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INDIAN DERBY SIXTY YEARS AGO
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Monday 01 Jan 2018
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

The Maharaja of Kashmir started his racing career as an owner at Calcutta while World War I was still going on. He never won the Viceroy's Cup which was then the most coveted prize in the country. Later, he made Mumbai the base of his operation and was successful in winning the Eclipse Stakes of India -- beginning to rival the Viceroy's Cup in prestige -- four times with Pougatchev (1934), One I Love (1939), Steel Helmet (1940) and Desert Sunrise (1944). Once the Indian Classics were instituted, Kashmir went after winning them with unwavering determination.

When the 1957-58 winter season at Mumbai was about to commence, Kashmir had won 13 Indian Classics including three Indian Derbies. His ambition was to win all the five Indian Classics in one year and he came very close to achieving it in 1951-52 when he won three. His filly Maharaj Kumari and the colt Fitz Call were favourites to win the Indian Oaks and Indian Derby respectively but both finished only second. Maharaj Kumari was surprised by Haseen in the Oaks while Martial Law, who was owned by Maharani Seeta Devi Gaekwar of Baroda, won the Derby. For the 1957-58 Classics, Kashmir had a good filly in Sunny Downs but his colts were not in the same league. Not having enough ammunition in the stable never worried Kashmir too much. He was always prepared to go out and buy it. In 1954, he had set his eyes on the Maharaja Morvi's grey colt Seven Royals. Morvi's trainer, Talib, was dead against selling the colt but eventually Kashmir got what he wanted. Appropriately, he re-named the colt  Rough Deal and won the 1955 Indian Derby with him.

This time, Kashmir's covetous eye was on Mr. M.P. Davis's 'got-abroad' colt Tall Story who had run up a sequence of seven consecutive wins starting at Calcutta, then Bangalore and winning the Maharaja Morvi Gold Cup at Mumbai in which he beat Kashmir's Decoration by half a length. Kashmir could hold himself back no longer despite Chavan, who had ridden Decoration, telling him that his colt was not fully wound up and that he could have beaten Tall Story but had given him an easy race. In the week after the Morvi, Kashmir invited Mr. M.P. Davis to Shamiana at the Taj for coffee and asked him if Tall Story was for sale. Mr. Davis told Kashmir that he was for the right price but also told him that he considered his other colt, Canny Scot, the better of the two. Mr. Davis urged Kashmir to buy Canny Scot. When Kashmir was adamant on Tall Story, Mr. Davis suggested that he buy both. Kashmir was unmoved, stuck to Tall Story and eventually a price was decided upon. (Sometime later, when Mr. Davis was asked if he had got a good deal, he replied, "Yes. But he insisted that I pay for the coffee !"). Thus did Tall Story come to Ganpat Chavan's yard.

1958 INDIAN DERBY, Gr.1
Sunday, 2 February 1958
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1. CANNY SCOT[NSB], b c 1954   (Jagdish)
    (Jock Scot - Watch Me[NSB] by Emir d'Iran)

2. Sunny Downs, br f 1954 (J. Foley)
    (Solar Prince* - Downpour* by Umidad)

3. Nautilus, b c 1954 (P. Khade)
    (Ocean Way* - Misty* by Coronach)

4. Decoration, br c 1954 (F. Durr)
    (Decorum* - Gitanjali by Wyndham)

Verdict: 2 1/4, 3/4, 7  Time: 2.40   9 ran  Favourite: Canny Scot[NSB]

Winner owned by Mr. M.P. Davis.  Trained by Baba Khan.  Bred by Mr. D.W. Balfour at Broadacres Stud.
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Tall Story had his first start in Kashmir's colours in the Indian 2000 Guineas. Ridden by Shamu Chavan, he was a raging favourite at 7/10 on. Stable-mate Decoration, N. Shiba up, went to the front from the off to set up the race for Tall Story. The pacemaker was allowed too much leeway and Shiba seized the opportunity to keep going on Decoration and win the only Classic of his riding career. Canny Scot finished well but too late to take the runner-up spot while Nautilus and Chhail-Bhanwar filled the minor placings. Tall Story never raised a gallop and finished fifth, almost seven lengths behind his stable companion. It was put down as a bad day at the office.

