• Punjabi Girl wins The Fillies Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
KINGFISHER ULTRA INDIAN DERBY, Gr.1 2018
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Friday 02 Feb 2018
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

In December 1967, when the two year-old Vaguely Noble came into the ring at Tattersalls Sale in Newmarket, he held no Classic entries. Yet, he made 136,000 gns. which was then a world record public auction price. He was purchased by the American plastic surgeon Dr. R. Franklyn who later a sold a share in him to Mr. Nelson Bunker Hunt, the Texas oil magnate, silver speculator and owner of Bluegrass Farm in Kentucky. At that time, the only possibility of the venture returning a profit lay inVaguely Noble's being able to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1968. Trained by Entienne Pollet and ridden by Bill Williamson, that is exactly what the son of Vienna did.

After Lady In Lace (Chinese Whisper - Sea Spray) blitzed the Kingfisher Ultra Pune Derby, Gr.1 field last October, the Mistrys of Manjri Stud laid out a princely sum to acquire a share in the filly. For the transaction to show a profit, winning the Indian Derby was of utmost importance and to do so, she had to be in the Derby field. That has been achieved and now the rest is in the lap of the Gods. The Mistrys have been racing seriously for a little over three decades now and are yet to see their colours go first past the post in an Indian Derby. To achieve that, to acquire thathonour and experience that thrill, Lady In Lace offered just the ticket.

Lady In Lace has won seven of her last eight starts and has a three figure rating. Horses she has beaten in her last three starts and what those horses have achieved subsequently is very impressive indeed. In the Kingfisher Ultra Pune Derby, Gr.1, she beat Rochester who first ran second to Castlebridge in the Jacqueline Indian 2000 Guineas,Gr.1 and then lowered his colours in the Ramniwas Ramnarain Ruia Gold Cup, Gr.2; in the Golconda 1000 Guineas, Gr.2, she finished ahead of Mahateji who has since won the Golconda Derby, Gr.1 and Golconda Oaks, Gr.2; her scalps in the Spartan Poker Indian 1000 Guineas, Gr.1 included Windsor Forest, Ruffina and Manifold who, respectively, have made amends by winning the Bangalore 1000 Guineas, Gr.2, Darashwaw Million, Gr.3 and Villoo Poonawalla Indian Oaks, Gr.1. That boosts The Lady's standing enormously and has gathered her a legion of doting fans.

Those fans will ensure that she goes into the race as a favourite, probably a very short-priced one. Cheer leading is one thing; laying out a wager is another and those intending to do so should consider some purely racing aspects. The Lady will be having her first race in 49 days. No previous winner of the Indian Derby has had such a long gap. There have been rumours about some niggles and while it is not an absolutely confirmed fact, one has to be mindful that there is no smoke without fire. To get a filly to win the Indian Derby without a run for 49 days, especially afilly who had a setback -- however minor it may have been -- would be a tremendous training feat for her comparatively inexperienced trainer and he would deserve all the plaudits if he is successful. Generally, a colt is the preferred choice in a Derby. While her dosage figures presage well for The Lady, the fact is that she has so far not raced beyond 2000m. The most significant aspect of all, though, is that she will be up against a colt -- Prevalent Force (Multidimensional - Prevalence)-- who beat her comfortably the only  time they have met and has the same rating.

Prevalent Force was a bit of a late starter, his first win coming the day after The Lady notched up her fourth. He now has six wins on the trot. He has never been ridden by anyone but Y.S. Srinath who is also unbeaten in his three rides astride The Lady. He, therefore, has first hand knowledge of both of them and that could be very handy. In the Deccan Derby, Gr.1, which was run in abominal conditions, TheForce and The Lady matched strides for much of the straight before thecolt asserted himself and was beginning to draw away at the end. His margin of victory was a shade over two lengths. How one reads that race and interprets it could be an important factor.

