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    Mathaiyus wins the The Indian St. Leger (Gr.1)
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STAYERS' CUP, Gr.1
KOLKATA
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Thursday 28 Feb 2013
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

The Sprinters' Cup and the Stayers' Cup are traditionally run on the Saturday of the Invitation Cup week-end. The first named race usually has a good-sized field and includes many runners holding a realistic chance of winning. The longer race, however, has a smaller field and usually looks restricted to a fewer fancies. The intriguing part of the Stayers' Cup is that several runners are going over the distance for the first time in their careers and hence the 'unknown' element.

There is nothing 'unknown' about the seven year-old gelding Native Knight (Placerville - Native Tactics). He made his debut as a three year-old in September. His next start was in the Nanoli Stud Pune Derby, Gr.1 where he was third to Versaki and Cabriolet. He then finished 'on board' in the Indian Derby, the Invitation Cup and the Indian St. Leger but he had to wait till he was a five year-old to earn his first winning bracket.and opened his account over 2400 m. in the C.N.Wadia Gold Cup, Gr.2. He has also won the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Eclipse Stakes of India, Gr.2. However, his two Byculla Club Cup victories over 2800 m. and a win in the Suresh Mahindra Trophy, longest race in the country, prove his staying prowess. He has run in two Stayers' Cups before, finishing fourth to Arabian Prince in 2011 and just failing to catch Swiss Don last year. Perhaps, finally his turn has come.

A seven year-old, however, is prone to have an off day and that is exactly what the Team Khaitan will be hoping for. In the last two Invitation Cup week-ends held at Calcutta, the Khaitan colours have crossed winning post first in the Stayers' Cup, Gr.1. The four Calcutta nominees (Abriella, Unleashed, Aerator and as is being envisaged even Snowscape) will all be in the gold red belt colours and poised to mount a serious challenge to complete a hat-trick.

Snowscape (China Visit - Snow Tiger) won the Eveready Calcutta Derby, Gr.1 stylishly and thus had many friends when he went to Mahalakshmi for the McDowell Signature Premier Indian Derby, Gr.1. There he was kept on the rails in what was a very rough race and never found an opening to make his bid. In winning at Calcutta he had gone against what his pedigree presaged and his Indian Derby run gives no clue of his stamina potential. This is the family of Snow, Snow Dew, Southern Charge and others who were brilliant at shorter distances but floundered over a mile and a half.

Snowscape's older bracket-companion Abriella (China Visit - Allaire) has a pedigree that suggests greater stamina. Her dam was a runaway winner of the Kingfisher Indian Oaks, Gr.1. Abriella won seven of her first eight starts but for some reason kept away from the Classics. On her last start, she was well beaten by Ocean and Beyond in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Gr.3 over 2800 m. where Unleashed and Aerator finished behind her. That was an ideal preparation for the Stayers' Cup. On pedigree, the filly should get the nod over the colt. Unleashed and Aerator may be employed to set the pace but with four runners in the fray, the connections have plenty of options regarding the tactics to be used.

Astapi (Placerville - Blurr) was a fair performer in his Classic year without quite reaching the First Division. He is yet to win beyond 2000 m. and the two times that he ventured further, he came up against In The Spotlight, first in the Indian Derby and then in the Indian St. Leger where the filly proved, on an average, about eight lengths his superior. His sire has produced several notable stayers while Glory of Dancer, his damsire, has two Indian Derby winners to his credit.

Last Christmas if anyone had said that Drop of Honey (Brave Act - Chantenay) would be running in the Stayers' Cup, he would have got good odds against it. Two wins since then, the last one in the Stayers' Trial Stakes at Bangalore, sees the seven year-old mare in Calcutta. Drop of Honey, whose sire already has a Stayers' Cup winner in Arabian Knight, made her debut at 5. She is bred to stay but her dam line is not as classy as that of Arabian Knight. Her Bangalore colleagues Spark of Silver and Camorra are yet to win beyond a mile.

Swiss Don won the Stayers' Cup last year to give Hyderabad its first major victory at an Invitation Cup week-end.  This year, L.V.R. Deshmukh has planted the standard at Bangalore and Mumbai. Calcutta is as yet unscathed. Deshmukh is likely to be represented by got-abroads Vijayshaurya (Trade Fair - Troppa Freska) and Vijays Champ (Toccet - Poor Old Eliza) and the pair has a greater appeal than the Bangalore contingent. The older Vijayshaurya's half of six wins have been over 2200 m. (twice) and 2400 m. That suggests that he gets the middle distances well enough. He was third in In The Spotlight's Deccan Derby, Gr.1 last year pegging back Swiss Don into the fourth spot. Two wins in January advertise his fitness and winning form. Vijays Champ made the pace for bracket-mate Tintinnabulation in the Golconda Derby, Gr.1 and still plugged on to claim the runner-up berth. What finished behind him may not have been much but prior to that he had notched up two wins over 2200 m. He is much lower in ratings than his older stable-mate and could be used as a pacemaker. His dam, who placed in a Listed race in Italy, is a half-sister to Royal Gladiator.

There is also Star Marquess (Intikhab - Mawaheb) whose grandam won the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, Gr.1 (French 1000 Guineas). Star Marquess, running in Dr. Ramaswamy's colours, looked a promising sort on paper last year. The potential hasn't quite been translated into performance. It is a little over two years and 19 starts since the only win of his career.   

PAST THE POST

The Stayers' Cup was added to the Invitation Cup week-end a year after the Sprinters' Cup and first run at Chennai in 1981 when that gallant galloper Own Opinion hoisted the winning flag.

Previous winners of the Stayers' Cup at Calcutta are:-

1985 - AZTEC (P. Cook) (1/2 favourite) - Trained by R.R. Byramji

1990 - BRAVE DANCER (R. Corner) (4/6 favourite) - Trained by Vijay Singh

1995 - ASTRONOMIC (Aslam Kader) - Trained by R.R. Byramji. Favourite Beyond Tomorrow 3rd.

2007 - APERITIVO (C. Rajendra) (4/6 favourite) - Trained by Vijay Singh 

When the Invitation Cup week-end was last staged at Calcutta in 2007, favourites won all the four Gr.1 events.