By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Saturday 03 Mar 2018
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

The last time the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr. 1 was run in Calcutta, it was a historic occasion because, for the first time older horses were permitted to participate. This year, the terms of the race have been amended, making them less ‘weighted’ in favour of the Classic generation. In the first five runnings of the 'open' Invitation Cup, the older horses had to give 4 kgs. to the younger generation. Now they have to concede just 2 kgs. 

Twenty horses have filled the frame in the five renewals of the 'open' era. 11 of them were filled by the Classic generation and nine by older horses. That is not surprising since in each of those five contests, the Classic generation had more runners than older horses. It is interesting to speculate what the results of those five races would have been had the 2 kgs. concession been in vogue. Applying the usual racing parameters, it would seem that Tintinnabulation would have finished only third behind Ocean and Beyond and Onassis in the inaugural year and Quasar would have won the 2015 renewal at Chennai.

There are three older horses in the fray this year and they include two, Alaindair and Temerity, who have won this race previously. They are also the two highest rated horses in the field. Alaindair (Multidimensional - God's Grace) was the winner at Hyderabad in 2014. He is now an eight year-old, a popular veteran who is still acquitting himself creditably at the highest level. On his last start in January, he won the Indian Champion Cup, Gr.1. He was off the bridle round the bend but unleashed a smooth finishing effort that saw him lift the prize. There are three reasons why he may find this a tough task on Sunday. Of late, he has run best when coming off a longish spell away from racing and running fresh. The gap between the Indian Champion Cup, Gr.1 and this race is not long enough. Secondly, he has fitness issues which demand the long breaks. Thirdly, though he has won three Gr.1 races over 2400 m. -- all as a four year-old -- his ideal distance appears to be 2000 m. This will be the fourth Invitation Cup that Alaindair will be running in and a victory on Sunday will be welcomed warmly by everyone who likes a "golden oldie". It is as a betting proposition that his appeal is less.

Temerity (Intense Focus - Narmina) won this race quite easily -- in fact, by the longest margin of the open era -- and she has strong credentials to become the first back-to-back Invitation Cup winner. On the down side, Temerity has run three absolute 'stinkers'. She got worked up in the stalls before the Indian 1000 Guineas and ran last. Well fancied for the Indian St. Leger, Gr.1 at Poona, she was truly  beaten by the stable-mate Mathaiyus. She was reportedly in season on the Leger day. Last month, she contrived to lose a two horse race in the Eclipse Stakes of India, her jockey misjudging the pace and making a right royal horlicks of it all. The point to note, though, is that she bounced back from the first two instances to win her next start. The 'Rule of Three' suggests that she may do the same thing again.

Salazaar (Burden of Proof - Saddle Star) won the South India Derby on his first essay over 2400 m. but has failed to win over the same distance in his four other starts since. He was six lengths behind Temerity in last year's Invitation Cup at Bangalore and his second to Escala on his last start at Chennai is a bit galling. His jockey will be in the URBB colours and that alone warrants some respect.

The consensus seems to be that the 2014 crop is short on quality. To an extent, this is borne out by the results with all of them taking turns to beat each other and no one has really stamped his -- or her -- authority as the best of the class. The current highest rated of that crop is Rochester (Phoenix Tower - Krasnaya), the winner of the Indian Derby. This colt, trained by S.K. Sunderji, has improved phenomenally with each run since the start of the winter season. He was rated only 69 when he came out for the Indian 2000 Guineas and ran second to Castlebridge. The then beat Castlebridge in the Ruia and followed it up winning the Indian Derby. He is now rated 115; an improvement of 46 points in less than two months. He cut down Castlebridge in the Ruia and Lady In Lace in the Derby with his determined finishing, characterised more by a steely resolve than a real turn of foot. He is worthy leader of the Classic brigade. In 1989, trainer S.K. Sunderji won the Pune Derby with Desert Warrior and then voluntarily quit the trainers' ranks. A share in Desert Warrior was acquired by Dr. & Mrs. C.S. Poonawalla and  the colt transferred to Altaf Hussain. For his new trainer, Desert Warrior won the Indian Derby and the Indian Turf Invitation Cup at Calcutta in 1990. Now we have Sunderji coming to Calcutta with his own Indian Derby winner after 28 years. 48 winners of the Indian Derby have gone on to run in the Invitation Cup and 18 of them have completed the double.

Lady In Lace (Chinese Whisper -  Sea Spray) led the field in the Indian Derby for a while in the straight till Rochester came along. Earlier in the Deccan Derby, too, she had caved in after a brief tussle with Prevalent Force. She is a good filly but perhaps not deserving of the fanciful epithets by which she was referred to. Her Indian Derby and Deccan Derby defeats also hint at, perhaps, some stamina deficiency. She did have a setback in her preparation prior to the Indian Derby whereas now she comes better prepared. The short Calcutta straight -- like the Pune straight -- may also be to her liking but her chances of turning the tables on Rochester remain, at best, 50-50.

Manifold (Multidimensional - Dhaawiah), the Indian Oaks winner, has also been very consistent having been fourth in the Indian 1000 Guineas and third in the Indian Derby. She was, probably, kept too far back and asked to quicken much too late in the Indian Derby. She may not have beaten Rochester as the race was run but could have finished ahead of Lady In Lace. Stamina is her forte and if that strength is to be exploited, she has to be ridden more up with the pace. Ridden that way, it is hard to see her missing the board on Sunday.   

Kangra, Star Carnation and Mahateji finished in that order on their last start in the Catalyst Properties Bangalore Derby, Gr.1 and the verdict was a length and two lengths. On that basis, their present ratings of 92, 89 and 92 are a bit hard to reconcile. Kangra and Mahateji have been very game and consistent but appear to be some way off the leaders of their generation and it is hard to envisage their winning the race on Sunday. Star Carnation did catch the eye with his sustained finishing effort. The gelding is comparitively unexposed but that run appears a flash in the pan. 


Some irrelevant, but hopefully interesting, facts about the Invitation Cups at Calcutta:

*  Hovercraft, who won the first Invitation Cup run at Calcutta, had won a 1200 m. race as a lead up to her big win. Bright Hanovar emulated her in 1971. He, too, ran in a 1200 m. though he finished only fifth. These are the only two instances of an Invitation Cup winner running in a sprint handicap in the previous start. 

* Majority of Indian Derby winners run the Invitation Cup and many of them have bagged the double. However, four of the winners at Calcutta -- Hovercraft (1964), Prince Regent (1967), Midnight Cowboy (1975) and Tintinnabulation (2013) -- had not participated in the Indian Derby.

* Pyare Miya (1975) and Super Storm (2013) are the only Indian Derby winners who were "board out" in the Invitation Cup at Calcutta.

* Some fast timings have been registered in the Invitation Cup at Calcutta:

1964  HOVERCRAFT               - 2.36      (New Track Record, New Race Record)

1980  EVERYNSKY                  - 2.34.4   (New Track Record)

1985  REVELATION                 - 2.34.1    (New Track Record)

1995  ELUSIVE PIMPERNEL  - 2.30.1    (New Track Record, New Race Record)

2007  SOUTHERN EMPIRE     - 2.28.09 (New Track Record)

* On the other hand, Desert Warrior clocked 2.40.9 when winning the Invitation Cup at Calcutta in 1990. That is the slowest time ever for this race.

* Three of the first four winners of the Invitation Cup at Calcutta were locally trained horses. A locally trained horse has not won at Calcutta since.

* Only R.R. Byramji among the trainers and jockeys V. Faggotter and P. Shroff have won more than one Invitation Cup at Calcutta.

* No owner has won more than one Invitation Cup at Calcutta.