• 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
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Friday 26 Jan 2018
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

This year's Classics -- barring an odd upset or two -- have generally seen well-backed horses romping home to easy wins. This Sunday's Golconda Derby could provide something different for there is no outstanding contestant and there are quite a few with a realistic chance of winning. A glance at the winners of the last ten renewals shows one standout statistic -- the last seven Derbies have been won by the highest rated runner. Whether the streak will continue or snap is another matter altogether but it provides a starting point for the discussion that follows.

Shaman (Burden of Proof - Set Alight) is the highest rated runner and he is attempting a Tintinnabulation. That horse, one of the most popular of Hyderabad horses in recent times, came to Malakpet after having run second in the Calcutta Derby to Snowscape, won the race and went back to Calcutta to lift the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1 which was the first running in which older horses ran with the Classic-generation. (Quasar won the Calcutta and Golconda Derbies in consecutive starts but then went to Mumbai whereas this year's winner will almost certainly head for Calcutta). Shaman was only third in the Calcutta Derby and he is really Bangalore-based. In Calcutta, he first finished second to Aggregated in the Calcutta 2000 Guineas, Gr.2 and then was third behind the same horse and the filly Sana in the Calcutta Derby. In both the races, he finished just about the same distance behind Aggregated. He is said to be a talented horse with a mind of his own and has his independent view on how much to exert. The connections feel that on the day he wakes up singing, he could prove a handful to anyone.

Another Bangalore challegener, Romantic Star (Multidimensional - Moonlight Romance), would have been a real contender had she not lost her way after finishing a close second to Manifold in the Bangalore Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.1. By the most successful living stallion in India -- who is on a bit of a roll currently -- out of the only filly to have bagged the Derby Bangalore-Indian Derby-Invitation Cup treble, Romantic Star has the pedigree with the requisite class and stamina to win a contest of this nature. On her last start, she failed to come on board in Kangra's South India 1000 Guinea, Gr.2 and that poor performance damages her case. She has been systematically prepared since and her trainer's penchant for Classics means that she merits another chance to make amends. Padmanabhan has saddled four winners of this race previously which is more than any other trainer having a runner.

Rated 16 points below Shaman is Kambaku (Win Legend - Star of the Crop). When Shaman made his debut in the Kunigal Stud Million, Kambaku was one of his thirteen opponents. Mauritania won the race easily, Shaman was second and Kambaku just missed the board finishing four lengths behind Shaman. Their paths have not crossed since. Kambaku has been a consistent sort who has a win over 2000 m. and has placed in two Monsoon Derbies, finishing ahead of Zelus in one of them. This is a family that has a strong affinity with the Malakpet Classics. Chaitanya Ratham -- Kambaku's third dam -- and her full-brother Chaitany Chakram were locally owned and both won the Deccan Derby, Gr.1. Chaitanya Ratham produced Astronomic (McDowell Indian Derby, Gr.1, President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1, Golconda St. Leger, Gr.2, etc) and Follow The Star (Rank Aqua Golconda Oaks, Gr.2).  Follow The Star's two Classic winners were Singh (The Hindu Golconda Derby, Gr.1) and Star of the Crop (South India Corporation Golconda Oaks, Gr.2 in record time). Besides, Kambaku's trainer Arjun Mangalorkar has saddled more Classic winners at Malakpet than at his home base. So far, the four Classic winners of the stallion Win Legend are all fillies.

The best rated of the home team is the filly Mahateji (Multidimensional - Blue Sky) who won the Golconda Oaks, Gr.2 on her last start to become a course and distance winner. The field that Mahateji beat was even weaker than the one Manifold overcame at Mumbai last Sunday. She won from the maidens Nanhipari and Classical Dancer though it has to be said that the favourite Selfie Star finished almost as far behind Manifold at Mahalakshmi as Mahateji. A form line of greater significance is that on her previous start, Mahateji had been second, three lengths behind the winner Lady In Lace, in the Golconda 1000 Guineas, Gr.2. At the November Keeneland Sale in 1995, the late Maj. P.K. Mehra had paid a fancy price for a mare called Macquarie Ridge -- out of a three-parts sister to Storm Bird --  in-foal to the Danzig horse Boundary.  That foal was Blue Ridge, the grandam of Mahateji. Macquarie Ridge died after producing one other foal, a Steinbeck colt. Blue Ridge herself and her foals have won about 40 races in India but not one of them beyond 1400 m. so anyone harbouring doubts about Mahateji getting a mile and a half trip would have been justified before the Golconda Oaks, Gr.2. Now that she has done it, those doubts can be put aside though she is up against a much stronger opposition here.

The only trainer to saddle two winners of the Golconda Derby in the last ten years is Laxman Singh who has won the race with Business Tycoon (2011) and King Charles (2016). There are some commonalities between King Charles and Zelus. Both are trained by him, both run in the same ownership and both are Nanoli Stud-born sons of Kingda Ka. King Charles was beaten in a 2000 m. race before the Derby. The same is true of Zelus. However, King Charles was a winner of six races including the Golconda 2000 Guineas, Gr.2 before the Derby whereas Zelus is a more modestly performed winner of a solitary race. Zelus is a half-brother to a 2400 m. Listed winner in England. This family, developed by Mr. R.D. Hollingsworth at his Arches Hall Stud, is renowned for its stamina.

This year's crop is a poor one, lacking depth, and it is not surprising to see that the average field ratings of most Classics are well below the past averages. Eleven of Sunday's runners have an average rating of 61.6 whereas in recent years it has been 76.4. There is also the maiden Nicaragua who is probably the pace-maker for Zelus since he will be running in the same colours.


This will be the 39th renewal of this race. The very first one was won by Dr. M.A. Ramaswamy's grey filly Nicolette who had to survive an objection from Word A Day to keep the race. Dr. Ramaswamy added ten more wins to his tally and is by the far the leading owner. His trainer S. Ganapathy leads the Trainer's Table with five wins. Jockeys Aslam Kader,  B. Prakash and Suraj Narredu are tied at the top with three wins each.

* 16 favourites have won the race at a healthy average of just over 42 % but only three in last ten years. The home team has four wins in last ten years but the four top-rated horses in the field on Sunday are all Bangalore-based. The Golconda Brigade hence faces an uphill battle.