• Ruffina wins The Sprinters Cup (Gr.1)
  • Azzurro wins The Dr M A M Ramaswamy Stayers Cup (Gr.1)
  • Whomakestherules wins The Maj P K Mehra Memorial Super Mile Cup (Gr.1)
  • Kangra wins The Indian Turf Invitation Cup (Gr.1) in record timing
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Friday 11 Jul 2014
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

Last Tuesday, when Roger Federer was interviewed after he had demolished Tommy Robredo in the Wimbledon pre-Quarter Final, he mentioned that he planned to watch the Switzerland-Argentina game World Cup game in Sao Paolo later that evening. He was asked, "Do you give Switzerland any chance against Messi & Co ? " "In sport, anything is possible", replied Federer. "That is why we love watching it". For over two hours, the Alpine country held Argentina at bay and succumbed only in the dying minutes of the extra time. A while before that, Federer's words had already proved prophetic as a wild card rookie  ranked 144  (Kyrgios) had unceremoniously dumped world's Number 1 tennis player (Nadal) out of the Wimbledon.

A leading breeder claimed after the running of the 2006 McDowell Indian Derby, Gr.1 that Mystical's defeat had been predicted. In writing and before the race, the breeder added. All that the breeder had said was that "Mystical can be beaten" which is about as Nostradamuseque as predicting that all human beings will one day die.  The question for this Sunday is not "Can Be Safe be beaten ?" (of course, he can be beaten) but "Will he be beaten ?". It is not enough to answer the second question in the affirmitive. It should be supported by reasons in advance for that affirmation.

There are no reasons of racing form to oppose Dr. Ramaswamy's Hazara-bred 'got-abroad'. He has been beaten just once in his six starts and his conqueror is not the field. Besides, the Mumbai stewards had held his jockey guilty of riding an incompetent race and suspended his license. On his last start, Be Safe slammed his rivals by nearly eight lengths and he could have easily have extended the verdict had he got out of cruise mode. In his last encounter with Maisha, he beat the subsequent winner of the Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.1 by almost 4 lengths, giving Shroff's filly 5.5 kgs. On that basis there doesn't appear to be a runner capable getting within hailing distance of him come Sunday. His pedigree suggests that longer distances will be to his liking and his recent track work is more than satisfactory; though,his working with a contender from another stable was unusual.

Not getting into the nefarious reasons which abound when there is a sporting upset, one has to keep in mind plausible racing pitfalls. The colt may wake up with a migraine; his jockey may get out of the wrong side of the bed in the morning; it may pour before the race and render the going slushy; he might find himself in a pocket at a crucial juncture in the race; or, he may get left at the start, step into a pot hole or go wide at the bend. The odds on offer will be miserly - bookmakers are not philanthropists ! - and it is prudent to remember that any bet must represent a realistic value. That realistic value differs from a person to a person and is directly proportional to his appetite for risk. There is an old racing maxim - "Never back a horse if the odds are short but don't oppose him."

In races of this nature, interest is often centred on the runner who can follow him home. This is, at best, a tricky proposition. A horse who starts with the sole aim of pocketing as much place money as possible stands a better chance than the one which attempts to throw down the gauntlet to the favourite. The place-money seeker will usually come from the back of the field and cut through beaten horses who have attempted to chew more than they can bite.

There are four other 'got-abroads' in the race and that makes a 'got-abroad' clean sweep most likely as happened a couple of years ago when Vijays Pride, Machiavellianism and  Borsalino won. The best of the four is Silver Phantom, clearly under-cooked for the Colts' Championship, who ran a forward race, matched strides with Be Safe for a while and lost the second spot close home to Last Chance. If that race has brought him along, he may finish closer but a hard race when not fully fit can also be a set-back. Paddock looks may offer a clue but unfortunately, as the Derby starts just in front of stands, the indications possible to be gleaned when going to the start will be missing.

Remembrance of You (Dubawi - Skyelady) shed her maiden tag during the current season and had to survive an objection from Supreme Dominator (Officer - Tanzanite Lady) to do so. Skyelady was purchased privately at Newmarket in December 2010 after she had been bought-in for 50,000 gns. The high price was obviously on account of her sire for though she has placed in a Listed race, there is no black-type winner under the first four dams and she hails from a somewhat pedestrian sprinting family. Supreme Dominator, after his skirmish with Remembrance of You, was more easily disposed off by Torch Bearer, another ward of trainer S. Padmanabhan. His sire started his stud career at Gainesway, moved to Taylor Made and is currently exile on Chejju Island of South Korea (as was Hawk Wing when Becket was in the limelight in India). Officer was essentially a miler but Supreme Dominator - still a maiden - comes from a good, staying English line. His last run goes against him as does that of Tiger Tops, the remaining 'got-abroad'. Like Be Safe, Tiger Tops is bred on the successful Danehill-Sadler's Wells cross, is trained by Pesi Shroff and could show that her running in Maisha's race was an abberation.

Culebra (Phoenix Tower - Chabada) - named after a Costa Rican island, one presumes and Alexandra Mills have dam lines which suggest that sprinting is likely to be their forte eventually. The remaining two runners are Multidimensionals. If Bold Majesty is not used as a pacemaker, he could snatch a place as he won over 1800 m. on his last start. That win was workmanlike rather than eye-catching. Prize Finder made his debut in Be Safe's Colts' Champion and did finish ahead of a couple earlier winners, though far behind the winner. His running here with just one lifetime start is intriguing and while he is unlikely to emulate Classical Act, he will finish ahead of some better rated rivals.


It will surprise no one that Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy is the leading owner having won the race eight times with half the winners being favourites. It may not be as well known that an equal number of favourites - plus one joint favourite carrying the gold-and-brown livery have been beaten.

The shortest priced favourite in the history of the race has been Set Alight in 2008. Dr. Vijay Mallya's filly started at 3 to 1 on, won by a distance - which is longest winning margin recorded and clocked a new track record timing which is unlikely to be erased from the books in a hurry. In the last 40 years, there have been a dozen odds-on favourites with just five obliging the backers. Overall, only 14 favourites in 40 years makes this a tougher race to crack than the two mile Classics which are run earlier.

Set Alight had won the Fillies' race by six and a half lengths which is not the widest winning margin in that event. On the other hand, Red Cockade's distance victory in the Colts' race in 1975 was - and still is - the most comprehensive one. On that basis, Red Cockade was sent out a half-money favourite in the Derby. Red Cockade took charge of the running soon after the backstretch was left behind and he raised hopes of his countless supporters as he led well inside the distance. Alas. He was soon challenged by Commanche who went on to win by two lengths. Richard Alford's effort to win the race in Stewards' Room came to a naught and Red Cockade was left with the dubious distinction of being shortest-priced favourite to have failed.

Divine Light was Dr. Vijay Mallya's first winner of this race back in 1987. The daughter of Riyahi had been purchased after she had commenced her career in Dr. Ramaswamy's colours. Dr, Mallya has won the race half a dozen times since then and there have been an equal number of occasions when he has had no runners. Of those six runnings, four were won by Dr. Ramaswamy. There is no runner in white, black V and red cap this Sunday.