• Lady In Lace wins The Deccan Fillies Championship Stakes (GR.3)
  • Prevalent Force wins The Deccan Colts Championship Stakes (Gr.3)
  • Mathaiyus wins The President Of India Gold Cup (Gr.1)
  • Mathaiyus wins the The Indian St. Leger (Gr.1)
VILLOO POONAWALLA INDIAN OAKS, GR.1
MUMBAI
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Thursday 16 Jan 2014
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

Fourteen fillies have accepted for the Villoo Poonawalla Indian Oaks, Gr.1 to be run for the first time on a Saturday since 1957 when the Rajah of Ramnad's filly Rosalinda, bred at the Poonawalla Farms, prevailed by half a length over the Kunigal-bred Titwillow. Five of those had run in the Deltin Casinos Indian 1000 Guineas, Gr.1 behind the winner Mariinsky; none of them have raced since the year's first Indian Classic. 

The Deltin Casinos Indian 1000 Guineas, Gr.1 winner Mariinsky is a notable absentee. In the last twenty years, only two winners of the mile Classic have been missing from the Oaks line-up - Her Excellency in 2000 and Set Alight in 2009. Her Excellency had already broken down and retired to stud by mid-January while the Oaks was not an intended stop-over in Set Alight's planned route to the Indian Derby. The connections obviously feel that Mariinsky is best around a mile (the Siachen experience may have contributed to that) and will probably be aimed for the Gr.1 plums at the Invitation Cup week-end. 

In the same twenty-year period, there are just three Oaks winners - Thanksgiving (1994), Amazing Bay (1996) and Blue Ribbon (2007) - who had not participated in a Guineas race, two fillies, Santorini Star and Allaire, running in the 2000 Guineas, There have been just six Guineas-Oaks doubles while eleven fillies showed their appreciation of the longer distance by winning the Oaks. Prospects of the fillies who had run in the Indian 1000 are discussed first.  

Circle of Life (Singspiel - Dubai Spirit) has been second in her last three starts. In the Nanoli Stud Pune Derby, Gr.1, she was five lengths adrift of Jeremiah; in her lead-up to the Indian 1000, Murioi beat her by nearly two lengths while giving her 6 kgs. and then she was a similar distance behind Mariinsky. Like Dubawi, the sire of Murioi, Singspiel stood at Dalham Hall Stud after a successful racing career in which he had Gr.1 wins in Japan, Canada, Dubai and England. A Gr.1 winner over 2400m, he commanded a fee of 50,000 Guineas at his peak and has produced several top horses worldwide including Gr.1 winners over 2400 m. Sheikh Mohammed-owned Dubai Spirit raced in the French provinces and won just once over 1600m. She has had five foals abroad of whom two are winners upto a mile. She is closely related to Arazi and Noverre; this is an excellent family, mostly of quality milers. Circle of Life is the highest rated filly in the field and her obvious similarity to Jacqueline is that Pesi Shroff trains her and the same combination of people own her and will most probably be ridden by Richard Hughes as was Jacqueline. 

At the end of last Mumbai season, Murioi was the top colt and Starry Eyes (Multidimensional - Pricewise) was the best of the fair sex. Both fell from the affection of their fans in Bangalore but while Murioi has redeemed himself splendidly, the filly is yet to regain lost ground. She was two and a half lengths behind Circle of Life in the Indian 1000 where her finishing effort appeared tame. Last March, she had given Shroff's filly 3 kgs. and a beating by more than seven lengths in the Forbes Breeders' Juvenile Fillies' Championship, Gr.3. If she is back to that level of fitness, she can reverse the Guineas verdict as she is certain to stay. Wentworth, her brother-in-blood, has just recently won at Mahalakshmi over 2400 m. and Multidimensional has established a new benchmark by becoming the first Freshman Sire to get six individual Classic winners in India. 

A Little over a length behind Starry Eyes came Mint Approach, Keukenhof and Isn't She Special, all pretty close together. Mint Approach (Ace - Endorsement) and Isn't She Special (Ace - Rain Splasher) are, prima facie, bred to stay.The former, who ran a forward race in the Indian 1000 and plugged on to get her number on the board, is a half-sister to Blue Ribbon; the latter is a daughter of the Golconda Oaks, Gr.2 winner Rain Splasher. Their sire Ace placed second, not far behind the winner, in two Gr.1 races over 2400 m. including the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park. While his sire Danehill was himself a sprinter, he has sired several horses who have stayed well and his dam is by Sassafras, a winner of the Arc and Prix Royal-Oak, Gr.1 (3200 m.). Yet, none of Ace's black-type winners have scored beyond a mile. Keukenhof (Multidimensional - Secret Garden) hasn't yet raced beyond a mile. Her dam won 2 races including one over a mile in her very short racing career. Secret Garden is a full-sister to Amber Regent (Bangalore Derby, Gr.1), Star Hopeful (Golconda Derby, Gr.1) and three-parts sister to King's Academy (Calcutta Triple Crown). People would have noticed that Mint Approach is owned by the Villoo Poonawalla Racing Syndicate. 