On the New Year's Day of 1958, Canny Scot commanded all the attention in the betting for the Sir H.M. Mehta Gold Cup -- a forerunner to the R.R. Ruia Gold Cup of today -- and was well backed at 2/1. Tall Story (N. Shiba) was next in demand at 5/2 while stable-mate Sunny Downs, the choice of Shamu Chavan, came next at 7/2. Canny Scot, running a forward race, was third into the straight, took charge at the distance and won by a length and a half from Tall Story, Nautilus and Sunny Downs who were in a huddle, a neck and a short-head separating the three. This was only a prep-race for the filly Sunny Downs, who had already won the Indian 1000 Guineas under Chavan and was going for the Indian Oaks on the Republic Day. Sunny Downs duly won the Indian Oaks, Chavan's powerhouse finish helping him to get the better of Diamond Valley by a short-head.

The Indian Derby was just a week after the Indian Oaks and Chavan wanted to ride Sunny Downs in that race. Kashmir, however, wanted him to again be astride Tall Story. Shamu Chavan pleaded with Kashmir to let him have the ride on the filly but to no avail. Kashmir was triple handed in the big race with Tall Story (Chavan), Decoration (F. Durr) and Sunny Downs for whom Jim Foley was summoned. Canny Scot, trained by Baba Khan, started the favourite at 9/4. The favourite kept rushing the tapes at the start delaying it and when the field was eventually despatched, he was slowly away. Jagdish improved him steadily and he was a handy fourth when the field started coming round the final bend. There were just nine runners so no major traffic problems but Jagdish got a lovely opening on the rails, slipped through it and Canny Scot won untroubled by a shade over two lengths from Sunny Downs who was full of running but came too late. Chavan always insisted that he knew Sunny Downs well and would have won on her had Kashmir agreed. That was no plaintive crying for Sunny Downs did indeed beat Canny Scot in the Indian St. Leger with Chavan up.

Kashmir won four of the five Indian Classics that year and ran second in the Indian Derby. His obstinacy in disregarding Canny Scot despite Mr. Davis's assertion that he was better of his two colts and his steadfast refusal to let Shamu Chavan ride Sunny Downs in the Indian Derby meant that Kashmir could not realise his life's burning ambition. It was said of Kashmir that at the end of every year, he changed either his colours, or his trainer or his jockey. Sometimes, all three of them. Baba Khan had been his trainer for two previous years and he had won two Indian Classics for Kashmir through Noble Way and Kimsel. But Kashmir sacked Baba Khan and moved his string to Ganpat Chavan. Canny Scot's Derby win must hence have been very sweet to Baba Khan. No trainer won four Classics in a year for Kashmir other than Ganpat Chavan. Yet, next year, the Kashmir string was with Dady Adenwalla.

There is a sequel Tall Story. In the Indian St. Leger, ridden by Frankie Durr, he finished third, a place ahead of Canny Scot. That, however, was not enough for him to redeem himself in Kashmir's eyes and he was sold to Gwalior. Tall Story came into his own and the following year won many races for the Gwalior stable. Tall Story had a younger half-brother named Scone Stone who was retained to race by Mr. M.P. Davis. Scone Stone won the inaugural South India Derby and came to Mahalakshmi for the Indian Derby where Kashmir's Fair Wood beat him easily. Like Tall Story, Kashmir had purchased Fair Wood after he had shown his potential. This time he was lucky but that's a story for the next year.

