A. Sandesh leaves a lasting impression on Mysore
Ace Jockey A. Sandesh was seen in action at the Mysore Derby held this Sunday. He was specially called to ride Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy’s horse 'Bold Majesty.' Sandesh proved his worth as he guided Bold Majesty to a brilliant win.
The Mysore Derby panned out to be a cliffhanger with Spreadeagle ridden by another top Jockey P. Trevor and Bold Majesty being the two fancies engaged in an electric battle, climaxing to a photo finish. Sandesh was at his brilliant best and has left a lasting memory for all those who witnessed the exciting finish.
The young and unassuming lad from Western India was the darling of the mammoth crowd that had turned up to witness the Derby.
Madhukar Bhagawan, Racing Commentator, caught up with Jockey Sandesh for an interview for Star of Mysore. Excerpts...
By Madhukar Bhagawan
SOM: What made you choose a career as a jockey?
Sandesh: My fascination for horses goes a long way back. I am originally from Matheran, one of the most popular hill stations in Maharashtra. Along with its scenic beauty, Matheran attracts tourists for its good weather and joy- rides atop horses and ponies. Like most locals, my father too made a living by offering rides to tourists.
One such tourist was Iqbal Nathani, a passionate race horse owner. My father used to take horses to ferry him and his family up the hill and one day I too joined him and was riding the spare horse along with them. My riding style caught Nathani's eye and I still remember when Nathani Sir walked up to my dad and me and said to me, “You have a good seat and my gut-feeling says that you can succeed as a professional jockey.” He then turned to my dad and said, “Your son should become a jockey when he grows up, I will do all I can to guide him.” I was just a young boy then.
When I turned 15 years of age, my dad reminded Nathani Sir during one of his visits about his offer to guide me in becoming a jockey. Nathani Sir kept his word and soon he took me to his trainer Rehanullah Khan to pick up the ropes of race riding. I worked in Rehan Sir’s stables for almost 2 ½ years before I got an apprentice’s licence. My first learning began here.
I would also like to share a brief tale with regard to my name. My name is Sandesh Akhade. It was at the instance of veteran jockey Vasant Shinde that ‘A.Sandesh’ came into being. Vasant Sir is immensely popular in Matheran and is highly revered by everyone there. We affectionately refer to him as “Appa” in our hometown. He was delighted when he came to know that I was heading to Mumbai to become a jockey. “When you apply for the apprentice jockey school, register your name as A.Sandesh,” he had advised and I did his bidding.
SOM: Do you now feel you have chosen the right profession?
Sandesh: Definitely! Riding is the only activity I know. Being with the horses from an early age, I believe I understand them very well. Riding means everything to me. I was at ease from the very outset. From Sept. 30, 2009, which was when I got my licence, I have ridden over 400 winners to date. The recent Mysore Derby win astride Bold Majesty was my third Derby success, the first two being the Kingfisher Bangalore Derby with Borsalino in 2012 and with Alaindair in 2013. I have won a total of nine classics so far and I am looking forward to add a lot many more.
SOM: Which winner of yours do you rate as the best?
Sandesh: The Governor’s Cup on Hills And Stars in 2012 at Bangalore stands out in my mind. I beat the favourite Toroloco in a thrilling finish.
SOM: Your comments on the different race tracks in the country.
Sandesh: I have ridden in most of the race courses in India. Each track has its own characteristics and one has to adapt to different riding tactics depending upon the course. The Bangalore course has a steep climb. The home stretch at Pune and Kolkata are quite short and so on. The best course according to me is Mahalakshmi, Mumbai. A jockey gets to learn a lot riding in Mumbai. The long straight at Mumbai is the best ‘class room’ for any rider.
SOM: How do you find the Mysore race course?
Sandesh: I haven’t ridden as much here as I have at other race courses. I have had only four winners on this track and two of them have been Classics this season, the Mysore 2000 Guineas on War Command and Bold Majesty now in the Mysore Derby. Mysore is a beautiful city, historic and the race course is one of the most picturesque race courses I have ever seen.
SOM: I am sure you had a plan in place for the Mysore Derby. Won’t you share it with us?
Sandesh: It was a small field. My focus, however, was only Spreadeagle in the race. After all, he had beaten Bold Majesty in the Hyderabad Derby. I was confident I would tackle the other four runners. Our plan was to make sure that Spreadeagle did not have a leeway of more than three to three-and-half lengths on entering the home straight. Spreadeagle did give me a scare as he had that lead entering the home-stretch. I had to ride out real hard to bridge the gap. Bold Majesty too was responding inside the last furlong. I must admit it was a hard task as Spreadeagle too ran a great race. The close finish could have gone either way. I guess I was lucky to win it in almost on the last stride!
At this point, I must also convey my gratitude to Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy and trainer S. Ganapathy for offering me this ride.
SOM: You had a stint in England, how enriching was that experience?
Sandesh: I was in England for almost two months. Once again this was possible due to Iqbal Nathani Sir and trainer Rehanullah Khan Sir for facilitating this trip. They were also kind enough to request Jockey Richard Hughes to make arrangements and speak to the professionals there to provide me opportunities. With his help I got to work under trainer Richard Hannon. It was an educative trip.
SOM: One last question. A jockey is required to have a strict check on his weight. How do you manage this issue?
Sandesh: In that respect I am very lucky. My riding weight is 49 kilograms and my body composition is such that I don’t have any problem in maintaining my weight, thankfully, without many sacrifices.