• 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
CALCUTTA DERBY, Gr.1
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Friday 05 Jan 2018
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

It has been a year for the favourites so far this year with nine of the 11 Classics going to a horse that was the best backed either on the Tote or the books. That trend could well continue on the coming Sunday when the Calcutta Derby is contested. The local darling Sana is expected to be the choice of everyone from Shyam Bazaar in the north to Dhakuria Lake in the south and should garner the utmost support. Not since Altimara won this race at the turn of the millennium has a Calcutta-based filly won so Sana has fanned much expectation in the City of Joy. On the other hand, this is not a particularly good race for favourites with just three having won in the last ten years.

Sana (Multidimensional - Yana) is trained by Bharath Singh who has been saddling them for over three decades now and is yet to win a Calcutta Derby while his brother Vijay Singh, who started around the same time, has led in ten winners.  Bharath Singh has trained a winner of every other Calcutta Classic but the Derby has eluded him. There is always the first time. So it will be for Mr. Joydeep Datta Gupta in whose silks Sana runs. A comparative newcomer to the game, his filly Silverina gave him a taste of Classic success when winning the Calcutta St. Leger four years ago. In Sana, the trainer and the owner have a worthy filly to fulfill their ambition of winning a Calcutta Derby.

Having won the Calcutta 1000 Guineas, Gr.3 and Calcutta Oaks, Gr.3 on her last two starts, Sana is on Classic a hat-trick. Those two wins were easily gained and did not test her mettle though it did make her a course and distance winner. There was never any doubt about Sana excelling over the Derby distance as she is a full-sister to Mathaiyus -- winner of two St. Legers including the Indian St. Leger, Gr.1 -- and their dam Yana -- a half-sister to the McDowell Indian Derby, Gr.1 winner Starsky -- is herself a winner of the Poonawalla Stud Farms and Breeders' Stayers' Cup, Gr.1. That is stamina written all over. Stamina is one aspect while class is another. What Sana so contemptuously dismissed in her last two starts was utter dross. Earlier in the Calcutta Monsoon Derby, Gr.2, she had slammed the consistent pair of Hartnell (Western Aristocrat - Mother's Pride) and Rufus (Lord Admiral - Youre So Beautiful) -- not running here -- and those two were very close to the winner Aggregated in the Calcutta 2000 Guineas, Gr.2. A start before that, she was beaten  just a head in the Calcutta Fillies' Trial Stakes by Windsor Forest and that filly ran a cracker at Mahalaskshmi in the Spartan Poker Indian 1000 Guineas, Gr.1. Those two runs give a better indication of Sana's class.

Sana's main rival is Aggregated (Dean's Kitten - Wonder Smile), the shock winner of the Calcutta 2000 Guineas, Gr.2. Aggregated was a maiden and having only his second lifetime start when he won that race. There is plenty of scope for improvement. He is rated 81. His dam was a fine racemare, counting the Bangalore Oaks, Gr.2 and Fernhill Palace Bangalore 1000 Guineas, Gr.2 among her nine wins. A member of the Aga Khan's vaunted Mumtaz Mahal family, she has excelled at stud, too, for her two previous foals, both by Noverre, have earned the black-type. The first of those two foals was Modern Sniper, a Hyderabad based sprinter -- he didn't race anywhere else -- who won six  races. The other is Colombiana, like Aggregated owned by the Nandas and trained by Malesh Narredu, is a much better customer, not quite in the top echelons of his crop, but consistent and versatile. Colombiana's eight wins include six black-type races including the Indian Champion Cup, Gr.1 at Calcutta. Signifcantly, Colombiana never won a race beyond 2000 m.

Aggregated waited behind the early pace setter Simon Templar in the Calcutta 2000 Guineas, Gr.2 and went past him just before entering the straight. He was given a couple of cracks when Shaman got close but was not particularly hard ridden to win by two lengths with Shaman, Hartnell and Rufus in a huddle. The winner certainly had something in hand while the chasing trio never really looked like winning. If Aggregated makes the expected improvement and has the stamina, he will certainly test the filly. The colt is from the first crop of Sohna Stud's new stallion Dean's Kitten who has had a forgettable first year. Aggregated has handed him a lifeline. Like Noverre -- sire of Aggregated's half-brothers -- Dean's Kitten excelled around a mile as a racehorse. Though the pedigree numbers of Aggregated and Sana are very similar, the efficacy of Multidimensional-Razeen cross and proven stamina credentials tilt the scales in the filly's favour.

Shaman (Burden of Proof - Set Alight), looked as if he was about to go past Aggregated but never went through with his effort. In the end, his jockey had to fight hard to keep the runner-up spot. His preparation for his debut at Calcutta was interrupted by a travel bug. He was not fully wound up and it told in the running. He is better prepared this time having had a match with the proven Setaflame as a mock race and the connections have reasons to be hopeful of turning the tables on Aggregated.

A son of the star filly Set Alight, Shaman has three wins from six starts and has won up to 1800 m. His only sibling to race, full-sister Satellite was at her best at distances short of a mile. Shaman is a different kind of an individual but as he has never essayed this trip before, there must be questions about his stamina. Set Alight did win a weak President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1 but that was her only win over this distance. Overall, the family is best up to 2000 m. The URBB racing operation has reaped excellent rewards in recent years because of its ability diagonise shortcomings quickly and take prompt corrective action. Their runners in a Classic can only be ignored at one's peril. 

An unexpected runner is Caprisca (Steinbeck - Xisca); unexpected because his trainer Imtiaz Sait doesn't travel much these days and Calcutta has never been a favourite venue of his. Caprisca, whose dam won this race in 2011, has shown a glimmer of promise in some of his races, hasn't quite lived up to it and was an undistinguished sixth in the Jacqueline Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1 on his last start. He is bred to stay and should be comfortable over the trip. He can't be ignored neither can he be confidently backed. China Visit had his first Classic winner as a damsire through Mahateji a couple of days back and Caprisca is probably the last of the Steinbeck foals to be running in a Derby. Speak to any breeder or a trainer and they will tell you that Mr. K.H. Vachha, in whose silks Caprisca runs, is one of the last of the sporting-gentleman owners. If ever an owner deserved a Classic just for his love of the game, it is Mr. Vachha.

Hartnell -- in the Calcutta Monsoon Derby, Gr.2 -- and Hall of Famer's full-sister Implicit Trust (Winning Legend - Elusive Trust) -- in the Calcutta Oaks, Gr.3 -- were distanced by Sana the last time they met in a race. That is a verdict not easily reversed. 

19 fillies have won so far in 59 renewals and that is quite a high percentage. 21 fillies have bagged the Calcutta Fillies' Double but of those only six have gone on to win the Calcutta Derby though, it has to be said, that three fillies did not run in the Big 'Un. There have been 13 previous clashes between the Calcutta Fillies' Double winner and the winner of the Calcutta 2000 Guineas and the results are interesting. Six Calcutta 2000 Guineas winners have prevailed though that includes the filly Aphroze, three Double winners have been successful while there were four instances when neither won. Though there are just six runners, it is a high class field with an average rating of almost 75; a shade better than the average for this race.

PAST THE POST

Only one winter Derby has resulted in a dead-heat and that was in the 1989 Calcutta Derby when Aphroze and Zara Shah could not be separated by the camera as they passed the lollipop. The other remarkable facts connected with that dead-heat are that Aphroze and Zara Shah were both bred at Poonawalla Farms; both were grey and while the filly ran in the colours of Mr. C.M. Varma, his brother Mr. B.M. Varma owned a share in the colt.