In his first year, Canny Scot won two races in Calcutta and one from two starts in Bangalore. Baba Khan was his third trainer after Goswell in Calcutta and Ali Asker in Bangalore. He was a hardy customer who remained in training for eight more years and resided in stables of seven other trainers. He last raced at Calcutta on 12 February 1966 in the Beresford Cup when he was 13 years old.  He was still carrying the light blue, black hoops and black cap colours of Mr. M.P. Davis under which he had won the Derby. Only Mansoor among the Indian Derby winners has raced for a longer period. In all, he raced 83 times, won 11 races, placed 24 times, earning stakes of close to Rs. 2 lakhs. The  Idar Gold Cup and Homi Mody Cup were other important races that he won.  Canny Scot won the Derby in the fastest time till then. He was the first 'got-abroad' to win the Indian Derby and the first horse with an [NSB] suffix -- Not In Stud Book, there being a flaw on his dam side -- to win the race. For all that, he is regarded as only an average Indian Derby winner.

Mr. Merrie Payne Davis, who owned Canny Scot, was a British coffee planter who had his estate at Andanipura in eastern Coorg. Three years before winning the Indian Derby, he had won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Calcutta with Good Business II. Apart from Scone Stone, he also owned Golden Pollen who won the South India Oaks, Gr.1. He raced with a fair sized string which was intitially based at Calcutta and later at Chennai and Mumbai while he also had runners in Sri Lanka. He established his stud at Andanipura where he stood Da Vinci, a full-brother to Dante and Riberto, the first son of Ribot to come to India. His breeding operation was not a success. Mr. Davis, who owned shares in various international companies, was a big punter, some of his heavy bets being laid in Sri Lanka. He was always at odds with the establishment and when the South India Turf Club disqualified one of his horses, he took the Authorities to court. The case dragged on for many years though he ultimately won.  Unfortunately, by then he was physically unwel. and used to go to England for treatment. He passed away in his home at Eastbourne, Sussex  in 1979. He was keen golfer, an avid cricket fan and bred as well raced on a small scale in England. The Bangalore Golf Club still runs an M.P. Davis Cup but if any Turf Authority has honoured him with a cup race, it is not known.

Baba Khan was an average jockey who started his career at Mysore in mid-1930s. He was an infinitely more successful trainer who made his mark at Chennai. He came to Mumbai in the mid-1950s as Kashmir's trainer for whom he saddled Noble Way (Indian 2000 Guineas) and Kimsel (Indian St. Leger). Soon after Canny Scot, he went back to Chennai. The other Classic winners trained by him are  Mohsin The Second (Bangalore Colts' Trial), Ali Baba (Bangalore Colts' Trial and South India St. Leger), Lady Josephine (South India 1000 Guineas) and Random Harvest (South India Triple Crown). He died in 1961 and his string was taken over by his son Khan Baba who then had barely turned 18 years old. His brothers-in-law -- S.M. Shah and S.S. Shah -- have also been Classic trainers.

Canny Scot provided Jagdish with his first ever Classic winner. Jagdish graduated from the R.W.I.T.C., Ltd. Apprentice School. Kheem Singh, Khade and Chavan, three star pupils of that academy, had already ridden an Indian Derby winner before Canny Scot who gave Jagdish his first Classic win. Jagdish rode his first winner at Mumbai in March 1946 but finding the competition tough at Mahalakshmi, migrated to Chennai were he slowly found his feet. By the time he hung up his boots in the mid-1980s, Jagdish had ridden more Classic winners than Kheem Singh, Khade and Chavan put together and was nearing his century of Classics. He was undoubtedly one of the best Indian jockeys. He served as a Stipendary Steward with B.T.C. after he gave up riding. His sons Vijay Singh and Bharath Singh are leading Classic trainers in Calcutta.

PAST THE POST

The name D.W. Balfour will not ring many a bell. He was a trainer who trained at Mumbai and Calcutta and he had imported the mare Watch Me[NSB]. On record, he is the breeder of Canny Scot; though, the mare and her foal were sold to Mr. M.P. Davis two days after the foal was dropped. Trainer Balfour's other connection with the 1958 Indian Derby winner is through Jagdish. Though Jagdish was apprenticed to trainer Bill Buckley, the first winner that rode he -- King Solomon in 1946 -- was trained by Balfour.