Of the nine fillies now throwing in their hats, only two really merit consideration. To The Manor Born (Royal Kingdom - Mandara) was unbeaten when being prepared for the Indian 1000. She failed to clean up her manger for a couple of days and the connections decided to skip the first Classic. She looked like extending her winning sequence when she came out over a mile - her first start for almost four months towards the end of the year but was surprised by the progressive Montreal close home. She could well have needed that run. Her sire, like Burden of Proof a son of Fairy King, would have been more often in the headlines but for his fertility problems which meant that he never had many foals. He is the sire of Classic winners Holding Court, Democraticus, Sun Kingdom, Alma Mater and Maximus. Mandara, from the Aga Khan's brilliant Mumtaz Mahal family, was purchased for €80,000 at Goffs in 2008. There is class as well stamina in To The Manor Born's damline. She needs to be covered up and produced as late as possible because the impression she has given is that she idles if shown the daylight early. She would have easily won a regional Oaks but here she is up against rivals with better staying credentials. 

The most interesting runner is also the most inexperienced. Amazing Grace (Hurricane Run - Efrhina) has run just once and won over 2000 m. in a fair time without too much effort on Mariinsky's 1000 Guineas day. She hails from Pesi Shroff's yard and runs in Dr. Mallya's colours. Bred and owned initially by Gestut Ammerland, Hurricane Run was a high class racehorse, winning three Gr.1 races over 2400 m., namely the Budweiser Irish Derby, Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe-Lucien Barriere and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Stakes after being acquired by Coolmore interests. He started his stud career at Coolmore at a fee of €30,000 and while he has sired Group winners, there has been no Gr.1 winner forthcoming and he has moved back to the place of birth at a reduced fee. Efrhina won her four races as a five/six-year old mare at distances from 2200 m. to 2800 m. and her only foal to race has scored over 2400 m. Amazing Grace is certain to stay. She and Jeremiah both belong to the excellent La Troienne family but are from different branches. No horse has won an Indian Classic on its second career start - that is from memory, without opening the record books so the filly faces a daunting challenge. 

There is one other race that is worthy of mention which was run on the Christmas Day. The Pertigalete Plate over 2400 m. saw four three-year old fillies - Janis Jay, Snowing, Haunting Memories and Venus Marina competing. The last named was an also-ran but a camera print was necessary to separate the first three in the order shown. Thanksgiving was a course and distance winner when she won this race in 1994 but it is hard to see Janis Jay emulating her having clocked a time of 2.35.75. Besides, the produce of Razeen in his advanced year has been rather disappointing, atleast at this level.  

PAST THE POST 

The last Indian Oaks which was not run on a Sunday was in 1978. It was run on a Thursday which also happened to be Republic Day and went to Muffin. That race was actually won on the track by Reflect who took charge at the 400 m. post and then made heavy weather of holding Muffin by a neck with Grey Satin third some way behind. J. Lowe (astride Muffin) and J. Bleasedale (on Grey Satin) both objected against the winner while Bleasedale also objected against Muffin. Protests against Reflect - Vasant Shinde had indeed cut across sharply to take the rails when grabbing the lead were upheld but the one against the runner-up was thrown out and thus Muffin became the winner in the Stewards' Room.  All the three fillies ran in the Indian Derby where Reflect finished  third, way behind the runaway winner Manitou but ahead Grey Satin and Muffin who was dead last. 

Muffin (Nijinsky - Ragamuffin) was bred by R.W.I.T.C., Ltd. and that fact gave rise to some comments at that time. It was said that as R.W.I.T.C.,Ltd stood to get the Breeders' Premium, a pecuniary gain, the Stewards, all them Club Members, could not - or should not, as per the convention have adjudicated on the objections. That's one for the legal eagles. 

Muffin, incidentally, was the only Classic winner owned by Mr. Pallon D. Shroff and trained by S.H. Irani. Jockey J. Lowe rode at least one winner of each of the Indian Classics except the Indian Derby.