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INDIAN TURF INVITATION CUP, Gr.1
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Saturday 04 Mar 2017
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

In 2013, the race was thrown open to older horses after having been confined to the Classic crop for half a century. There have been three more renewals since then and the winners -- Tintinnabulation, Alaindair, Quasar and Desert God -- have all been four year-olds. When the conditions were changed, it had been agreed that a review would be carried out after five renewals. The fifth renewal is slated for this Sunday. Whether a four year-old wins again or an older horse comes up trumps for the first time, the review would be interesting to say the least and the deliberations are eagerly awaited. As with all landmark decisions, much can be said of both the sides but that can be left for another time and concentrate purely on the race at hand.

This year's Indian Derby had an all-India representation bar the winner of the Bangalore Derby. It was a competitive race with the first four home covered by a length and a half. There were no hard luck stories in the actual running and the horses which got their number on the board were undeniably the best on view. However, when horses finish so close to each other, there is always a possibility that the inter se positions could change if the race was run differently. There is every chance that it will be run differently because the 2017 Indian Derby was the fifth slowest of this millennium. It has the dubious honour of having been run in the slowest first half and only Psychic Flame (2004) and Diabolical (2007) have run a slower last quarter.

If Temerity had reproduced her Indian Oaks time, she would have won the Indian Derby comfortably. Two other fillies -- Mrs Patmore and Silver Beauty -- also showed the effects of the Oaks run while Winter Renaissance showed a fractional improvement of time and a substantial one in reducing margin to Temerity. Pesi Shroff's filly gets adequate rest before the Invitation and the trainer, who is yet to saddle an Invitation Cup winner, will be hopeful of turning the tables on Hall of Famer. Temerity had shadowed Serjeant At Arms throughout the early part of the Derby but whereas the colt found an opening readily on the inside, Temerity had to search for one in the centre of the track. Maybe a matter of a split second but it counts. The all dark blue silks that Neeraj Rawal will sport on Sunday were carried to victory on this very track by another filly -- Venus de Milo -- nearly fifty years ago.

Hall of Famer will be seeking a Gr.1 hat-trick on Sunday. She is on the same track as In The Spotlight and Desert God (Calcutta Derby-Indian Derby-Invitation Cup) so successfully charted by her trainer. In the Indian Derby, she found herself in front a bit earlier than perhaps planned as Lucas drifted out at the first bend.  Once in the lead, she cut slow fractions and final sprint in latter half of the race found her short of puff in the closing stages. Her victory was not as impressive as that of In The Spotlight or Desert God. She has, of course, clocked a much faster time of 2.28.60 when winning the Calcutta Derby which was more evenly run. It is becoming more and more clear that Padmanabhan's tactics revolve around either making the pace or being handy and making the move at the right time. Those tactics demand the utmost fitness from his wards which they invariably possess. However, she will not be allowed an easy lead in Bangalore and the tactics will have to be tweaked. Also, the grey had the hardest race of the first four finishers. Incidentally, in Calcutta Derby she beat Silver Beauty by eight lengths without being all out. The margin at Mahalakshmi was a shade over a dozen lengths when she had to open all throttles. Silver Beauty had won the Calcutta Oaks and she illustrates clearly that the ability to stay is a relative rather than an absolute characteristic.

Sergeant At Arms, unbeaten on the Bangalore track, has chosen to go for the Super Mile, the shorter distance suiting him better. The connections obviously feel that a bird in hand is better than a brace in the bush and they have Germanicus to take his place in the longer race. Germanicus ran disappointingly in the Indian Derby after having won the Golconda Derby just a week before. That short gap can explain his poor run. He had similarly run below expectations when running in the Indian 2000 Guineas a few days after his Golconda 2000 Guineas victory. With longer interval to recover, he ought to be seen a better light.

Tororosso (Red Giant - Paula's Girl) won the Bangalore Derby impressively as a maiden on only his fourth start so he has plenty of scope for improvement. The connections may have been tempted to have a tilt at the Indian Derby which they have resisted. He is beautifully bred, has a low DI and is well rested. Though most winners of the Invitation Cup had their previous start in the Indian Derby, missing the Indian Derby certainly didn't harm the likes of Own Opinion, Own Beauty, Delage, Bugs Bunny, Adler and Tintinnabulation.  Tororosso's trainer Irfan Ghatala has been around for over two decades during which time he has saddled winners of 11 Classics. Three of those wins came through Sun Kingdom-- including back-to-back wins in the Bangalore 2000 Guineas and Bangalore Derby -- while Full Speed won two;  the other six have won just one Classic each. It is easier to train a horse to win one Classic than to win two consecutive Classics and one hopes that Ghatala has by now accumulated sufficient expertise to do so.  This year he saddled two Derby winners within a fortnight so he is going along well. Tororosso is on the same path as Toroloco who won the Bangalore Derby and then lined up for In The Spotlight's Invitation Cup in which he was fourth. The trainer will have his fingers crossed that he does better than the earlier 'Toro'.