Florescence -- the grandam of Prevalent Force -- and her descendants have won 70 races in India and the South India Derby, Gr.1 on the Pongal Day was the first over 2400 m. Winning thatrace doesn't say much about Prevalent Force's stamina potential because it was a poor class field and he was never tested. The dosage numbers do give Lady In Lace the edge but those numbers can often be misleading. The most obvious aspect is that stallions who have shaped the Indian-bred are not given a chef de race status. Few will argue against Multidimensional -- the sire of Prevalent Force -- and Razeen -- his damsire -- being accorded that status, albeit for Indian racing only. If both of them are considered as 'Classic' influences, the dosage figures of Prevalent Force improve considerably. That is academic. The result of a race depends on myriad factors and dosage is just one of them.

Prevalent Force is owned by The Edwards who hail from Sri Lanka. There was a time before the Independence when the Sri Lankan owners had a prominent role in Indian racing. The most famous horse owned by a Sri Lankan was Orange William who swept all before him in the mid-1920s. The Indian Derby has so far not been won by a foreigner and the Sri Lankan cricket team has not won a Test Match in India. Can Prevalent Force create a bit of history ?

After her stylish win in the Villoo Poonawalla Indian Oaks, Gr.1, Manifold (Multidimensional - Dhaawiah) proffers her name as a genuine contender. Admittedly, what she beat was nothing exciting but she did so without a fuss and ran the third fastest Indian Oaks of all time. She is now a course and distance winner to the boot. 19 fillies have won the Indian Derby and nine have recorded an Oaks-Derby double. That may look good but the fact is that 54 Oaks winners have run the Derby and only nine have won. It is hencerightly said that what an Oaks takes out of a filly is known only after she runs in the Derby. For instance, Busy Lizzie won the Indian Oaks by a distance but ran off the board in the Derby. The Derby comes much too quickly and Manifold will be facing much sterner opposition; but, she is a game filly who will give her best and her backers will get a run for their money.

Six winners of the Calcutta Derby have added the Indian Derby to their laurels and four of them have done so this century. It is also a fact that while a dozen horses attempted the double only four have succeeded. That is the task facing Aggregated (Dean's Kitten - Wonder Smile). He is the least experienced of the major contenders, has ample scope for improvement and has already won over the distance. He beat Shaman by almost the identical margin on his last two starts and that colt's poor showing at Malakpet raises questions about the Calcutta form. Being generous, one could say that Shaman, given to his moods, is not a reliable yardstick.

Also coming from Calcutta is Sana (Multidimensional - Yana) to add further strength to girl power. Sana was only second in the Calcutta Derby though, in extenuation, it has to be saidthat she received very feeble assistance from the saddle. One other fact isthat Sana has never beaten a horse who had won a black-type race.  There is no doubting Sana's stamina credentials and if ridden to her strength, itvery likely that she will recover the hefty final entry fee her owners havedished out.

Pesi Shroff had his first Indian Derby winner in Diabolic's year. In eleven years, he has had 30 Derby runners and that is probably more than any other trainer. His runners fall into two distinct categories. First come his Classic winners whose starting price clearly indicated their chance. He has fielded nine of them with Jacqueline and SetAlight starting as favourites. Jacqueline won while Set Alight was second. Of the remaining seven, three -- Smashing, Tiger Tops and Myrtlewood -- finished second while Xisca and Temerity were placed third. The second category belongs to staying or bred-to-stay contenders owned by his high profile owners who want a Derby runner. These have invariably gone to the post at long odds and haven't done badly at all with two of them -- Macchupicchu and Amazing Grace -- later on emerging as the winners of the Indian St. Leger, Gr.1 and six of them getting a place on the board in the Derby. Hemisphere (20/1), Circle of Bliss (13/1) and Gestapo (20/1) placed third and returned a healthy place dividend. Pesi Shroff certainly knows what he is doing.

