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Posted on - 03 Feb 2011

By Shailendra Avasthi I TNN
It was a miss between the cup and the lip for Sheraz Sunderji, 21 years ago. A personal problem forced him to give up training after his horse, Desert Warrior, won the Pune derby and was shaping up like a true champion for the Indian Classics in the ensuing Mumbai season (1989-90).
Desert Warrior – the colt he had been grooming from the start – was handed over to another trainer, Altaf Hussain, Desert Warrior went on to win the Indian Derby and the Indian Turf Invitation Cup to find a place among Indian racing’s all-time greats.
Although Sunderji came back to training after an 18-month sabbatical, he never got another champion. Now, it seems, the good old days could come back for Sunderji: his horse, Ocean And Beyond, is among the favourites to win the Derby this Sunday.
“One has to be lucky to get a champion horse,” says Sunderji. “No matter how well bred he is, a horse needs to have that special engine to win the big races. Indian Derby is the ultimate prize and winning it is a dream come true for any trainer,” adds the 50 – year old.
Sheraz, however, doesn’t regret missing out on a Derby triumph with Desert Warrior: “No, I don’t have any regrets. Life must move on,” he says rather calmly.
Ocean And Beyond has all the attributes of a Derby winner, feels Sunderji. “Any champion horse is an intelligent animal. He knows what to do. He is always head and shoulder above others. One just needs to keep him fit and going. They know how to win,” observes Sunderji.
How does one unearth a Derby winner? “They show the attitude. The moment they start cantering, you can instantly make out that they are the best among the lot,” says Sunderji. “I’m grateful to Rakesh Kumar Wadhawan and Prem Tharani for the faith they have shown in me by entrusting Ocean And Beyond to me. He is a cool-headed animal, he knows his job well.”
Ocean And Beyond loves his daily routine and gets upset if there is any deviation. “He will show that he is not enjoying if he feels so. His body language changes, his eyes become sharper,” he says.
Sunderji, however, is well aware of the main challenges to Ocean And Beyond.
“The biggest threat could come from Moonlight Romance who is owner – mate of Ocean And Beyond. She has done nothing wrong and is a stayer.
“Her winning timing in the Indian Oaks was excellent. She is the biggest threat,” feels Sunderji. “Then there is Macchupicchu, who has really improved. There are also a few other contenders.”
Ocean And Beyond could again be ridden by Richard Hughes at the Indian Derby.
Sunderji Saga:

• Started training in Sept 1984 in Pune, gave up towards the end of the Pune season in 1989 for personal reasons. Returned to training after 18 months.

• Won two Indian Classics – the Indian 1000 Guineas with Desert Lightning in 2005 and then the Indian 2000 Guineas with Ocean And Beyond last year.

• Won three Pune Derby crowns with Desert Warrior in 1989; Desert Carnival in 1995 and Ocean And Beyond in 2010.
Sunderji currently trains 52 horses

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