SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER //
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
!— Global site tag (gtag.js) - Google Analytics —>
BRINGING ASIAN RACING TO THE WORLD
India’s top jockey is expanding his overseas experience in Australia this autumn and is already making connections at Cranbourne.
India’s standout rider Suraj Narredu was at Cranbourne early last Friday forging relationships he hopes will ensure his time in Australia this autumn is as rewarding as possible, and perhaps open doors to future opportunities.
“The main reason that I want to come to Australia (at) this time is to test the waters,” Narredu told Asian Racing Report at the outset of what he intends will be a three-month stay. “I have achieved whatever I can in my homeland and I want to step into a new territory to explore myself as a rider.
“I’d like to have as many wins abroad as I can, outside of India, that’s the primary reason I am coming. It’s important to have a great experience in your CV, in your racing records.”
Narredu’s desire to achieve ‘something bigger’ in Australia is such that he sacrificed the Kolkata championship to make the move. At the time of his departure he was second in the standings and gave up three winning rides at the second-last fixture to meet his commitment to go to Victoria, leaving him one winner behind Imran Christy with one meeting remaining.
“A good season here will all be worth the sacrifice,” he said.
Suraj Narredu with his 2019 Indian Derby winner Star Superior. (Photo supplied)
Narredu has undertaken similar off-season stints before, to the US, Europe and across Asia, usually for only a few weeks at a time, but this time he is hoping to make more of the experience. His arrival in Australia comes about nine months after his cousin, Neeraj Rawal, made rare headlines for an Indian rider visiting Britain when he had two winners from only nine rides, based out of the powerful Mark and Charlie Johnston stable.
Rawal is a ‘name’ jockey in India, but Narredu is the biggest. Yet that means only so much when transplanted to such a large and competitive arena as Victorian racing, let alone Australian racing more broadly.
Knowing it will take a lot of effort on his part, and then some, to make it work, he has lost little time in getting to work. After landing in Victoria on Wednesday he took Thursday to sleep off some jet lag before he headed to the track the next morning.
“I rode five (Friday), I rode four for Mick Kent and one for Julius Sandhu,” he said, noting that Sandhu has been a great help in supporting him and sponsoring his visa but that he is freelance and not ‘attached’ to the stable. “I’m just trying to build relationships so I went and met a few of the other trainers as well, and hopefully I can start riding out for more of them and get some rides from them as well.
“It was good to get back into it because there hadn’t been a lot of trackwork at home in the last couple of weeks. The first weekend in March is the big weekend, the Invitation Cup weekend, and after that the season starts coming to an end, so there’s much less trackwork going on. Luckily, I rode on April 1, so I’ve not had too much of a break from racing.”
Narredu comes from a storied racing family: his father, Satish Narredu, and his uncle, Malesh Narredu, were elite jockeys and both are now trainers, and some of his cousins ride or train as well. He is is one of India’s most decorated jockeys of all-time with more than 2,000 wins on the board, featuring a host of victories in Indian majors: more than 80 Classics and three Indian Derby wins included; he has also won India’s all-age championship race, the Invitation Cup, on Alluring Silver (2021) and Becket (2010).
While he knows he is “stepping into a new territory” and will need to earn trust, at the same time, given his status and achievements at home, he does not feel under pressure to convince anyone that he is up to the task.
“In one sense, I don’t have to prove anything, it’s more of a personal satisfaction for me,” he said. “My dream is to ride in races and compete at the best tracks in the world. I don’t feel out of place, Australia was always in the back of my mind, that I need to come here and ride some winners here because it’s one of the premier racing centres in the world. They’ve got a huge recognition worldwide and it’s a big place to have your mark on, if you can do decently well here, it makes a lot of difference.
“I think it’s better for me to take it as it comes along because if it doesn’t come my way, I don’t want to be too disappointed, so I’m going to take it as an experience and exposure to try and learn as much as I can.”
