• 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)
STAYERS' CUP, Gr.1
HYDERABAD
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Thursday 27 Feb 2014
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

It was at Chennai in 1981 that Stayers' Cup became the third of Invitational races. It was, if you like, a sort of farewell gift to that grand galloper Own Opinion. Even if it was, it was well merited because the Bhopal Stud-bred chestnut entire was to become the first Indian-bred horse to race abroad in several years. Later that year, Own Opinion was to participate in the Japan Cup, Gr.1 in Tokyo. Own Opinion till today remains the only Indian Turf Invitation Cup winner to have won another Gr.1 invitational race.

The opening of the Invitation Cup to all ages last year has meant that the 'classier' older horses are now attracted to the main race. This has denuded the quality of the Stayers' Cup, Gr.1 field. On the other hand, their very absence has encouraged - at least this year - other older horses to come forward and swell the size of the field and make it more competitive. Of course, these are early days and a better picture will emerge in about five years time. With the Classic generation concentrating on the Invitation Cup, not many of that vintage took a shot at the longer race. No surprise, then, that 26 of the previous 33 renewals saw the race being won by an older horse. This has not been a very good race for the favourites with just 14 of the 33 public fancies pulling it off. The last ten years, though, has a seen a dramatic change with six clear favourites and one joint favourite winning. In the previous seven runnings of the race at Malakpet, three favourites - Flirting Vision (1993), Bay of Angels (2003) and Yana (2009) - have justified their billing in the betting.

Two horses have won the Stayers' Cup, Gr.1 twice and both did it in consecutive years. First it was Aztec (Mumbai 1984 and Calcutta 1985) and then Ardiles (Bangalore 1987 and Hyderabad 1988). Last year's winner Native Knight has a chance to do so this year. To win the Stayers' Cup, a horse needs to have not only plenty of stamina but also class. A look at the list of previous winners of the race will bring home to you that several of the winners were Classic winners themselves or had placed in a Gr.1 Classic more than once.

CLASSIC CROP

There are just four members of the 2010 crop among the 17 invitees and though the number is small, each one of those four has the credentials to be a thorn in the side of the older horses. Two of them - Winged Foot and Sur La Tete are fillies and both are Oaks winners. Captain Courageous won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Gr.3 on his last start over 2800 m. when he reversed placings with Artesia and Arabian Warrior who had finished ahead of him in the Eveready Calcutta Derby, Gr.1. He also accounted for Altamash Ahmed's pair of An Acquired Taste and Astapi.

The remaining four year-old is Reynolds who has won his two races over 2400 m. beating rather plebeian opposition pointless. Reynolds is a full-brother to Cabriolet who was second in this race three years ago to Arabian Prince. Their dam is a half-sister to the Invitation Cup and Indian St. Leger winner Zurbaran so there is the required stamina in the pedigree. With just four starts so far in his brief career, there is scope for further improvement though this race will be tantamount to jumping into the deep end. Equally sparingly raced is the Bangalore Oaks, Gr.2 winner Winged Foot for she has had only half a dozen starts. She, too, is bred to stay as is the Golconda Oaks, Gr.2 victress Sur La Tete. Padmanabhan's best chance, however, appears to be the big sprint.

OLDER HORSES

As he has grown older, Native Knight has got better. He won this race last year as a 7 year-old making him the oldest winner of the Stayers' Cup, Gr.1. He then followed it up by winning the President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1 on the monsoon track at Malakpet and now returns to emulate Aztec and Ardiles on the winter track. He has not won since his Hyderabad victory - where Wind Stream, Astapi, Tintinnabulation and Camorra were in his wake but that is on the account of the weight he has had to give his opponents. In this terms race, the likes of Rodeo and Okavango will be running at level weights and it will be surprise if doesn't finish ahead of them. He may be the oldest horse in the field but he is also likely to be the highest rated runner. Narendra Lagad is a name normally not associated with glamorous races but it is obvious that he has a special empathy with this gelding. Hyderabad may or may not see a locally-trained horse win a Gr.1 race over the week-end but a victory for a Hyderabadi owner will be warmly applauded.

Time and age are two things over which mortals have little control. Misfortune is another. If age has caught up with Native Knight, Wind Stream will be hoping that there is a silver lining to his dark clouds. He missed his mock race before the Indian Derby last year when he bolted and couldn't be caught. In the race itself, he was buffeted about before eventually finishing second to Super Storm. He then came up against Tintinnabulation in the Bangalore St. Leger, Gr.2, Native Knight in the President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1, ran into An Acquired Taste and Tintinnabulation in Signature Premier Indian St. Leger, Gr.1 and should have won his last race but for a feeble effort from his jockey which allowed Applejack to grab the honours. His sire has produced two winners of this race - Alameda and Star of Windsor and his dam is a daughter of Razeen. Thus, he is a full-brother to Calcutta St. Leger winner Right Again.

The best of the local contingent is the filly Snow Bird. This daughter of the Epsom Derby winner Oath had to travel to Bangalore to win her Classic - the Bangalore Oaks, Gr.2 but now has a chance to exhibit her mettle on her home turf. She won two races over 2200 m. in December and then ran a close third to Tintinnabulation and Sherman Oaks in her last start over 2400 m. Vijayshaurya is rated two points higher than Snow Bird but he has not won a black-type race.

Super Storm (McDowell Signature Premier Indian Derby, Gr.1) and Toroloco (Bangalore Derby,Gr.1) ) are two Bangalore-based sons of Rebuttal who have multiple invitations. Toroloco won the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Eclipse Stakes of India, Gr.2 as his prep race and that would indicate, perhaps, that his target is the Invitation Cup. Super Storm has placed fourth in his last two races. First was over a mile in which he finished behind Super Mile candidates Ridgeway and Equine Lover while the last one was over 2400 m. where he was beaten by Applejack and Wind Stream. In his case it is difficult to guess where he is headed. It is presumed that neither will start in this race for the distance is a bit beyond what is ideal for a Rebuttal. At their best, they have the class to take a hand in the finish. 

PAST THE POST

A clean sweep of the four Gr.1 races over the Invitation Cup week-end has not been achieved so far by any stud farm, trainer, owner or a jockey. The favourites, however, have two clean sweeps against their name and both have come at Calcutta. In 1985, Revelation (Invitation Cup), Bergamo (Sprinters' Cup), Bergamo (Super Mile) and Aztec (Stayers' Cup) were the market leaders. Twenty two years later in 2007, Southern Empire, Haunting Memories, Aperitivo and Secret Memory were the best supported in their respective races.