Sunday, September 5, 2010

Harresh Mehta talks about his Tipperary success: India-based owners blazing new trail abroad

Harresh Mehta is not lacking in one very special trait. He is endowed with an abundant spirit of adventure. In a relatively short time, Mr Mehta has become one of the better known race horse owners in India and in March of this year, saw his Becket get the better of the all-conquering Jacqueline in the Invitation Cup at Mahalakshmi.

I got to know Harresh Mehta well in September 2007. Holding Court, who won many a big prize for Mehta in India, ventured into the Windy City for a tilt at a Listed race that attracted a millionaire and other accomplished runners. Holding Court had been invited to race in the Arlington Million that year but a quarantine conundrum pushed back his arrival date in Chicago. Trainer Padmanabhan checked in early to oversee the preparation of his trainee. I got to spend time with Mr Mehta. E T Baird was aboard the Mehta-owned runner and the pair was in striking range, appeared to take charge of the situation in the final turn and faltered in the drive. The American experiment did not work out well and it was, later, discovered that Holding Court had been suffering from physical problems. Harresh Mehta takes on tasks that others dare not.

Not long ago, I wrote about a Dhunjibhoy-Shirke-Desai-owned horse, Jehanbux, winning at Sandown Park in England. Now, there is another runner, a mare, who is bringing glory to an India-based owner. Harresh Mehta’s Fourpenny Lane, in foal to Verglas, ran out a convincing winner in the Irish Stallions Farms Fairy Bridge Stakes at Tipperary on Thursday, August 26, 2010. Rory Cleary, a jockey fans in India should be familiar with, was aboard the five year-old mare. Joanna Morgan was the winning trainer.

Eleven distaffers ran in the 1500-metre grass race. Fourpenny Lane ran on determinedly in the lane to win by a length and a quarter in a time of 1 31.31 seconds. A 5-1 chance, Fourpenny Lane beat several distinguished adversaries including Gile Na Greine, a Jim Bolger-trained runner and the 3/2 favorite, who faded late to be tenth. Fourpenny Lane is by Efisio out of Makara by Lion Cavern. Her career statistics are impressive. From 37 starts, Fourpenny Lane has a 6-4-6 record for earnings of 122,452 pounds. She is now bound for India. She will be a broodmare in the Sohna Stud Farm. Fourpenny Lane was bought for 100,000 euros in the Goffs November Breeding Stock Sale in November last year. That translates into 148.700 US dollars. Efisio is by Formidable who is by the incomparable Forli. Efisio’s dam is Eldoref who is by High Top.

Trainer Joanna Morgan was sad to part company with Fourpenny Lane. “She’s probably the best filly in foal to be sent to India and was the most expensive to be sold at that auction. I am thrilled.”

Mr Mehta was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me on the phone. Despite two interruptions, we managed to complete the conversation.

“I bought her last November. She came well recommended. We took her to Dubai to take our chances at the Meydan. She raced three times there. I believe she was not at home on the new track. She did not do as well as I had expected,” Mr Mehta began.

“Fourpenny Lane was covered by Verglas in the spring. She was in foal. Her form was such that we thought of taking one last chance. In her two starts before the Tipperary win, she had done very well. It was not a surprise to me that she won. We had the benefit of a pacemaker and our plan worked perfect. She will come to India late October-early November. I am hopeful she will meet our expectations,” Mehta continued.

The conversation turned to racing in India. “I have a lot of optimism about Balmoral Castle with Padmanabhan. Balmoral Castle won the Million race in Mysore. Another I think would do well is Celestial Way. Suraj Narredu will be my main rider. I am not using any foreign jockeys. Suraj’s partnership has worked well. “

I asked Mr Mehta if I will see him in Paris for the Arc in early October. “Yes, Tom, I am coming for the Arc. I look forward to seeing you there,” he concluded.

A thought on Fourpenny Lane’s progressive trend in her last four outings. She was seventh at the Curragh followed by a sixth place finish. At Gowran Park, she was beaten one half length in a confidence-generating effort. A third place finish followed at Killarney when Fourlane Penny was behind Steinbeck. She bid a winning farewell to Ireland in that Tipperary start.

The Dhunjibhoy combine set the ball rolling. Harresh Mehta has now stepped into the spotlight. Who’s next?

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