Maj. Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Nothing divides Calcutta more equally, right down the Chowringhee as it were, than Mohan Bagan and East Bengal; or, rosgollas and sandesh; or, politically, the Right and The Left. To that you can add, this coming Sunday, Dandified and In the Spotlight. One suspects, though, that local sentiment will eventually tilt the support in the favour of the Khaitan-owned colt.
The Eveready Calcutta Derby, Gr.1 is a straight match between Dandified and In The Spotlight. Forget the others who have even a lesser role play than the picadores or the banderilleros in a bull fight. It's the colt versus the filly; a cool, creep-from-behind mugger taking on a spontaneous, exhilarating front runner; a local hero out to quell the challenge of an audacious raider; a first crop foal of a new, immensely promising stallion confronting an established frontline Classic sire's 'get' bred on an established cross. The two are evenly matched and given the allowance to which the filly is entitled, there is just a five point difference in the ratings.
Dandified (Rebuttal - Dandoona) has won seven - including four black-type events - of his eight races from 1200 m. to 2000 m. Always ridden by Christopher Alford, he goes into the Derby with a winning run of four races, the last three being black-type races.
In the Spotlight (Alnasr Alwasheek - Radiate) is a winner of four black-type races from her eight starts and has a Classic hat-trick to boost her chances. Both have won monsoon Derbys, Dandified winning his by seven and a half lengths and In The Spotlight hers by five. In The Spotlight is a course and distance winner and has a Gr.1 victory to her credit. Dandified has run all his races at Calcutta and has a comfortable win against older horses on his last start to his credit. Dandified has lost just once while In The Spotlight has been beaten four times. None of these facts alter the balance between the two protagonists.
In the end, it could well come down to how the race is run. The only slight worry for the Khaitan camp is that their colt has yet not tackled a mile and a half trip whereas In the Spotlight simply demolished the Oaks field. There are no doubts whatsoever about her stamina and even a posse of pacemakers, taking turns at the job, will not harm her chances. Going to the front is not peacemaking. If the pace set is good, the filly is comfortable sitting in a box seat; if it is not upto the mark, she is quite capable of making the running. She will endeavour to pinch a useful lead coming into the straight and then gallop on relentlessly.
In his last two starts over a mile, Dandified has given ample evidence of his abundant class and being entirely content to loll at the back-end of the field, moving up smoothly round the bend and then picking them off one by one. Alford had a double Nelson on the colt in the Calcutta 2000 Guineas Gr.2 which he never relaxed and the colt won cosily but not spectacularly. A week later in the Calcutta Gold Cup Gr.2, Alford gave him just a wee bit of rein against seasoned campaigners and he won by a slightly longer margin in a significantly faster time. If he can do that at the end of the Derby trip, we will be in for a titanic battle in the last furlong.
Dandified's pedigree presents a dilemma. His sire Rebuttal, inbred 3x3 to the miler Gone West, has started off sensationally getting three Classic winners and other winners galore. There has yet to be a good winner - bar Dandified -beyond a mile among them so far. Dandified did win the Calcutta Monsoon Derby, Gr.3 over 2000 m. but the opposition was well below par. Rebuttal's sire Mr. Greeley is also essentially a sire of classy milers. So, for Rebuttal to produce a mile and a half horse at the Classic level, the stamina has to come from the dam's side. The tail-female line of Dandified - tracing to Black Ray - has done well in India. Several notable stallions -- Hyder Ali, Red Indian, Royal Gleam, Eagle Rock and Royal Kingdom, to mention just some - and some illustrious runners like Fair Ray (also a sire), Alamito, Artois and Zurbaran belong to this family. Internationally, Khaled, Mill Reef and Blushing Groom are the best advertisements for the Black Ray clan. In fact, Dandified, the Nanoli Stud Pune Derby, Gr.1 winner Artois and Zurbaran, who won the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1, are all from the Milan Mill (dam of Mill Reef) stirps of the family. Seeds of doubt, however, are sowed by the successive maternal grandsires along Dandified's tail-female line. Zafonic (miler), Danehill (versatile) and Jacinto (miler) do not guarantee certain stamina.
As the things stand, we have a colt who oozes class and has a pedigree which suggests that he should (that's the operative word) get the trip. Against him is a filly who is certain to stay but may just be a touch short on class. The perennial question of class versus stamina. Over a mile, the vote would overwhelmingly have been favour of Dandified. At 2000 m., Dandified would just about get the edge. Over a mile and a half, the filly perhaps has the nod. The race ought to be decided at the bend. If Dandified has moved up earlier than he did in his last two races and does not allow In the Spotlight the luxury of a handy break, he can carry the day. On the other hand, if filly comes into the straight with an advantage of three or more lengths, the odds will be in her favour. Tactics will be as important as the intrinsic calibre.
PAST THE POST
Finally, as always, some interesting trivia about the Calcutta Derby:-
* The first ten runnings of the race were over 2000 m.
* Fillies have won 17 times and have a better strike rate than the Derbys at Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
* Royal Challenge, who won the race in 1971, also won other four Classics to become the first filly to win all five.
* Calcutta Derby is the only winter Derby in which there has been a dead-heat -- Aphroze and Zara Shah in 1989.
* The Khaitan family has won the Calcutta Derby 16 times.
* A filly - Abs Fabs - holds the record for the fastest time - 2.28.79 – recorded in the derby.
* Razeen has sired six winners of the race.
* Usha Stud leads Poonawalla Group 9-8.
* Trainer Vijay Singh has saddled the highest - eight - number of winners.
* Jockeys E.J. Cracknell and Aslam Kader are the leaders with five wins each.
* Altimara (dam of Xisca) and Adelina (dam of Aspirant) were themselves winners of the Calcutta Derby.