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By Mahendra Mallya
Sunday 04 Feb 2018
Mr Shapoor P Mistry leading Rochester (CS Jodha Up), winner of The Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr.1)

In one of the most sensational stories of grit, courage and determination, Rochester’s success in the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr1) brings about a very happy ending. For, not too long ago, Rochester, even before fighting for victory on the turf, had to fight death. He was down with colic and had to undergo surgery as a juvenile. Dr Anil Kumar, former Chief Veterinary Officer at the RWITC, teamed up with Dr Yogesh Bhosale and performed the operation lasting more than two hours under trying circumstances.  Rochester survived against the odds and trainer Shiraz Sunderji nursed the young colt patiently to get him back on his feet. Shiraz had then said that Dr Anil and his team have done an admirable job, and had it not been for that emergency surgery, Rochester would not have pulled through.

Shiraz too did a commendable job in getting Rochester race-ready and Rochester nearly won his debut race, fighting all the way to the wire before going down by a neck to Big Sur. That was about six to seven months post his surgery. Rochester has been remarkably consistent all through his career since his debut. He came into this Indian Derby with two victories, one each in Pune and Mumbai and also placed second five times and a third, never out of the top three placing in eight starts leading up to the Derby. One of his seconds was in the Kingfisher Ultra Pune Derby (Gr1) to Lady In Lace herself. Lady In Lace had beaten him hollow by close to nine lengths!

It was another day and a fresh new battle as 12 contenders lined-up for the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr1) 2018. A crowd of more than 20000 filled the stands at the iconic Mahalaxmi racecourse. The roar of the crowd was deafening as the gates slammed open and the horses cannoned out to grab vantage positions.

Daffodils surged to the front and set a true pace, rolling through the back stretch at a good clip. Zenon soon settled behind the leader with Aggregated up with the pace. The rest were not too far away, Lady in Lace was in the mid-pack; Rochester made gradual progress to gallop alongside the Lady, while Manifold and favourite Prevalent Force were well off the pace, closer to the rear.

Daffodils surrendered the lead to Zenon soon on turning for home. Zenon shaped well but when Lady In Lace came along, Zenon was no match. Lady In Lace and her jockey Suraj had done everything right until then having stolen a march over her chief rivals - Prevalent force and Manifold. She had a definite upper-hand over that duo. However, Rochester had stuck by Lady In Lace all through her steady march forward and it was time to unravel the heady suspense that the Indian Derby has so often sprung in its history. 

Rochester matched Lady In Lace stride for stride with about a furlong to go. And then, amidst high-decibel cheering, he powered ahead of Lady In Lace right in front of the grand stands to pull off a sensational victory leaving the crowd stunned with a marvellous exhibition of speed, stamina and temperament. Lady In Lace was outpaced, however she beat the rest with ease. She showed no ill-effects of her lung infection, and finished an impressive second, beating her main rivals comfortably. Manifold fought her way to third and Prevalent Force hung on to be on the board and redeem some pride.

Jockey CS Jodha reigned supreme after 10 long years of professional riding and keeping a low profile over the decade despite winning with regularity, (well not the ‘big races’ as one would argue), Chotu Singh Jodha becomes the ‘King’ within 2 minutes 29.05 seconds!!!

“Yes it’s been a long while,” says jockey CS Jodha. “I have always been fascinated by the fanfare of the Indian Derby and I have to admit I have been fantasizing about winning this one race like no other. I have had very few opportunities in the Classics and when Rochester won the Ruia Cup beating Castlebridge, I was very excited. Rochester had finished on full of steam and I felt he had the stamina to stay the Derby trip. I had developed a good partnership with Rochester and we had a good understanding. He now knows the winning moments and he picks up speed more or less on his own a furlong from home.  That’s what he did this time too,” said Chotu Singh Jodha.

Pressed for more inputs from the saddle during the race, Chotu added, “I wanted to time his run on my own terms rather than wait or see what the others were doing. I always felt Lady In lace was my main threat and midway in the race I decided to stick by her. That gut-feeling paid off I think. We were together turning for home. I will admit honestly that I was getting a tad nervous at that time with that entire crowd screaming. Somewhere in my mind, I knew everything had gone on well in the race that far. The nervousness disappeared and I began to concentrate harder on the race. Rochester had a lot in hand with a furlong and half to go, that is when I felt that we could do it…its was now or never. That confidence renewed the energy in me and knowing Rochester, I urged him to give it his all. Rochester did it for all of us and he is the real hero,” said Jodha, jubilance writ large on his face.

“I am still to come to terms with it. My family, my kids called me and that was very emotional. I got a lot of calls from trainers, and fellow jockeys, I am enjoying this moment like never before. I want to thank the owners and trainer Sunderji for their faith in me, the stable staff for support and the sportive crowd for giving Rochester and me a standing ovation. This is what I used to dream about, when it turns to reality, its’ indescribable. I am indebted to Rochester; he will be my hero for the rest of my life, “concluded Jodha, expressing his honest thoughts on his first Indian classic conquest exclusively to indiarace.com.

For Shiraz Sunderji, this was his moment in the sun and about time too. He had missed out twice earlier. First when he handed the charge of his horse Desert Warrior to fellow-trainer Altaf Hussain who enjoyed the fortune of leading-in Desert Warrior after his triumph in the Indian Derby 1990 and then again when his ward Ocean and Beyond lost narrowly to Moonlight Romance.  However, Rochester wiped out all those glum memories and presented Shiraz the ecstatic feeling of leading-in his new champion bay four-year-old colt in the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby (Gr1) 2018.  

Rochester also rubbished the notion that his sire Phoenix Tower’s progenies find it difficult to go the distance.

For sporting owner and prominent breeder Shapoor Mistry, who has a share in Rochester, this was a memorable victory. Shapoor got the top two positions with his Lady In Lace finishing runner-up. Rochester was bred at the Manjri Stud Farm owned by Mr Mistry.

The RWITC combined with the Kingfisher team showcased the race befitting an event that is unmatched in the sport of horseracing. Dr Ram Shroff, the Marketing head honcho of the Club was visibly pleased with the foot-falls and the assorted entertainment lined-up for the weekend. His initiative on the popular ‘Quinella ka Dhamaka’ and the ‘Race ka Raja’ contests provided a big opportunity for the masses to claim grand prizes.

“I am happy that the entire weekend was well received by the people and everybody had something to cheer. The jackpot pool gross was at a record high with close to Rs 1.44 Crore in the kitty, an amount never before collected.  I thank the UB Group for their support and sponsorship which makes the race the most sought after race not only in Mumbai city, but all over the country,” said Dr Shroff.

Mr Khushroo Dhunjibhoy Chairman, RWITC was delighted with the way the weekend culminated. “Yes, this has been a successful weekend. We had a crowd of around 20,000 and I am sure they had an entertaining weekend too. This race attracts people from all walks of life to our club. Everybody had a great time; there was good music playing all through the two days, delectable food and some hard-core racing action on the turf. It is highly satisfying that we managed to provide a complete package that those who witnessed the races will cherish for long,” quipped Mr Dhunjibhoy.

Rochester has now carved a niche’ for himself. His triumph in the most testing race of the land is even more commendable with his tale laced with serious life-threatening setback so early in his life. He was an underdog, partnered by a jockey who had never won a classic in his career spanning nine or ten years. They came up against all odds and reaped rich rewards.

Bravo Rochester and team – well done!