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Joyride of a lifetime for Sandesh - By Michael Lee

Posted on - 06 Dec 2014

Joyride of a lifetime for Sandesh
By Michael Lee
While all boys love cars, Akhade Sandesh had no idea what one looked like. But throw him over a horse; he for one could talk about the rush he felt when bobbing up on their backs galloping at warped speed on the rocky roads of Matheran.  

Mumbai’s four-time champion jockey grew up in the Maharashtra hill station, which is famous for being automobile-free as decreed by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forest. He went to school on horseback as he did not know any other form of transportation, more so when his father himself ran such a horse joyride and rickshaw business.

Sandesh could have been helping his father out today and even take over the business one day. But a fortuitous visit by one of his father’s friends changed his life, albeit horses were still a central part of that new chapter - but more as a joyride to many winning posts and racing stardom.

His father’s friend was Mr Iqbal Nathani, a prominent horse owner from Mumbai, who spotted the young boy’s raw riding skills during a visit to his hometown.

The two friends spoke over a hot Indian chai, and Sandesh was soon on his way to trainer Rehanullah Khan’s Mumbai stables. The rest is as they say history.

The young rickshaw rider from Matheran became the overnight sensation of Mumbai and Pune, flying through his apprenticeship in 2 ½ years, winning five champion titles, one as an apprentice and four as a senior rider.

“In Matheran, we have no vehicles. People ride horses to go from point A to B, and I myself  have been riding horses since I was a kid, but I never thought I’d become a jockey one day,” said Sandesh, who is one of 12 jockeys riding at the International Jockeys’ Weekend this Saturday and Sunday in Mauritius.

“One of India’s riding legends actually came from Matheran, Vasant Shinde. He was even better than Aslam Kader and Pesi Shroff.

“I hope to become as good as Shinde one day. In any case, my parents are already very proud of me and what I’ve achieved.”

The 23-year-old certainly rides beyond his years as evidenced by his tally of 418 winners including his last, Made To Measure last Sunday. But it is his flattering roll of honour in India’s classics that really speaks volumes about his meteoric rise and prodigious talent as eulogised by many Indian racing pundits. 

Sandesh boasts several Group 1 wins to his name, including among others, the Bangalore Derby on his favourite horse Alaindair, the Mysore Derby aboard Bold Majesty and the Indian St Leger with An Acquired Taste, though the one achievement that really stood him out is when he rewrote the Indian racing history books last year, riding 151 winners in one season.

His talent has not escaped the eye of not just the Indian racing industry, but from other shores as well.

“Richard Hughes often rides in India and he got me to ride for trainer Richard Hannon in England last year,” said Sandesh.

“I had only three rides and did not ride any winner, but it was a great experience.”

The English stint sure helped hone his craft further. Sandesh was a lot more successful at his next overseas adventure, in the Macau Apprentice Jockeys Invitation Races (same series Niven Marday participated in and won one race) last month, coming away with an all-the-way win aboard So Sweet in one of the supporting races, making him a proven quantity in jockeys’ challenges which should put him in good stead for the Champ de Mars joust this weekend.

“I eventually went to Macau as a senior jockey because the series was meant to be in May when I was still an apprentice, but it was postponed to November when I had already become a jockey,” he said.

“It was a good experience and I am now looking forward to the one in Mauritius. There are some very good jockeys riding, including Paul Mulrennan whom I know well as he rode in India recently.

“I know Mauritius mostly as a holiday destination as I actually came here as a tourist last year as part of a prize for winning a race at one of the meetings Mr Naresh Gujadhur organised in India.

“But it’s different this time as I’m here to prove Indian jockeys can be competitive. I was told Nordic Warrior was my best chance, but I will go out there and try my best on all of them.”  

Sandesh will even have an edge on 10 of his fellow competitors. He and South African champion apprentice jockey but Mauritian-born Akash Aucharuz took some of their IJW mounts for a spin at the Champ de Mars trackwork on Wednesday.

“I rode six of them. They all felt good,” said Sandesh.
“It’s a small track, which is different to the larger tracks in India, but it should be fine.”

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