A familiar face stopped Indian jockey Yenangur Surender (YS) Srinath in his tracks as he caught a glimpse of a photo hung on the wall of the Mauritius Turf Club jockeys’ room on Thursday.
It was a yellowed photo of the international jockey line-up at the Mauritius jockeys’ challenge circa 1999.

Prakash Bhosle then represented India at the annual contest, claimed that year by Mauritius stalwart Glen Hatt. Bhosle might not have been the brightest spark to have carried the Indian flag at the series (he did not score a single point in seven rides), but Srinath still felt a strong connection.

The dual Bangalore and Mysore champion jockey (both three times) was proud to be the 15th Indian jockey to test his mettle at a contest which, whilst not an overseas meeting Indians can wager on, has increasingly received exposure in its riding ranks through past participants like Chandrakant Rajendra (only overall winner from India in 1996), Suraj Narredu (2009), or more recently Pradeep Chouhan (2017), Trevor Patel (2015) and Akshay Kumar (2018).

It is actually Patel who helped Srinath, 43, gain the coveted ticket.

Digging into his scrambled egg over breakfast with his young family at The Ravenala Attitude Hotel on Thursday morning, the 1000-odd-race winner in a 25-year-long career was thankful for the opportunity, but mostly privileged to be the one whose number has come up.

“It’s a great honour and privilege to be here in Mauritius. I didn’t watch the series keenly, but when the boys came back, we would ask them if they won a race,” said Srinath, a regular Top 10 finisher on the national log in the last 15 years.

“I saw P Bhosle as one of the international jockeys in a photo at the Champ de Mars this morning. I rode with Prakash in Bangalore in my younger days, and I remember he said he didn’t finish in the placings in Mauritius.

“Prakash, who unfortunately passed on last year, was a good jockey and that goes to show how a lot depends on your luck in such series.

“Trevor Patel was the one who asked me if I’d be keen to come over. He was approached, but he broke his collarbone and couldn’t make it.

“I had five rides lined up in Bangalore today (Friday), but I got off those rides and I was then able to accept the invitation.”

Srinath, whose late father was a former amateur jockey and former Bangalore Turf Club chairman, landed in Mauritius on Wednesday along with his Dutch wife Janneka and two young daughters Faye, 7, and Suri, 4. While they look like any family on a summer holiday, the consummate professional in Srinath had no switched off from working mode.

On Thursday, the rather lanky rider but who still walks around at only 55kgs was the only of the six invited jockeys (other six are already riding in Mauritius) to get out of bed at his idyllic resort to ride trackwork at the Champ de Mars.

“It’s a tight turning track, and it’s common knowledge that the best way to ride such a track is to go straight to the rails,” said Srinath who rode three horses, including Saturday ride Red Mars.

“The Champ de Mars reminds me of a track in India called Ooty, about 400km from Bangalore. It also has a very short straight, even shorter.

“The one here is 275m long and goes uphill, so you need to be in a good position. By the road at the 600m, you need to know where you have to be, or it’s hard to win a race.

“I’m grateful to Jameer Allyhosain who walked one lap of the track with me, and it was very kind of him to give me a few pointers. I also have to commend the grounds staff for having kept the inside portion of the track in good condition.

“As for the horses I rode, Red Mars felt fresh and quite fit. I think he’ll go well, while I didn’t ride Power Tower, but I was told he is one of my better chances.”

If the Champ de Mars reconnaissance was a very educational guide for the multiple Group 1 winner (2014 Indian Derby with Alaindair and three Invitation Cups, including Adjudicate this year as his most career highlights), the one Mauritius racing idiosyncrasy that blew him away was the little crowd of racing fans at trackwork – a foretaste of the electric atmosphere awaiting him over the weekend.

“Mauritians are very enthusiastic and passionate about racing here. They shout your name from over the fence, even at trackwork, and it’s quite interesting to see that!” said Srinath.

“I’ve heard there are lots more spectators on raceday and I’m really looking forward to that as well.

“I don’t really ride overseas a lot these days, but I did ride in Macau (28 winners in 2000 for an Indian record of the first rider to have ridden over 25 winners overseas), Philippines and Dubai.

“In Dubai, my best race was with top sprinting mare Oasis Star (trained by CD Katrak) in a Class 1 race at Meydan. She had a rating of 125 in India and was given a rating of 112 in Dubai, and she finished second.

“Mauritius is the fifth country I am riding in, and I can only hope I can get lucky over the weekend.”

 

 

 

 

Michael Lee