Twenty days before Tororosso's Bangalore Derby win, Winter Renaissance (Courageous Cat - Winter House) won her maiden race over 2400 m. at Mahalakshmi. She then ran fourth in Temerity's Indian Oaks where she was about five lengths off the winner. A fortnight later she was again on the board in the Indian Derby, just a neck behind Temerity. In less than a month, her rating has shot up from 28 to 96 -- a remarkable improvement. Astounding when you consider that the filly's DI of 3.80 suggests that a mile and a half trip would be beyond her. Interestingly, Winter House was purchased by Hazara Stud for $ 15,000 at the same Keeneland Sale where Tororosso's dam was acquired. Pirates Deputy, an elder half-brother of Winter Renaissance, is a Listed winner in U.S.A. Winter Renaissance is trained by  Imtiaz Sait who has sent out three winners of this race with the first coming way back in 1984. If the wily veteran can coax some more improvement out of the filly, she could spring a surprise. (A possible reason why Winter Renaissance did well in the Oaks and the Derby despite her very high DI is that both the races were slowly run in the first part and developed into a sprint. It has to be seen if she stays as well in a race where there is a steady pace throughout).

Hoping to thwart the Classic crop run is a trio of older horses. In alphabetic order -- as also in terms of their age -- they are Alaindair (Multidimensional - God's Grace), Azzuro (Azamour - Miss Highjinks) and Colombiana (Noverre - Wonder Smile). Alaindair is already an Invitation Cup winner having won the race in 2014 at Malakpet. Barring his debut race -- where he finished last -- the seven year-old has been an epitome of consistency, never off the board in his 21 subsequent starts despite niggles of varying kinds and intensity. 2400 m. is perhaps his best distance highlighted by a Gr.1 hat-trick comprising of the Indian Derby, the Invitation Cup and the President of India Gold Cup. He was fourth in Quasar's Invitation Cup and Desert God, getting a 1 kg., beat him  by a quarter length last September in the President of India Gold Cup. He was surprisingly beaten in his last start in the Eclipse Stakes of India by B Fifty Two whom he had beaten comfortably in their two previous meetings. Like Sergeant At Arms, he revels on the Bangalore turf where he is yet to taste a defeat. The happy hunting ground may bring out the best in him and his best would be good enough to land the big prize.  The question is, is he fit enough ? Since his galling defeat in the Eclipse Stakes of India, he has just had one easy piece of work two days before the race and that gives not a clue.

The six year-old  Azzuro, too, is a model of consistency. On the board in all his 24 starts, the 'got-abroad' gelding has worked his way up the ranks, essaying a black-type race on his ninth start as a four year-old. He has never raced against Alaindair but has beaten Colombiana by a length and a half over 2400 m. of the C.N. Wadia Gold Cup when in receipt of 3.5 kgs. Like Alaindair, 2400 m. appears to be his ideal trip. He has yet not won Gr.1 contest and never run a poor race. Dr. Mallya's retained jockey P. Trevor has rightly opted to ride Azzuro in preference to the South India Derby winner Salaazar.

Colombiana, from last year's Classic vintage, is rated 4 points below Alaindair. Colombiana and Alaindair have raced against each other twice. On the first occasion, Alaindair (59.0 kgs) beat Colombiana (56.0 kgs) by a little over four lengths over 1800 m. Next time, at the same weight difference over a mile, Colombiana got the better of Alaindair by a short-head. Narredu's ward then went to Calcutta where he won the Indian Champion Cup, Gr.1 beating Azzurro at level weights by three-parts of a length. Colombiana has not won a Classic nor has he won over 2400 m. A distance between a mile and 2000 m. suits him best and he would have had to be strongly fancied had he decided to run in the Major P.K. Mehra Memorial Super Mile. A word about ratings. This will be first time that the Classic crop takes on older horses so their ratings should not compared with those of the older horses. The last four Invitation Cup winners, all four year-olds, had a much lower rating than the older horses they beat; the advantage of 4 kgs. being like manna from heaven.

If Serjeant At Arms and Accolade have lowered their sights, the connections of Jersey Wonder (Burden of Proof - Agassiz) have dared to dream big.  The five year-old, whose dam is a three-parts sister to Smart Chieftan, Classical Act, Southern Empire and Change of Luck, has won six races but none of them is a black-type race. On his last start -- the 18th of his career -- he ran in a terms race for the first time, disregarding his juvenile starts in maidens only races. That was the Stayers' Trial Stakes where he beat Cameron, Booker Jones and Tintinnabulation. With this year's field for the Stayers' Cup being a weak one, Jersey Wonder certainly had a decent shout had he opted for the Saturday's race. Instead, he lines up for the biggest race of the week-end. The fact that Prince Regent, Mother's Boy, Prince Royal (at Bangalore) and Own Beauty could win this race without having won a black-type race previously could possibly have emboldened his connections. Azzurro, Jersey Wonder and Tororosso are the three course and distance winners in the race

PAST THE POST

Trainers with a runner on Sunday who have won the race previously --  S. Padmanabhan (5), Imtiaz Sait (3), Altamash Ahmed and M. Narredu.

Jockeys with a mount on Sunday who have won the race previously - Y.S. Srinath (2), Suraj Narredu, P.S. Chouhan  D. Allan.

Table Toppers -  Jockeys - Pesi Shroff (7). Trainers - R.R. Byramji (12). Owners - Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy (11). Stud Farms - Poonawalla Farms (14). Sires - Placerville and Razeen (4 each).

Fastest Time - Southern Regent 2.28.01 (Chennai, 2005).  Fastest Time at Bangalore - Almanac 2.30.8 (1982).

23 out of 54 favourites (42.6 %) have won this race. At Bangalore, the strike rate is even better with six out of the eight favourites (75 %) winning.