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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Monday 27 Feb 2017
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
The rotating Invitation Cup week-end, when four Gr.1 races are contested in two days,  is the high noon of Indian racing. The concept of a rotating 'carnival' took root in India before the Breeders' Cup series started in U.S.A. Initially, each centre hosted the event every five years. Labour problems, financial constraints and other such reasons caused some centres to back out. Importantly, someone else always stepped in the spirit of "show must go on".
The "Garden City" of Bangalore has played host to the Indian racing fraternity eight times in the past. It is felt that it might be of interest to look back at those renewals and revive some memories. 
6 and 7 March 1982
When the Invitation races were first held at Bangalore in 1982, there were only three of them for the Super Mile Cup had yet not been instituted. The grey filly Calligraphy (Common Land - Happy Shark)  owned by M/s. J.P. Goenka & K.J. Lawyer, was handy throughout the running of the Sprinters' Cup and, when given the office, showed a clean pair of heels to her dozen rivals to win in a new record time. She was one of the five winners that Vasant Shinde rode that day for a splendid quintuple with R.R. Byramji saddling four of them including Calligraphy. Shinde, though, blotted his copybook by failing to weigh-in on Top Blis who had finished fourth in the Stayers' Cup won by Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy's Miss Regency (Jagdish). Miss Regency (Mr. Mauritius - Regency) won by just a length from Buttinsky but once she had collared the runaway runner-up midway up the straight, there was never any doubt as to who was going to win the race. Jagdish had a treble that day which paled in front of Shinde's five-timer.
Byramji had another fruitful day on Sunday, his three straight wins in the afternoon being crowned with Almanac's effortless eight length victory in the Invitation Cup. Shinde on Abide took the charge affairs entering the back-stretch and led  till the final bend where Paul Cook gave rein to Almanac (Common Land - Clocked). The colt was then unstoppable and although eased in closing stages, broke the track record. Gomos finished third to give Byramji a 1-2-3 in the Invitation Cup. Almanac-Abide-Gomos -- that was exactly the same finishing order in the Indian Derby a month previously. Almanac had been beaten in  the Bangalore Derby during the summer season as a favourite so he redeemed himself somewhat in front of the local railbirds. As a half-money favourite, though, he was too short-priced to recover the summer losses. Almanac was later retired to stud as a stallion but failed to get any mares in foal.
The week-end clearly belonged R.R. Byramji and Vasant Shinde who won seven races each. The Usha Stud stallion Common Land had a big race double through Calligraphy and Almanac, both from his first crop, who won as odds-on favourites. 
28 February and 1 March 1987
When the six year-old gelding Fun of the Fayre (Common Land - Spunkie) won the first of the invitational races, there was a sense of deja vu because like Calligraphy five years earlier, he was sired by Common Land, ridden by Vasant Shinde, trained by R.R. Byramji and bred at the Usha Stud.  Shinde with a treble and Byramji with a quadruple were the most successful professionals over the week-end but it was Dashmesh Stud and trainer V. Khanna who stole the limelight. The three other invitational races were all won by Dashmesh-breds while Khanna's treble included the  Super Mile Cup winner Good Word (T.V. Sunday - Richbru). Good Word's Ilheus half-brother Ardiles had won the Stayers' Cup the previous day. Ardiles and Good Word were both piloted by Robin Corner.
The second day's programme was fully sponsored by Charminar. Chaitanya Chakram (T.V. Sunday - Urvashi) was then enjoying a super star fan following. "Chakram", as he was commonly called, didn't let his admirers down as he lifted the Invitation Cup easily from Premium Spirit and Capricorn under a confident ride by Lloyd Marshall. He was an even money favourite while the other three big winners were at nourishing odds. Having trained "Chakram's" full-sister "Ratham" the previous year, J.S. Dhariwal quickly climbed a few rungs up the trainers' ladder. Both, Ratham and Chakram ran in the colours of Mr. V.C. Narasimha Reddy though the former was later acquired by Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy. That owner flashed across the Indian turf like a meteor for though he owned a few other horses, he disappeared completely in only a short while.
29 February and 1 March 1992
R.R. Byramji set the ball rolling by winning the first three races on Saturday, his streak being halted by Dhariwal-trained Kalamaris (Right Ahead - Star Ruby) who won the Sprinters' Cup at the odds of 20/1 under V. Rajasekhar. The previous two Sprinters' Cup winners had been bred at Usha Stud. Kalamaris was bred at Sans Craintes Stud but there was still a tenuous connection to Usha Stud. Right Ahead, the sire of the winner, was born in Carterpuri. Star Contender (Riyahi - Scintillating) lifted the Stayers' Cup in Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy's silks to give the Poonawalla Farms their first big race of the Invitation Cup week-end at Bangalore. Shroff and Shinde rode a pair of winners each but the torch had passed to the younger jockey who followed up with another double the following day while Shinde drew a blank.