Shroff's 'talking horse' this year is Zenon (Champs Elysees - Questa Nova) who has won his last two starts over 2000 m. He is certainly bred-to-stay. A niggle prevented him from running in the R.R. Ruia Gold Cup, Gr.2. A horse may have stamina but coming up against seasoned Classic contenders presents its own challenges and that is where Zenon may stumble. As a matter of interest, Manifold was worked with Carnival once and with Temerity next just before her Oaks. A few days earlier, Zenon had been worked with the same two horses so the trainer has a very good knowledge ofrelative merits of Manifold and Zenon. A Derby victory is hard to envisage, coming on the board is a distinct possibility and good career in the latter half of the year very much on cards.

It is unlikely that this year's winner will come through a horse not in the sextet  discussed. The race, however, has a knack of one the lesser fancied contenders running out of his skin, well beyond his form and gate-crashing to get his number in the frame. One needs a crystal ball to identify such a horse. There are a dozen horses that have accepted and they have average rating of a shade over 81 which is about 3 points less than the average of recent years.

PAST THE POST

The purchase of a share in Lady In Lace has created quite a buzz. It is not something uncommon because 16 of the Indian Derby winners have won the Blue Riband in ownership which was different from the one in which the horse first raced. Some were boughtoutright; in some, shares were acquired; some were bought very early in their careers while some changed hands after their Classic potential had become obvious. However, a sale during -- or just before -- Derby season catches the eye.

Not all such purchases have an happy ending and five such sales -- there are others -- are being mentionedhere. Perhaps, the most famous one is the Maharaja of Kashmir's purchase of the unbeaten Tall Story after he had won the Morvi Cup. Mr. M.P. Davis, the previous owner, had clearly told Kashmir that his Canny Scot was a better horse and had offered to sell him. Kashmir, however, stuck to his choice only to see Canny Scot win the Derby and his Tall Story fail to come on board. In 1986, Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy had still not won the Indian Derby when Chaitanya Ratham won the South India Derby at Guindy in such an impressive fashion that he immediatelybought her from M/s. J.S. Dhariwal, V.C. Narasimha Reddy, V. Vasanth Kumar Reddy & Sukhbir S. Bedi. A well-backed second favourite in Sir Bruce's Indian Derby, the filly ran a forward race but ultimately finished a poor third behind the favourite. Towards the end of 1998 Pune season, Dr. Ramaswamy had won the Indian Derby thrice -- including twice in his own colours -- but did not have a likely sort for the one coming up. A horse called Ace of Spades, owned by Mr. R.K. Jain and Partners had won impressively twice during that Pune season over 2000 m. and 2400 m. and he caught The Baron's eye. In partnership with Mr. Shapoor Mistry, Ace of Spades was purchased, won a Class II 2400 m. event as a lead-up to the Derby but finished last in Supervite'srace.  Ace of Spades, incidentally, was a Razeen half-brother to Florescence, the grandam of Prevalent Force !

When Dr. Ramaswamy's Simply Supreme won the R.R. Ruia Gold Cup, Gr.2 in fine style in January of 2004, he looked a tailor-made winner of the Indian Derby the next month. Dr. Cyrus Poonawallabought half a share in Simply Supreme. Simply Supreme did start as the favourite for the Indian Derby, was in the lead early in the straight only to peter out and finish 13th of 17 of runners. He did make amends, though, by winning the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1 in March. Like Ace of Spades and Simply Supreme, Hills and Stars was sired by Razeen. She was a filly who won the Nanoli Stud Pune Derby, Gr.1 in taking fashion for Mr. R.K. Wadhawan and Partners. Dr. Poonawalla bought a share in the filly who was never prominent in In The Spotlight's Derby. In The Spotlight, by the way, was bred at Poonawalla Farms. Hills and Stars did eventually provide a crumb of a consolation by winning the Golconda St. Leger, Gr.2.

In racing, you lose some, you win some.  In the instances mentioned above, Kashmir, Dr. Ramaswamy and Dr. Poonawalla may have been thwarted in their ultimate aim but all of them have won the Indian Derby with some of their other purchases. Perhaps, Mr. Shapoor Mistry will follow in their footsteps.