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Carrying on the Narredu Legacy
Recently I was in Bangalore for a shoot, and decided to watch the IPL final between the Deccan Chargers and Royal Challengers with my friend Suraj Narredu. Hailing from the garden city and currently retained to Dr Vijay Mallya, I assumed he would be supporting the Challengers, but his answer took me by surprise. “I can’t take sides because I won my first graded race in Dr. Mallya’s colours on Classical Act and my first classic on Coral Gables for the Reddys. I will be happy if either of the teams wins.”
Maturity well beyond his years, a flamboyant riding style which has won him many an admirer, and an extraordinary grasp of this game are all contributing factors to this jockeys’ success. 13 champion jockey trophies, achieved at three different centres across the country adorn his mantelpiece, which is a remarkable feat considering the lad has been in the saddle for a mere 7 years. Add to that the fact that he is probably one of the fastest jockey’s (in terms of mounts ridden) to complete 800+ winners. No stranger to graded or classic success, this saddle artist has notched up 14 classics and several graded victories along the way to ensure that he constantly remains in the limelight.
With one more Bangalore championship looking securely in his grasp, this seems like the ideal time to allow our readers an insight into what drives Suraj Narredu. Not one to rest on his laurels, he took out time to chat about how it all began, and where he sees it going.
“I started riding at the BARI riding school in Bangalore when I was 12 years old. Lots of top jockeys like Y.S.Srinath and K.P.G. Appu were fine products of that school. I was always interested in racing because of dad (Sathish Narredu) and uncle (Malesh Narredu). Surprisingly they never wanted me to get into this game, probably because they knew how fickle this sport can be… but when it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood! Immediately after my 10th standard board exams I informed them I wanted to be a jockey.”
The apprenticeship phase in any horseman’s career is often a rigorous and grueling time… so too for Suraj. After getting his license he didn’t win or even make the board on any of his mounts for 3 – 4 months. He recalls an incident which brought him to tears in the Bangalore paddock many years ago. “I
was riding my first 2400m race and finished last…detached last. Trainer Z. Darashah came up to me while I was unsaddling and said, ‘You think you are Pesi Shroff or Aslam Kader? What sort of rubbish ride was that?!! Go back to college and find another profession!’ I just burst into tears and felt awful but that incident really egged me on to improve.”
One would assume that with a father and an uncle who have won almost 3000 races between them and have been at the helm of racing for 20 years, Suraj wouldn’t need to look far for inspiration…but strange things happen in this game, both on and off the track.
“If it weren’t for Frankie Dettori, I wouldn’t be in this game. He inspired me to become a jockey and fall in love with this game. I watched his ‘Magnificent 7’ tape where he won the entire race card at Royal Ascot and that was the defining moment where I knew who I wanted to emulate. My greatest desire is to win an entire race card exactly like him”.
As unlikely as that may sound, it is not impossible for this jockey who has won 5 races in a day on more than one occasion, and at the height of the winter racing seasons is shuttling between at least three centres every week. Race goers in Hyderabad will never forget the first appearance he made on their track, where out of the 6 mounts he was declared to ride, he went on to win 5 races and finish a short head second on the 6th. He also won the champion jockey trophy that season. Today, considered the top jockey at the centre, he can command a mount fee as
grueling 10 hour bus journey from Bangalore all the way to Hyderabad and back. At that time no owners were willing to offer me airfare as I still had a lot to prove… I had to prove to them that the 3rd Narredu deserves to be in this game. I was very tense about ruining the family’s hardearned reputations by not performing. But after I was champion in my first season, there was no looking back.”
Ironically when Suraj moved to Prasad Raju’s stable, the duo paired up magnificently to dethrone Leo D’Silva, and give Prasad his first trainer championship. Says Prasad, “It was a wonderful season, and Suraj rode more than 80% of my winners. He was already champion jockey, but fought it out till the last day for my trainer’s championship. We share a great rapport and friendship and he is constantly improving as a jockey.”
And how the tables have turned today! His uncle Malesh actually consults Suraj regarding which mounts to accept. His father Sathish entrusted his classic wards such as Super Speed in his capable hands and there is no doubt that the Narredu legacy is only being enhanced. Over the last few years, Suraj has ridden and won races in Malaysia, Dubai and Macau but still feels he has a lot more to achieve.
“In this game you are only as good as your last winner. A high strike rate is of paramount importance and choosing your rides meticulously, coupled with good race strategy always helps. Sometimes races don’t go according to plan and at those times every jockey must have Plan B.”
“The top Indian jockey today is Malesh Narredu, not because he is my uncle, but because of his commitment and dedication to the game. Also he has a really great big-race temperament. I have a very healthy rivalry with him on the track and that is very good for both of us. The top trainers in the country are Darius and R.R.Byramji. They have the knack of keeping a horse going on the boil for amazingly extended periods and when the horses are prepared, there is very little to do on the track. If some day people talk about these legends and me in the same breath, I would be humbly honoured”.
well as business class airfare and accommodation… but it wasn’t always that easy.
“When Leo D’Silva offered me my first job in Hyderabad, I was very young and inexperienced. He gave me 3 things. A job, an opportunity and finally a bus ticket! So for the entire first season I would take a
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