Suraj Narredu and Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. (Photo supplied)
That is how he has approached things in the past on his overseas working trips. In 2010 he based at the famous but now defunct Arlington Park in Chicago, which he related sadly “was such a beautiful track; one of the best racecourses I have ever seen.” He has also ridden in Malaysia, Macau, France, and, notably Ireland in 2019 before Covid put a halt to his off-season travel.
“When you work with good trainers and ride with fantastic jockeys, you always pick up new things. And they always try to get the best out of you, which is a big plus point for me,” he noted.
“I went to Ireland for less than a full month and I did a week with Aidan O’Brien, a few days with Joseph O’Brien and some time with John Feane, he gave me a couple of rides there, and then a couple of days with John Oxx, so it was brief, a quick go and come back, but I had a good time. My best period there was being able to see how Aidan O’Brien works and what Joseph does, how they handle so many horses.”
That type of exposure to international heavyweights is an important element of his overseas stints; gleaning knowledge that will not only enhance his own horsemanship but also help the Narredu operations back in India.
“My father, my uncle and my cousin train and we have about 100 to 150 horses, so I try as much as I can to accumulate and learn from these trainers and then go back and tell them, this is what they did, this how they have done things, so a lot of things I pick up I try to apply them in our training centre,” he said.
Suraj Narredu boots home Star Superior. (Photo supplied)
But at 38 he is very much focused on being a jockey and has no plans to join the trainer ranks himself.
“I would like to ride as long as I can,” he said. “The two biggest things for a jockey to quit riding are weight and injuries and if both of those things are fine then I’d like to keep riding for as long as I can. We have a good yard, we buy the best bloodstock available in India, we are a team in some ways, my dad, my uncle, and my cousin as well, and someone has to ride the horses, so I’d like to go on as long as I can.”
However, right now Indian racing has its struggles due to the government imposition of a hefty 28 percent betting tax that has hit turnover and affected the racing clubs’ coffers.
“Racing (in India) is kind of walking on tightropes, because for five or six years we have had the GST, that taxation coming in, and it’s made a lot of difference in terms of stake money and in terms of the racing industry not growing as much as it would have been normally. Nevertheless, we are coming back; there are talks going on with the government to reduce the taxes on racing,” he said.
“In the late 2000s we had four or five years of top racing; we had well-bred horses from around the world, from Europe, coming in, horses like Be Safe and Quasar did very well, very well-bred. That’s the scenario just now in India, we’re a little bit in the doldrums but they’re picking up.”
Suraj Narredu remains hopeful of a resurgence in Indian racing. (Photo supplied)
And, in that vein, he hopes that during his time in Australia he will be able to do his bit to improve awareness of Indian racing.
“I’m travelling the world to better myself, to learn something. If I can have a lot of winners in these places it’s a great thing personally, but not only that, it’ll be a great boost for Indian jockeys and the Indian racing industry as well,” he said.
He reveals that his “favourite” jockeys are Frankie Dettori and Joao Moreira, that he is a “big fan” of their styles of riding and “the way they can get the best out of a horse,” but he also has admiration for Australian riders, notably James McDonald and Jamie Kah.
“I like the way they position their horses and the way they finish with their horses, they’re very smooth. There’s a lot of things to learn,” he said.
But he also made the point that India has good jockeys too, that the racing there has a long history going back to its introduction by the British in the 18th century. The point raises the question of how good India’s top riders are in relation to Australian jockeys.
Trevor Patel enjoyed some success in Queensland back in 2017 but even Narredu cannot recall another Indian jockey that tried to have a go in Australia.
“We’ve got talent,” he said. “We’ve got good riders, really good, and given the opportunity they can prove themselves anywhere in the world, I’m sure about that.
“If you have the talent,” he added, “You just need the support.”
Cyrus Poonawalla: horse breeder and vaccine king
Neeraj Rawal blazing a trail for Indian jockeys
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX