Rains have caused the postponement of the Calcutta Derby. It will be run a week later on the 15th but the postponement does bring in an element of uncertainty and alters equations. It makes no difference to the no-hopers but it certainly affects the leading players. Horses are honed and trained-to-the minute, as best as they can, by their trainers and any changes in the plot does catch them off-guard.
Some people may contend that seven days is not too long a time and it should have no bearing. But it does. Horses are not machines and are programmed to run the best race of their life in a Derby through a process that has taken over a year. The race planning is one aspect. As the day draws near, the actual preparation on the track is another. It is like having a pot of milk on the stove. As it nears the boiling point, the temperature has to be finely controlled otherwise the milk spills over. A horse may not be able to differentiate between an ordinary race and a Derby but he certainly knows he is being readied for one. In some stables, horses to race over the week-end are moved to a more secure stall; there are subtle changes in the feeding and working regimen; there is the visit of the farrier to put on the racing plates. All these tell a horse that a race is round the corner.
When that race is postponed, how does he react? We will never know. Take the case of the trainer. He has, one presumes, 'peaked' his horse. Now he has to wait for a week. How does he maintain his colt or his filly as taut through these seven days. It is not a situation he encounters often and he could be caught unawares.
How does the postponement affect the two main contestants? In The Spotlight was going into the Derby with just a two week gap between the Oaks and the Derby. While it varies from a horse to horse and trainer to trainer, a three week gap is generally considered ideal. The extra week that In The Spotlight gets is probably to her advantage. On the other hand, the postponement definitely scuppers her future plans. One suspects that win or lose, she would have headed to Mumbai for the Indian Oaks. That option has been effectively ruled out by the rains. Dandified had an ideal three week break between his last run in the Calcutta Gold Cup and the Derby. Now the task before his handler is how to keep him simmering.
Off the cuff, one can recall three Indian Derbys which were postponed. The earliest of these was in 1956 when the Sanyukta Maharashtra agitation had disturbed India's commercial capital and the Derby was postponed. The favourite for the race was Kashmir's Noble Way who had won the Indian 2000 Guineas. When the Derby was actually run, Noble Way was beaten a head by Gwalior's Star of Gwalior. Maj V.M. Lad, who trained the winner, had always held high hopes of his horse but the horse disappointed him continuously. His poor, unplaced run in the Indian 2000 Guineas had been particularly galling. Then came a beacon of hope with a start to finish victory over seven furlongs on the New Year's Day. A week later, Star of Gwalior was only fourth in the Sir H.M. Mehta Gold Cup -- the Ruia of those days -- and yet he ran a decent forward race. As the Derby approached, Star of Gwalior thrived and improved. Still, he was, according to his trainer, only "14 annas" for the big race. Then came the postponement and it gave an opportunity for Maj Lad to get one more gallop and one more spurt into his horse. Star of Gwalior was ridden with greater restraint in the Derby by Egan and he challenged Noble Way at the distance and scored by a head. In the St. Leger, Star of Gwalior maintained that upward curve and beat Noble Way by two and a quarter lengths. The postponement harmed the favourite and worked to the advantage of the 20/1 outsider.
In 1973, the syces brought racing to a halt and the Derby, run normally on the first Sunday in February, was eventually run in mid-March. It was always considered to be a private match between two brothers. S,M. Shah, the reigning big race trainer, had the favourite Bade Miya, owned by Mr. M.D. Mehta while his younger brother S.S. Shah trained Mansoor, owned by small owner-breeders, the Potias. Bade Miya had always been a Classic hopeful; Mansoor had begun that season in Class VA and had worked his way up the ranks. Mansoor, ridden by Khade, won the postponed Derby by a neck from the favourite Bade Miya. Had the Derby been run as originally scheduled, Bade Miya would have been ridden by Christy Roche. There are people who still contend that Shamu Chavan never balanced Bade Miya properly and that the horse would have won with Roche in the saddle. S.S. Shah, on the other hand, is adamant that his horse was at his peak in February and that he had found it difficult to maintain him at the same level afterwards.
It was for a frivolous and non-racing reason that the Indian Derby of 1993 was postponed by three weeks. Re-scheduled for 28 February, it came just a week before the Indian Turf Invitation Cup run that year at Hyderabad. Obviously, it was impossible for horses to run in both the races and some remained at Mumbai while others went to Hyderabad. Mr. Deepak Khaitan's Astronomic, the favourite, won the Derby beating Dr. Vijay Mallya's Summer Dust by a neck while over in Hyderabad, Adler romped home in the Mallya colours. Had the Derby not been postponed, Adler would have won it because in the St. Leger he beat Astronomic out of sight. The postponement meant that Dr. Mallya lost a chance of owning a winner of the Indian Triple Crown and so did jockey Vasant Shinde.
PAST THE POST
A recent postponement took place in 2009. That year, the Mumbai season had commenced as late as 31 January because of an outbreak of an epidemic. Fitting in the Classics in the truncated season was a tough job in itself. Added to that came the postponement of the Derby. It was by a week only but it must certainly have affected the favourite Set Alight because she was beaten by Antonios.