to switch to plan B if the situation arrives. This is a game of uncertainties and everyone concerned do understand this fact. There are occasions when we changed the entire pattern of a horse’s style of running. I remember we were always of the impression that Captain Morgan likes to race with the pace. We decided to change tactics and sit off the pace and come from behind in the St. Leger at Chennai and that paid off.  A similar case in point is that of Angel Dust.

IR:  Share your highest and lowest points on the race track?

PT: I was out of action for three months after my first fall in Bangalore. I really felt down then. Staying out of action is most disappointing. I did a brief appearance on television during the Kingfisher Bangalore Derby recently. It was an enjoyable experience, but only I know how much I missed being in the saddle for a race as big as that one. I have always enjoyed winning races especially in Dr. Mallya’s silks. The highest point is perhaps winning the Bangalore winter Derby on Angel Dust.

IR: How do you cope with the stress of such a volatile sport?

PT: Well, it’s how quickly one gets used to it. That comes with experience I reckon. I always try to keep calm while going for a race, especially the big ones. On the other hand, coping with failures is another ball game altogether. Whenever I have a bad day at the races, I try to leave those thoughts behind and start afresh the next day. There have been times when I have been accused of being ‘involved’ and incompetent when I have failed not only by the public, but also by the media. Mr. Zeyn has always kept his trust on my integrity and encouraged me to carry on without giving a heed to such accusations. It’s not easy, but then you have to live with it and failures teach you a lot more if you care to look into it honestly.

IR: Does your family not caution you against the high-prone dangers of accidents?

PT: My dad was not happy in the beginning when I chose to become a jockey. He was very too worried when I broke my wrist after a fall. He may not show it or may not say it to me, but I know he is very concerned each time I go out to ride, even during morning work; but then, an element of risk is involved almost in every profession. Dad is driven by my success too. He is now a happy father to see me reach the milestone. He has been there from the very start, hasn’t he?

IR:  You did suffer some serious injuries on the track, how do you cope with it and remain motivated?

PT: There was lot of speculation about returning to riding when I broke my wrist. The doctors did not give much hope at first. There were reports in the press that I may not be able to ride again and that really put me down. Once the cast was removed the doctors were more positive but warned me to be cautious. The physiotherapy began and there was immense pain. I had fever for almost three days because of the pain. I would go for the therapy like a lion and return like a rat.

The recovery was slow but steady. I was determined to get back and I was much relieved I could return to the saddle within 2 ½ months, even as the doctor gave 6 months for recovery. It is times as these that one realises the contribution of family and friends. They stand by you through the trying times. Injuries are tragic, whether to jockeys or horses.   

IR:   Do you know most of your winners? I mean are you sharp like say Sachin Tendulkar is, who it is believed remembers most of his dismissals.

PT: (laughs) probably not as sharp as him! A thousand winners is a lot to recall. However, I can remember most of my winners. The eleven winners in my first season at Mumbai are still clear in my memory. Then that of Native Knight and my first classic win on Acclaimed at Hyderabad, they are all unforgettable. They are not the only ones, but I can’t list ‘em all here, can I?

IR:  The racing public is extreme both in showering praises and then hurling un-pleasantries.

PT: To be honest it is bothersome. Not everyone in the stands is savvy about the sport and lack in-depth knowledge. Assumptions are aplenty and the jockeys are nailed without logical reason most of the times. They get agitated when they lose a bet and show their frustration on the riders by abusing them. There are times when we are criticized by the media also, when things go wrong. We have to put up with all those brickbats and carry on even though it hurts. This is part of the game. Every sportsperson faces this public wrath during failures, but has to go on regardless. Criticism is good for the game, but it has to be fair.  

Nevertheless, the same crowd gives you the high when they cheer you for winning races and you really get charged up by that, it is so motivating. A good word in the media is a shot in the arm as well. So that sort of, evens it out.  

IR: Have you ridden out of India?

PT: I have ridden in Macau, Qatar and Mauritius. I have had one win in Mauritius and a few placing in Macau and Qatar. I will be riding soon in Australia as well.    

IR: Your Hobbies?

PT: I love to play football. I used to play for my school, college and clubs but now I don’t get time for it due to my constant travelling. In lighter vein, I could be logging more ‘flying hours’ than most of the airline crew.

IR: Who would you like to thank for your success?

PT: My employer the UB group, Mr. Zeyn Mirza in particular, all the owners who have helped me with rides and the trainers. I would also like to thank all the stable staff at all centres and my fellow riders who have had a good word every time I rode well.

My father’s support has played a major part in shaping my career. I was in fact skeptical of completing 1000 winners before heading to Australia this month end, but it was my dad who confidently backed me and said, “don’t worry son, you’ll ride 1001”. His prophecy came true after all.

IR: What are your future plans?

PT: Right now I have planned a stint in Australia. I will be riding there for trainer Robert Heathrow. My stay will be for three months and if things go well, I may extend it by another three months. Once I get back, I will be back with the UB group.    

IR: Thank you Trevor, it was indeed a pleasure talking to you. You have achieved a ‘thousand’ at such a young age and I am sure you can double it soon. Indiarace wishes you the best of luck for your future.