Shroff's Sunday Double included the Invitation Cup win on Bugs Bunny (Everyday II - Baydon Queen). It was a thrilling spectacle with the first four finishers within a length of each other. A healthily priced 2/1 favourite, the filly was a popular winner in Mr. Vijay Mallya's colours. She was the last big race winner of that fine stallion Everyday II. Earlier, not being content with a distant connection to the Sprinters' Cup winner, Usha Stud came up with one in its own right when Connorton on Sentouki (Treasure Leaf - Cedar Point) timed his run perfectly to neck Solferino in the Super Mile Cup. What was special about the week-end was that Bangalore got to see three  Epsom Derby winning jockeys -- Lester Piggott, Ernie Johnson and Kieran Fallon -- in action.  
1 and 2 March 1997
The Byramjis, father and son, dominated the week-end sending out seven winners with the senior outpointing the junior 5-2. Pesi Shroff rode four winners and the up and coming K.P.G. Appu had a treble over the two days with the former being astride the Stayers' Cup winner Son of Silver (Razeen - Silver Meteor) and finishing second in all the other three invitational races.  The first big race on Saturday went to Usha Stud-bred Fire Arch (Treasure Leaf - Time and Place),  when Appu snatched the victory right on the post with a well-timed run. The winner's dam had won this very race previously. Shroff had taken the lead on Son of Silver well before coming into the straight and he had to work hard to maintain the advantage at the winning post with the favourite Aroma and Clayton -- who dead-heated -- closing in rapidly.
Estocade (Excalibur's Lake - Air Distingue) was a facile winner of the Super Mile -- the only big race where the camera was not called to decide the winner -- before Ministerial (Riyahi - Charenzaccio) shocked the Invitation Cup field of a dozen runners. With 200m. to go, it was anybody's race; 25m. from the winning post the favourite Crown Treasure seemed set to pull the punters chestnuts from the fire. Jimmy Fortune, though, had other ideas and he stormed home on Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy's colt to win by a short-head at the staggering odds of 50/1. Not a single favourite obliged in the four invitational races; all of them, though, were won by four year-olds which is not a very common occurance.
1 and 2 April 2000
Labour trouble in the stables at Hastings meant that Calcutta was unable to stage the week-end and it had to be postponed and shifted to Bangalore. The venue may have changed but two of India's biggest owners -- Dr. M.A. M. Ramaswamy and Mr. Deepak Khaitan -- were well prepared to slug it out. The Calcutta warlord had the better of Saturday's exchanges winning four races while the southern baron won three which included one in his adopted son's colours. K.P.G. Appu and Aslam Kader had a treble each while Richard Hughes rode a double for 'M.A.M.'. Darius Byramji and Jim Foley split the honours with a treble apiece with the first named winning the Stayers' Cup and the latter accounting for the Sprinters' Cup. It could not have more neatly arranged.  The Stayers' Cup brought together Allied Forces (Razeen - Gourgandine) and Saddle Up who were equally well supported, the victory going to the Usha-bred who slammed  his younger opponent by over five lengths in a slow run race. the southern camp struck back with Polar Falcon (Ajaad - Himafushi, a daughter of Common Land) annexing the Sprinters' Cup easily in the hands of Hughes.
Mr. D. Khaitan had a double on Sunday, both his winners ridden by Aslam Kader  while Darius Byramji was the only trainer to saddle two winners. Acrobat (Chief's Crown - Fly For Baby) won the Super Mile Cup for the Khaitan camp under a forceful ride from Aslam Kader but that was only a consolation victory as Smart Chieftain (Placerville - Stunning) had already bagged the Invitation Cup from Bonzer, the surprise being that Shroff objected -- unsuccessfully -- against the winner despite the four length winning margin. Polar Falcon, Smart Chieftain and Saddle Up later went to Singapore. Smart Chieftan was the first to return having broken down but the other two flew India's flag high. Adamile and Al Dente both won over the week-end. Adamile later produced the Super Mile Cup winners Amelia and Myrtlewood while Al Dente is the dam of Attila who won the Sprinters' Cup twice.
2 and 3 Mar 2002
This renewal will always be remembered as Christophe Lemaire's week-end. The then 23 year-old French jockey had been brought out to India by Mr. Shyam Ruia and was based at Mahalakshmi. He had 10 rides over the Invitation Cup Week-end and he punched home seven winners including of three of the four big races. Since then, he has blossomed into a top flight international jockey.  On Saturday, his four-timer included the Sprinters' Cup on Strengthtostrength (Farajullah - Powerglide) on whom he came with a late run to short-head the favourite Palazzio right on the post. He did not have a ride in the Stayers' Cup which was won by Appeaser (Twist And Turn - Anelita), Aslam Kader up, for Mr. D. Khaitan. On Sunday, his treble included the Invitation Cup (The Pelican, by Placerville out of Natural Craze) for the Shirke family and the Super Mile with Strengthtostrength for Maj. B.P. Singh. Strengthtostrength is thus the only horse to have won two races during the Invitation Cup week-end at Bangalore. He was bred at his owner's Guru Hari Stud at Mehrauli on the outskirts on New Delhi and he was trained by Rehanullah Khan. The winners of all the invitational races  were chestnuts, Appeaser was the lone  favourite to win and the only four year-old winner was The Pelican of a race then confined to the Classic crop. It was also notable for the fact that for the first time no Usha Stud-bred won any of the invitational races. 
