Pat Smullen, champion Irish jockey, targets Indian Derby victory

For Irish champion jockey Pat Smullen, racing in the Indian Derby this Sunday (3 February) was an opportunity he was never going to turn down. The 35-year-old has been the champion jockey of Ireland six times, and has won major races in Europe, the USA and Australia, but still said he would “dearly love to win” in Mumbai

To win the Indian Derby would be something very special for me,” Smullen told Firstpost. “I am sure we are capable of doing so if, God willing, we get some luck.”

Smullen is riding New World, a horse trained by Faisal Abbas. He has been studying tapes of New World and is confident the horse is peaking at just the right time to give him a chance in India’s racing showcase.

 Pat Smullen, champion Irish jockey, targets Indian Derby victory

Pat Smullen. Reuters

“He is one of those mile-and-a-half horses that take time to come to themselves and fill into their frame and into their body. And this is what this horse seems to have done. I always like going into a big race on a horse that is improving, not one that has shown top form at 2 years or early as a 3 year-old [Derby horses are four-year-olds].”

Smullen hails from a small village in the midlands of Ireland and was drawn to racing by his eldest brother, who decided he wanted to work with racehorses. In his own words, he was a late starter, being 10 or 11 before he ever sat on a pony, but once he had there was no turning back. “The first moment I walked into a racing yard, I knew I wanted to be a jockey,” he said.

Like all those who work in the world of horseracing, Smullen’s day typically starts early. He is at work by 7 am at Dermot Weld’s stable in Ireland exercising the horses. Then he goes home and prepares for races, which in the summer take place everyday.

He flew into Mumbai on 31 January to familiarize himself with New World and the track at the Royal Western India Turf Club, but was not concerned about needing time to get used to the horse. “Jockeys have to be capable of adapting to different scenarios very quickly,” he said “So for me that is not an issue. But I have ridden around here before but I think, if you haven’t the ability to adapt to different situations around the world, you are in trouble.”

The best jockeys from around the world, Smullen said, are able to connect immediately with their horse. That is how they get results. “For me personally, it is something that you are born with. I don’t think it is something you can acquire.”

While Indian horses have never been particularly accomplished overseas, Smullen said that racing in the country is viewed positively within the international racing community. That the total prize money for the Indian Derby is a record three crore this year shows that “the rewards are there now for the good trainers and the good jockeys and the good trainers you have,” Smullen said.

There are seventeen runners in this year’s Derby, which means luck will play its part in deciding the winner, Smullen said. “The first run to the bend is quite short so there might be a little bit of congestion going into the bed. So the most important thing is to get into a good position, get into a comfortable rhythm and take it from there.”

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Updated Date: Feb 02, 2013 12:14:39 IST