By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Thursday 12 Oct 2017
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

Towards the end of September, a senior Western India trainer said, 'Somebody has to win the Derby but I am not sure if I have seen the winner unless it is Pure Zinc." His words will obviously please the connections of Pure Zinc as well the raiding fillies Lady in Lace and Kangra.

Pure Zinc (Sedgefield - Skipperess) has done everything that could be expected of him so far though, barring Auburn, he is the least experienced of the 15 runners having raced just thrice. All his races have been over a mile. After being beaten a short-neck by Zenon on his debut, he has won the Shapoorji Pallonji Breeders' Juvenile Colts' Championship, Gr.3 beating Caprisca, Then, after a gap of six months, he appeared at Pune and showing no ill effects of his long lay-off bagged the S.A. Poonawalla Million, Gr.3.  In those two victories, Caprisca (twice), Selfie Star, Rochester, Big Sur, Lord of the Sea and Timeless finished behind him. In 33 renewals of the Pune Derby so far, six greys have won the race. That is a very high percentage and it augurs well for Pure Zinc whose trainer is looking for his first Classic win. Sedgefield has produced runners to excel over 2400 m. and as Pure Zinc comes from a good, running American family, there is no reason to doubt his ability to stay the trip though he is yet to essay one.

The veteran trainer's remark may not be very complimentary to the three year-olds racing in Pune but, historically, the local talent has generally been good enough to repel outstation challengers. So far, only three raiders -- Forest Fantasy, Scenic Royale and Secret Memory -- have managed to post a victory in the Pune Derby though there has been an outstation threat in 19 runnings. Forest Fantasy and Scenic Royale, of course, were saddled by local trainer Dallas Todywalla, but as it was their first run at Pune, both qualify as  ' a raider'. The two invaders this year -- Lady In Lace and Kangra -- are fillies and both are final entries. Both are winners of a mile classic in the monsoons with Lady In Lace downing Manifold in Hyderabad and Kangra winning a less competitive K.R.O.A. Mysore 1000 Guineas, Gr.3.

After winning the Deccan Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.3 at Hyderabad, Lady In Lace (Chinese Whisper - Sea Spray) was a gallant second to Prevalent Force in the Deccan Derby, Gr.1. That itself should encourage her connections because all three winning invaders -- Forest Fantasy, Scenic Royale and Secret Memory -- had come to Pune after racing at Malakpet. There are two factors against Lady In Lace. Firstly, she had a hard race against Prevalent Force in really tough conditions. Add to that the travel from Hyderabad and one has to take her physical well-being on trust. The other is that after having matched Prevalent Force stride for stride for most of the straight, she caved in at the end -- her dam line is a short-running one -- and allowed to colt to pull away by over two lengths in the closing stages of the race. If challenged sufficiently early in the straight, she appears vulnerable. On the plus side is her relaxed running early on and her effortless ability to move up without much effort to get into a challenging position. A line through Prevalent Force places her well clear of Timeless and Perfect Star. The Lady is much ahead in ratings and has a few lengths to spare if only slightly below her best.

Kangra (Western Aristocrat - Georgina) did not have much to beat at Mysore and did so without a fuss. Before that, she has run respectably in the two races Manifold won during the Bangalore Summer Season. If Manifold's Hyderabad run was up to her best potential, Lady In Lace holds Kangra comfortably. Kangra likes to run free and that will help her to avoid the traffic problems and be in a good position as they approach the Turf Club House. She will need to good break at this stage to hold the coming-off-the-pace brigade.

Nine fillies have this race previously and Themis (Lord Shanakill - Soul Society) another likely thorn in Pure Zinc's flesh. She had finished ahead of Kangra in the Bangalore Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.1 and had followed it up with a good win over 2000m. to lift the J.B. Mallaradhya Memorial Cup in Bangalore. So we know she gets the distance and she has had an easy preparatory run over a mile in Pune, the jockey going easy on her once she was passed by New England.  Six 'got-abroads' have won this race -- five in last ten years -- and Themis has the credentials to give her veteran trainer his first Classic success on his home track. Recent track work of the filly is particularly impressive.

An unusual feature of the race that there have been three objections against the winner and all them were overruled, which enabled Mac Bruce, Tobler and Versaki to retain their name on the Scroll of Honour.

Two lower rated colts deserve a mention. Caprisca and We Break The Rules should not have difficulty in getting the trip and they come from a nursery that has been on a bit of a roll in recent days. No trainer has sent out more winners of the Pune Derby than C.D. Katrak in whose yard We Break The Rules resides while Caprisca doesn't have to find too much to turn the tables on Pure Zinc. We Break The Rules is the lowest rated horse in the field though it is unlikely that the gelding will finish last.

With only Selfie Star dropping out at the Acceptance stage, we have 14 runners going to the post including the only course and distance winner Zanara. The average field rating is 56.8  and it is the lower than the recent average of 57.6.


 The rains haven't quite left Pune and it pours down heavily at odd times. A wet track would add a different dimension to the running and the outcome of the race on Sunday. As with everything in racing, there are no clear cut formulae to predict how a particular horse will react to a particular kind of going unless he has encountered it in the past. Then we have a basis of for making an assumption.

  The ability to handle a soft or heavy going depends, to some degree, on his action. A horse with a daisy-cutting action will generally flounder in such a going but a high actioned horse will tackle it much better. The action of a horse is very often dependant on his conformation which is a hereditary trait. "Mudlark" is very much a racing term which denotes horses who revel in soft or heavy going.

  Does the pedigree say anything about a horse's liking for a specific kind of going ? It certainly does but as with everything else, pedigree is only a guide. In India we mostly have good going and so there is not much collected evidence about suitability for other types of going. Not so in England where all types of goings are the order of the day. Progeny of stallion Fairy King most certainly excelled when the ground had give in it. Fairy King's son Burden of Proof was a Champion Sire in India and a lot of his produce raced in the colours of Dr. Vijay Mallya. Mr. Zeyn Mirza, who manages Dr. Mallya's URBB Ltd. operation, is firmly of the opinion that a majority of Burden of Proofs were comfortable on soft going though, he is quick to point out some were not. That is not surprising because a horse inherits as much from his dam as from his sire and some 'gets' of Burden of Proof may have taken more after their dams.

 In any case, suitability for a particular type of going should not be construed as a guarantee of a horse winning. Too many incomprehensible factors are at play.

 Sweet Memories, the best filly trained by Rashid Byramji, simply hated rain. Yet, she won the Indian St. Leger at Pune in a cloudburst that would made the recent Hyderabad downpour look  like a drizzle and waded through fetlock-deep water on the track. Her will to win was obviously stronger than her dislike for rain.