With just four of the sixteen favourites winning over the week-end, the punters were left high and dry. It was, however, good to see the lesser lights like Rehanullah Khan, M.K. Jadhav, Maj. B.P. Singh, the Shirkes (they were not as big then as they now are) and Chrisophe Lemaire in the spotlight while the usual suspects took a back seat.
4 and 5 March 2006
With the five year schedule having gone awry, Bangalore hosted the Invitation Cup week-end a year before its normal turn. It turned out to be a wet week-end and though the 18 races framed gone through without a hitch, the timings were on the slower side. The rains did not dampen the either the Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy camp nor the Poonawalla Stud-bred horses and they won the first three invitational races on the trot, all ridden by B. Prakash and sent out by S. Ganapathy. Spectacular Quest (Placerville - Forest Fantasy) got the roller-coaster underway by winning the Sprinters' Cup and Forever Elegance (Placerville - Salute Her) distanced her eleven rivals in the Stayers' Cup. Mystical (Alnasr Alwasheek - Mystic Memory) triumphed in the Invitation Cup but his bracket-mate Flashing Star gave him a fright having taken the lead and seemingly holding on. Prakash, to the delight of favourite's fans, got him going but it was only in the closing stages of the race that Mystical asserted his superiority to win by a neck.
A clean sweep of the invitational races beckoned for the owner, the trainer and the jockey for they had the favourite Southern Regent in The Super Mile Cup. The same connections also had the second favourite Spectacular Quest, ridden by Colm O'Donoghue. Souther Regent was an Usha Stud-bred while Spectacular Quest was born at Poonawalla Farms. Depending on which horse won the race, either B. Prakash or the Poonawalla Farms were going to miss a grand slam. In the event, Usha Stud-bred Amazing Power (Razeen - Vision of India), trained by Vinayak and ridden by McCullagh, beat Southern Regent by a head and everyone missed out. Dr. Ramaswamy and his son won eight races over the week-end with Ganapathy saddling them all. As B. Prakash won five races, Y.S. Srinath four and O'Donoghue, McCullah and C. Alford registered doubles, other jockeys were left searching for the crumbs. 
3 and 4 March 2012
Bangalore had to wait for six years for the big week-end to return and at the end of it the punters had had large holes in their pockets as only five favourites won over the two days. The Sprinters' Cup was won by the Usha Stud-bred Atiila (China Visit - Al Dente) who, having won the race the previous year at Mahalakshmi, notched a back-to-back double. Then, the four year-old Swiss Don ( Don Micheletto - Swiss Maid), who opted not to run in the Invitation Cup, was rewarded for his correct choice as he bagged the Stayers' Cup. Anyone having these two winners would have been over the moon as the double would have fetched an almost 100/1 return.
Cardinal (Placerville - Haunting Beauty) gave B. Prakash his second big winner of the meeting by winning the Super Mile Cup at the odds of 5/1.  In The Spotlight (Alnasr Alwasheek - Radiate) was a short-priced, odds-on favourite to lift the Invitation Cup and she duly did so confirming her Indian Derby superiority over Smashing but with a reduced margin as another filly, Southern Bay, took the third spot. By then, most punters were short of the capital to recover earlier losses. While Shroff saddled Attila and Cardinal for a big race double, Irfan Ghatala saddled two winners on the undercard. Prakash was on Shroff's winners while Srinath, I. Chisty, A. Imran Khan and C. Henrique had doubles over the two days when no professional managed a treble.
Some facts, observations and trivia about the Invitation Cup week-ends at Bangalore:-
*  There have been 31 invitational races at Bangalore of which a dozen have been won by the favourites for a strike rate of 38.71 %. Six of the eight Invitation Cup winners were won by favourites but a public fancy is yet to win the Super Mile.
*  The last five winners of the Invitation Cup at Bangalore were all bred at Poonawalla Farms.
*  Poonawalla Farms and Usha Stud have been very dominant over the last few years and between them they have won 18 of 31 big races. Neither nursery, though,  has a prime candidate this year.
*  Pesi Shroff has won the Invitation Cup and the Stayers' Cup as a jockey and also saddled a winner of the Sprinters' Cup and the Super Mile at Bangalore.

*  Miss Regency, who won the Stayers' Cup in 1982, is the only winner of an invitational race at Bangalore to have been born in the state of Karnataka.