Maj. Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
The oldest Classic in India is the Indian 1000 Guineas and its 69th renewal is scheduled for the coming Sunday when it will be sponsored, for the first time, by Radio Mirchi. Over the last three decades or so, this race has almost become the private battleground for the two leading stud farms in India -- the Poonawalla Group of Farms and Usha Stud. It was Highland Rule in 1979 which gave the former its first success in the race and it won two more before Usha Stud came into the reckoning with Snow in 1983. In the last 32 runnings, the two stud farms have between them won 26 times with the score 14-12 in favour of the Poonawallas. No other stud farm has had more than a solitary success during this period.
The highest rated filly in this year's likely field is Poonawalla-bred. Black Magic Woman (Placerville - One Magic Moment) has won five of her seven races and been runner-up in the other two starts. She is, however, yet to win over a mile. Placerville has sired four previous winners of the race so there is no concern on that score. That comes from the dam line where there is no mile winner in two generations. The plus point is that Black Magic Woman settles well and comes from behind so holds a realistic winning chance, especially in a slow run race. Her last win over a proven horse like Forest Flair was eye-catching and she ran a blinder of last 400m. Interestingly, BMW as some refer to the filly, is bred on the same lines -- Mr. Prospector line sire out of a Tirol mare -- as Lovely Kiss. Lovely Kiss did win the Bangalore Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.1 but the form of that race has gone haywire recently with Lovely Kiss herself and Nearness of You disappointing in Bangalore and Preordained not sighted at Malakpet. BMW, it has to be mentioned, has recently changed stables -- or should one say garages? -- as she is now with Bezan Chenoy
The other Poonawalla-bred filly could be Dr.M.A.M. Ramswamy's Haunting Fantasy (Diffident Scenic Royale). A winner of the Forbes Breeders' Juvenile Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.3 last Mumbai season, she is technically the only course and distance winner in the field. Technically, because this year's race is likely to be run on the round course whereas Haunting Fantasy won her race from the mile chute. She was a good second to Cardinal in the S.A. Poonawalla Million, Gr.2 but ran nowhere in the Nanoli Stud Pune Derby, Gr.1 won by Hills and Stars. Haunting Fantasy was also beaten in her prep race by Lake Paradise, a lesser bracket-mate of Hills and Stars though she had the excuse of the winner drifting across her. That said, she may have just about won that race and something more substantial was needed. She runs only with an upsetting chance.
Arraigned against Poonawalla-bred duo will be a phalanx of Usha Stud-born fillies -- Hills and Stars, Romantique, Botswana, Smashing and Vittoria, the last two as yet unbeaten. Hills and Stars hasn't raced since her Pune triumph and her preparation -- she recently had a mock race over 1200m. where two lesser horses finished ahead of her -- does not suggest that she is a certain starter, keeping her powder dry for longer Classics later. In any case, it is always a difficult to run a mile Classic after having won a Summer/Monsoon Derby. Her trainer Vinyak will know that well because of his three previous Pune Derby winners -- Indictment, Tobler and Artois -- only the first named was successful in the Indian 2000 Guineas and the other two failed. If she does run, she will need a sizzling pace and Lake Paradise may be entrusted to do just that.
Romantique (China Visit - Romantic Liaison) hasn't run since her third in Pronto Pronto's Kingfisher Derby Bangalore. She, too, has had an undistinguished mock race, is not bred to be a miler and perhaps has her eye on the Oaks. Botswana (Invincible Spirit - Kerataka) lost her unbeaten status when St. Catz gave her 2.5 kgs and a length's beating last month at Mahalakshmi. She may have been a trfile underdone, has never attempted a mile so far and it looks difficult -- though not impossible -- for her to reverse the verdict on St. Catz.
Dr. Vijay Mallya is the leading owner having won the race five times previously including twice in the last three years. Four of his winners had names beginning with "S" -- Secret Star, Six Speed, Set Alight and Siachen -- so having Smashing to carry his colours this time will be considered a happy augury. Smashing (Holy Roman Emperor - Exquisite) has won all her three starts thus far, the first two by long margins and the recent one in Mumbai more conservatively. She is yet to essay a mile trip but on pedigree that distance doesn't appear to be a problem. Holy Roman Emperor is the sire of this year's staying "Iron Lady" Banimpire while the dam is a daughter of Galileo. While Exquisite was unraced, one of her siblings has won over a mile and another upto a mile and a half. Smashing will be running in black-type company for the first time on Sunday and faces a stern test. She will have the services of Class Apart to ensure a suitable pace.
Vittoria (China Visit - Prevalence), trained by Bezan Chenoy, has four wins from four starts including one over a mile, which appears to be her ideal distance as her full-brother was a winner of the S.A. Poonawalla Million, Gr.2 and her dam claimed the North India Derby, Gr.3. She is from the same family as last year's winner Siachen. Vittoria, too, will be taking a major step in running her first graded race.
A form line through In the Spotlight and Southern Bay gives a distinct advantage to Black Magic Woman over St. Catz (Royal Kingdom - Irish Glitter) and that is reflected in their respective ratings. Supporters of St. Catz will contend that when Black Magic Woman and Southern Bay met in Bangalore, the former was at top her game while the latter was just coming into her own. Like Black Magic Woman, St. Catz is yet to win over a mile but it was only by a short-head that she lost to In The Spotlight over that distance. The biggest worry from their point of view is that the daughter of Royal Kingdom fights for her head and doesn't settle. The connections are likely to repose their faith in the stable jockey Neeraj Rawal -- who is yet to win a Classic -- and trust that their loyalty will not go unrewarded.
The field is likely to contain three unbeaten fillies -- Smashing and Vittoria already discussed -- and three saddled by Pesi Shroff, Smashing and Botswana being two of them. The third is Alma Mater (Royal Kingdom - La Pieta). Alma Mater has won both her starts in shallow waters but has come on steadily. In Pune, she was Smashing's galloping companion. Recently, she held Picasso in a mock race. Alma Mater, a bracket-mate of St. Catz -- that's short for St. Catherine's, the Oxford college from where the part-owner Mr. Amay Ruia graduated -- has a pedigree that's a connoisseur’s delight and is expected to run a big race despite her lack of experience and low rating.
PAST THE POST
With an average field of a round dozen, the Indian 1000 Guineas is a race that is generally well contested. However, in 1983, just three fillies lined up. They dawdled down the mile chute and despite the pace picking up later, the eventual winning time -- 1.51.5 -- is the slowest ever. It was the RRB-trained Camineto on whom Vasant Shinde made the running only to be picked off effortlessly by Snow to provide Pesi Shroff with his first Classic victory. The two Grey Gaston fillies had previously run 1-2 in the Derby Bangalore, Gr.1 over 2000m. with Camineto winning easily by two and a half lengths. Camineto came to Mahalakshmi after winning the Bangalore 1000 Guineas while Snow's prep race was over the 1200m. of Sir Charles Forbes Cup. Bezan Chenoy has always contended that Snow was possibly the fastest horse he trained. Camineto was more of a miler. The 1983 Indian 1000 Guineas will always remain a classic example of how pace, pedigree and tactics determine the outcome of a race.