Maj. Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
This Sunday, the 2008 crop turns four and eight birthday girls will contest the first four-year old Classic when the Golconda Oaks is run at Malakpet. In the last ten years, during which four favourites have won the race, there has been a curious coincidence. There have been just two instances of local horses winning both the Guineas (the 1000 & 2000) and in those two years, the winner of Golconda 1000 Guineas, Gr.2 -- Ruby Queen in 2007 and Attractress in 2008 -- went on to complete a Classic double for themselves and a hat-trick for the home team. This year, too, the two Guineas have been won by horses trained on the southern banks of Musi and the supporters of Surya Lakshmi (Burden of Proof - Indian Endeavour) will probably look on it as a happy omen.
Surya Lakshmi has been consistency personified, never out of a place in any of her seven starts. Her three wins include the Golconda 1000 Guineas, Gr.2 on her last outing where she avenged her defeat at the hands of Practicallyperfect in the DBA Hyderabad Fillies Championship Stakes, Gr.3. Prior to that she had been second to In The Spotlight in the Deccan Derby, Gr.1, admittedly a good five lengths adrift of the winner. In The Spotlight has subsequently enhanced the value of that form with an effortless Classic double at Calcutta. She is bound to run her usual, honest race though one has to question whether she would have the required stamina to win. Being by Burden of Proof out of a Green Desert mare is not a recipe for a certain stayer.
Practicallyperfect is the other Classic winner among the contestants. She won the DBA Hyderabad Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.3 in the monsoon beating Surya Lakshmi by a neck but went down to the local filly in her last start finishing a neck and a half length away in third. In between those two Classics, Practicallyperfect was fourth twice, first when taking on older horses - at unfavourable weights - over a mile and then in Field Marshal's Poonawalla Mysore Derby, Gr.1. Her five siblings are all winners and though they were by stouter stallions, none won beyond 2000 m. Their dam, Sterling Prospect, won over 1800 m. and is a half-sister to Calcutta 2000 Guineas, Gr.2 winner Antequera. There must be some apprehension about Practicallyperfect getting the mile and a half trip because her deceased sire Sunday Doubt was essentially a "speed" horse and her run at Mysore did not suggest that she was crying out for a longer distance.
The filly who ticks most boxes is Forever Glory (Alnasr Alwasheek - Forever Eelgance) bred on the same cross as In The Spotlight and Southern Bay (as was last year's winner String Along). She won her lead-up race at Bangalore over 1800m running away from the field and there are simply no doubts about her stamina. She is the first foal of her dam who won the Stayers' Cup, Gr.1 as well as the Derby and the Oaks at Bangalore while her grandam Salute Her won the St. Legers at Bangalore and Hyderabad. On rating, she needs to find just a couple of lengths to get the better of Practicallyperfect. Though she has no black-type to her name so far and will most probably be ridden by the inexperienced Sreekanth, she will be going over a trip that her pedigree demands. Forever Glory is owned by Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy who has won this race nine times previously. The stable is not as formidable as it was till a few years back but can pull this one off.
Practicallyperfect and Forever Glory will be going over from Bangalore alongwith Chantilly (Batzushka - Chantenay) and Effectual (Sunday Doubt - Ashleen). Effectual's only win from five starts has come over a sprint and there is a possibility that she will hit the front when the gates open and make the pace for Practicallyperfect. Effectual's dam is a three-parts sister to Star of the Crop whose time of 2.30.2 has not yet been bettered in a Golconda Oaks.
Chantilly, trained by S.S. Attaollahi, will join forces with Crown Crystal (Tejano - Crown Secret) and the pair will carry the colours of Dr. Vijay Mallya. As with all horses sporting those silks they will try their utmost but their ratings are low. Trainer S.A. Shehzad Abbas's Crown Crystal is one of the three fillies trained at Malakpet; the remaining one is Aegis (Royal Kingdom - Adventure). Aegis has failed to get her number on the board in only one of her nine starts. That was in Practicallyperfect's race where she was fifth. Her three wins have come at distances short of a mile. The produce of Glimmer of Water - the grandam of Aegis - and her daughters have won 26 races but only one of them has been over 2000m. Form and pedigree do not point to Aegis turning the tables of the Brar filly.
Two other challengers from Mumbai also reached Malakpet with the race as the target. Romantique, however, refused to leave the stalls when given a mock race on Monday and again at gate practice on Wednesday. Trainer Imtiaz Sait hence had no option but to scratch her. Third to Pronto Pronto in the Kingfisher Derby Bangalore, Gr.1 in the summer, Romantique could have added a fourth dimension to proceddings on Sunday.
Swift Memories (Major Impact - Memories of You), trained by Dallas Todywalla, will carry the Pronto Pronto colours of the Mistry’s. While none of her seven rivals have so far ventured beyond 2000 m., Swift Memories already has a win over 2400m. to her credit. She has followed it up with another victory during the current Mumbai season. Bred on the same cross as Pronto Pronto, balanced inbred to Roberto, she is a half-sister to Nanoli Stud Pune Derby, Gr.1 winner Secret Memory. Their black-type winning dam was a runner-up in the Nanoli Stud Indian Oaks, Gr.1 and is a half-sister to the Olympia Technology Park Stayers' Cup, Gr.1 winner Aperitivo. The next dam, Dramatic Irony, placed third in the Kingfisher Indian Oaks, Gr.1. So plenty of class and stamina. The fact, however, remains that she is the lowest rated of all runners and so has a daunting task facing her.
PAST THE POST
As usual, some interesting trivia about Golconda Oaks:-
* When Nicolette won the inaugural Golconda Oaks in 1980, she had to beat just one rival, a filly called Eternity. That's the smallest field ever for the race. It also resulted in the slowest time of 2.46.2.
* Two grey fillies -- Nicolette and Cabaret -- have won the race. Both were bred at the Byerly Stud.
* Placerville is the most successful stallion having sired four winners.
* The Poonawalla Group of Farms heads the table with seven wins.
* Trainer R.R. Byramji will have no runner on Sunday and jockey Mallesh Narredu has retired. Their records, however, will stand even after Sunday. Byramji sent out five winners and Narredu rode three.
* Vasant Shinde was never astride a Golconda Oaks winner.
* Leo D'Silva rode Minicoy to a victory in 1985. In 2004, he saddled Annapolis to win the race.