• Manifold wins The Fillies Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
  • Castlebridge wins The Colts Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
  • Manifold wins The Kingfisher Ultra Derby Bangalore (Gr.1)
INDIAN TURF INVITATION CUP, Gr.1
KOLKATA
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Tuesday 26 Feb 2013
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

Those who play bridge will understand if the hand you are dealt with is compared to a pedigree of the horse. Both are indicators of potential. A  reasonably good player will make the contract; a good player will make an over trick; a master will probably bid and make a slam while a poor player will go down. It is not the hand which is at fault; it is the playing of it which is. So also with a pedigree. A good trainer maximises the potential; a great trainer goes one better while a an average trainer obtains just fair results.  Pedigree is a poor tool to pick a winner in race where the horses have been racing for over a year and on an average run about eight times each. Their performance indicates what they have actually inherited as against what they should have. The dam of a Derby runner doesn't suddenly become important on the Derby day unless he is a horse who has never essayed the distance before. Even then, his style of running says more than his mere pedigree.

After four months of skirmishing since the start of the winter seasons, we now go forth to Calcutta for the Armageddon. The battle royale which will decide the Horse of the Year - the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1. new ground will be broken at Calcutta on 3 March because this year the older horses will also be in the fray. Thus, the first question which needs to be asked and answered is who has the edge ? The Classic Crop or the Older Generations ?

Since the Classic Crop outnumbers the older horses, it is perhaps preferable to consider it first. The general consensus is that this is a poor crop. (So was the previous one, redeemed somewhat by the overwhelming superiority of the star filly In The Spotlight). That popular notion is probably based on the fact that in the absence of a stand-out performer, they have all taken their turns at winning. It was lent further credence when the favourite for the Indian Derby could be backed at the odds of 6/1. Never before has the favourite for that race started at such long odds. Someone who turned up fighting fit and had the luck of the race ended up winning. That leads us to the next question - Will this trend continue ?

If the answer to that question is 'yes', then it follows that Super Storm, the winner of the Indian Derby, is likely to be toppled. Super Storm can't be called a lucky winner of the race; but, there were two or three runners who were distinctly unlucky that day. Machiavellianism broke a blood vessel, Wind Stream was bumped twice during the run-in and An Acquired Taste was badly hemmed in. There were no hard luck stories as far as Hemisphere is concerned and his late run after rounding the field in the straight was eye-catching. In retrospect, it appears that he was given easy runs in the 2000 and the Ruia with a view to bring him on. The Derby run brings him into the contention. His dam is by the sprinter Statoblest but the further sequence of Be My Guest-Riverman-Green Dancer has class and enough stamina for a contest like this one and he traces to an elite tap-root in Pearl Maiden. Incidentally, Statoblest is a son of Ahonoora who was also a speedy customer. Ahonoora, however, is the sire of an Epsom Derby winner in Dr. Devious and the damsire of another in New Approach.

The other members of the Classic generation has been discussed in detail over the last few months and there is nothing new that needs to be added now. Yes. Even the dam of Super Storm has been discussed. You simply have to go through the previous Previews. The current form is all too well know to the viewers to warrant a mention. It would be no surprise if any one from Super Storm, Wind Stream, Hemisphere, An Acquired Taste, Shivalik Hero (his poor Derby run needs to be overlooked in view of his consistent form earlier), Red Baron (after all, he has already scalped Super Storm)  and Tintannabulation were to win. The poser is, whose turn is it now ?

There will be many who, looking at the mediocrity of the 2009 crop, will fancy the chances of the older horses. They have an advantage on their side in that they have to sift through a lesser number. Dandified has a much better chance to win the Major P.K. Mehra Memorial Super Mile, Gr.1 than of lifting the Invitation Cup and since they will both be run on the same day, his connections will to make a choice. The stable talk, though, is that Dandified will take his chance in the Big 'Un. He has raced just once over the trip previously when he finished almost a distance behind In The Spotlight. So Toroloco, who has beaten the Champion Filly once and twice finished much closer to her, will have an obvious edge. Sometimes, the schemes of the Khaitan camp are baffling but there have been occasions in the past when they have borne fruit

Toroloco is a horse who has done nothing wrong in his career of 11 runs. He has won seven of them and was on board in the remaining four. He was fourth last year in the AKK Entertainment Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1 at Bangalore behind In The Spotlight, Smashing and Southern Glory. Three months later, enjoying a slight pull in the weights, he turned the tables on Smashing and In The Spotlight in the Novotel Maharaja's Cup, Gr.2. In The Spotlight, however, extracted a quick revenge with a comfortable victory in the Bangalore St. Leger, Gr.2. Beaten a head by Hills and Stars in the Governor's Cup, Gr.3, he has won his last two starts well. He has run well over longer distances which is a surprise (as is the case with Super Storm) given his high Dosage Index. Both the sons of Rebuttal are inbred 4x5x3 to Mr. Prospector with the Claiborne stalwart occupying exactly the same position in the pedigree.

Onassis comes off a win in the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Eclipse Stakes of India, Gr.2 at an ideal time. His nine career wins have all been gained at 2000 m. or less and the extra 400 m. here won't be exactly to his advantage. Ocean and Beyond had to wait 11 months and 10 starts to post his first win after winning the R.R. Ruia Gold Cup, Gr.2. That victory came at Calcutta in the Nanoli Stud Calcutta Gold Cup, Gr.2 and he has followed it up with another in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Gr.3. Like Toroloco and Onassis, he has been a genuine, whole hearted contender. It could be that his recent good run is due to racing in Calcutta where the opposition is less testing. Back to his best, he is capable of adding spice to the race. On pedigree (his dam is a staying daughter of Sadler's Wells), he has better credentials to be competitive over the distance though his best wins have been over 2000 m.

The first open Invitation Cup is numerically stacked in favour of the Classic generation. Jacqueline, Moonlight Romance and In The Spotlight were the stars of their years. Onassis, Ocean and Beyond and Toroloco, who represent those generations, were definitely more than a touch below the best of their vintage. Certainly, the older horses have added a new dimension to the race though there will inevitably be questions if changing the format for the sake of just three horses represents "moving with the times" or is more akin to mere "tinkering".

The concept of "Battle of Generations"  is all right for other countries where the horses mature faster and are far more durable. It is the three year-olds which contest their Derbys; not four year-old as in India. It is always good to be innovative and implement new ideas. However, before doing so, it is vitally important to carry out a reality check. The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe has obviously been at the back of the mind of our Authorities when they decided to open the Invitation Cup. It is also appears reasonable to assume that they failed to do their homework. In the last five years from Zarkava to Solemia, there were 87 runners in the Arc. The Classic generation contributed 35 of those runners while the older generations outnumbered them with 52. Still, 35 against 52 is not as lopsided as 11 versus 3 which will obtain in Calcutta. (Participation of either Snowscape or Dandified in the race will not make it any more balanced). To be fair, the statistics of just one year are insufficient to form a conclusive judgement. If the trend of the Classic generation dwarfing the number of older horses continues for some years, it is hoped that the Authorities revert to status quo ante.

The most consistent horse of the Classic crop, Wind Stream - as well from the older generations – Toroloco - are both trained by Irfan Ghatala. He obviously holds the key for the grand finale of a year in which the form book has been torn to shreds by a string of long priced winners.

PAST THE POST

One immediate result of the "open" Invitation Cup is that the race can no longer be termed a "Classic". Classics are traditionally contested by a single crop so an open race loses its "Classic" tag. Of course, in a country where there is a plethora  Classics, one Classic more or less is not a matter of concern to anyone. It is also possible that even the open Invitation Cup will continue to be called a Classic.