By Mahendra Mallya
Friday 23 Feb 2018
Trainer SHAZAAN SHAH Leading STEPPENWOLF (P TREVOR UP) Winner OF The A F S Talyarkhan Trophy

Three-year-old bay colt Steppenwolf (Dean’s Kitten – Rania) shrugged off the missed chance on his debut and pulled off a neat win to claim the AFS Talyarkahn Trophy. Setting off at a good clip soon on start, Steppenwolf led early and entered the straight with a slender lead. Kipling jostled with Grand Chieftain to stay in second while Non Plus Ultra took his time to settle down.

Shahzaan Shah trained Steppenwolf picked up speed soon on entering the homestretch and encountered no threat. Kipling fell back while Shivalik Queen improved well and even galloped purposefully, keeping Steppenwolf on his toes without sounding any alarm-bells to the favourite. Steppenwolf, with jockey Trevor on board, kicked on to win with a bit to spare. Shivalik Queen had to fight all the way to stay in second at the wire as Non Plus Ultra warmed up well in the final 100 meters and would benefit from this first outing.

Jockey CS Jodha has hit sublime form and in such times everything goes on well. He had a productive day at the office lining up a fine treble after a good positive start in the day’s first race atop Sunderji trained Turning Point.

Uncle Scrooge took a couple of strides to pick up at the start and tailed the field until into the straight.  Remember Me darted to the front before fading out in the straight. Pugnacious took charge early with 400 to go and was soon joined by Turning Point (Surfrider – Avec Plaisir). This pair went for it stride for stride through the long homestretch with both the inexperienced apprentice Zeeshan and the seasoned Jodha going hard at it. The prolonged battle was worth the watch and the build-up was mounting with every stride. Eventually Jodha managed to edge out Pugnacious and help Turning Point carve out a thrilling victory. One’s heart went out to the young lad Zeeshan, who rode gallantly all through and deserves applause for keeping his nerve and fighting spirit to the very end. The lad sure has a good future.

CS Jodha then won another battle this time playing the driving force to Tar Heel’s maiden success. It was not as easy going by the way the race shaped up in the final furlong. Favourite Astral Flare improved from the mid-bunch to skirt around the front-runners and go for the lead with about 300 to go. Here Zeeshan may have hurried and Astral Flare too came under pressure as both Tar Heel and Dusky Siren posed a serious challenge. The trio were abreast past the distance post. Jodha atop Tar Heel was in danger of being squeezed between his two rivals, however not one to be walk into any trap, Jodha forced his way between the two and surged ahead to clinch victory a few meters from the winning post. Astral Flare and Dusky Siren followed the winner home.  

Not done yet, jockey CS Jodha had another ace up his sleeve when he got Relentless Pursuit in the range in the final furlong. Sitting pretty in third at the turn, Relentless Pursuit (Moss Vale – Wine House, Hazara Stud) covered ground steadily and then produced a lively finishing effort to score comfortably. Dibaba warmed up nicely too but found Relentless Pursuit elusive. Rapid Girl did well to snatch the place money from long-time leader Arabian Storm.  

Checkmate (Canford cliffs – Sparkling Crystal, Highgrove Stud) justified the faith of a large number of supporters and thrilled them all with a scorching burst of speed at the business end.  The thrill was even more as Checkmate seemed to have had too much to do in the straight as the field turned for home. Firstly his start was not ideal and he was last in the bunched up field if you discount the two lagging behind. Secondly he veered outward at the turn and Sandesh had a tough time getting him on even-keel. By then Pokerface had sewn up a handy lead and was shaping well with Tenerife looking the main threat. Sandesh had to put all his resources to work and once Checkmate was ready for the final finish, the Shroff trained gelding showed a fiery turn of foot and make the others look pedestrian. Within strides he was at them and then blazed away to score impressively. A hat-trick is most likely on the cards.

Age is just a number and this was proved by the zestful Wind Craft (Aragorn – Tight Circle, Manjri Stud) when the nine-year-old Sangram Joshi ward blew away the opposition in an impressive show of speed over the scurry right from the start. Wind Craft, with apprentice K Nazil in the saddle, blazed away to a good start and once in the straight, accelerated ever better to add distance between himself and his rivals. No one could catch up and Wind Craft won by a healthy margin. Sparkling Thea beat the rest comfortable to run a notable well second ahead of Eternal Dancer.

Centaurus (Virtual – Caressed, Bhaktawar Stud) virtually caressed the turf in his majestic gait in the straight. He had some ground to cover over the fancied She’s A Tiger when they turned for home. Trevor was hard at work and fighting to keep his lead when Centaurus began to warm up with 300 to go. He picked up momentum and devoured ground at a brisk pace to soon take charge and win easing up. Pacific Dunes showed up when all was over yet managed to pip She’s A Tiger for the runner up slot.

For the professionals, jockey CS Jodha was the star pro picking up a treble, while trainer Imtiaz Sait saddled a double.