Mr Vijay B Shirke & Mr K N Dhunjibhoy leading Cardinal (B Prakash Up), winner of The Ramniwas Ramnarain Ruia Gold Cup Gr-2
Pesi Shroff trained Cardinal (Placerville – Haunting beauty) owned by the Shirke and Dhunjibhoy combine, produced an electrifying gallop in the pulsating last few strides of the race, to nose the wire in a belligerent finish to wrest victory in the Ramniwas Ramnarian Ruia Gold Cup (Gr 2). Cardinal superseded two other gallant efforts in what was a fitting climax for a race as important as the traditional Derby lead-up. However, the ‘Derby lead-up’ tag may well be discarded as a couple of the ‘bigger players’ for the forthcoming Derby chose to run a mock race later the same evening than take on each other in the Ruia Cup.
That did not, however, take away the sheen of the highly competitive race which was run as much from the human minds as it was run on the equine legs. This was more a race of strategies and the interesting bit was that three different strategies from three different camps nearly pulled it off for them all. Well, nearly. And Boy, what a huge difference this ‘nearly’ makes!
Field Marshal had won most of his races end to end. He is a natural front-runner over any distance and it was no surprise when he galloped to the front soon on start. The rest followed in a single file as Sergeant Pepper, Star of Gibraltar, Star Marquess, Knighton spaced themselves to settle in that order and surprisingly, Cardinal stayed back, more than 10 lengths away from the leader, reserving his best for the last.
This order was not disturbed until the homestretch. The galloping half-dozen were fast gathering into a bunch, with Cardinal too progressing, on his own terms, but surely within the bunch, yet last. Sergeant Pepper was the first to question Field Marshal’s lead soon on turning for home. However, sergeant Pepper didn’t show enough spice to topple him. Moments later, Star Marquess got past the Sergeant and was trying to bridge the two-something gap that Field Marshal still enjoyed, with less than 300 to go. Cardinal meanwhile, moved away from the pack, steering clear and made his bid from the wider outside.
Past the distance post, Field Marshal came under pressure and David Allan though not desperate, was urging him vigorously, using the stick to spur Field Marshal on. Star Marquess quickened at this stage, but so too had Cardinal. Both Star Marquess and Cardinal launched a final attack on Field Marshal and at the all important borderline, Cardinal had the tip of his nose firmly ahead of Star Marquess. Field Marshal fell short by a neck. It was a fantastic three-way finish, with Cardinal producing his best yet. Star Marquess was a trifle unlucky to see a brilliant effort not being justly rewarded, and also to have encountered Cardinal in this kind of galloping mood. Field Marshal did everything right and was beaten by better performers on the day.
“It was Prakash’s splendid ride that guided Cardinal to this thrilling win. There were tense moments all through as I saw Cardinal inching closer to Field Marshal. Despite knowing Cardinal’s final dash, I was a bit worried as Field Marshal had a handy lead and Cardinal still had some ground to cover. The final few yards were gripping and we had to wait until the very last stride to savour the victory,” said Mr KN Dhunjibhoy, joint owner of Cardinal.
Jockey B Prakash was jubilant. “I never suspected his staying prowess and that had convinced me that I should wait with him. I had a watchful eye on Field Marshal too and knowing the Mumbai straight, I was not unduly hasty. Cardinal eased into a nice rhythm early on and it was near the 600 that I switched gears. I took the turn wide to avoid possible congestion. In the straight, I opened him and he responded just the way I knew he would. It was a close call though and I am glad the timing or the run turned out to be precise,” said Prakash. When I asked him if Cardinal would up stand up to the extended Derby trip, he added “We will take it race by race. He stayed well here without any duress and I would say that he has the potential. It will depend on how he reacts to this race, a bit of rest and once he is fresh again, he should be fine going over the Derby trip; yes I can say that he will stay the distance.”
Cardinal was outstanding and Prakash played a pivotal role riding a perfect race. He utilized every inch of the 2000-meter race and obtained the optimum from a willing horse. However, I also draw a conclusion that Cardinal appears to possess limited stamina and the extra 400 meters to traverse for the Derby trip may prove a bit too extended for Cardinal, considering the higher quality of runners expected to contest the Derby. I felt he was at his seams in delivering this victory, and he would be a deserving champion should he prove me wrong.
Star Marquess is the one who will improve. His performance was very impressive and he took on two horses that were way above his current rating. He would come out with a lot of pluses from this race. Field Marshal was reappearing on this track after a year and his effort was commendable as well. All said and done, the top three finishers will have to take on several superior horses if they hope to conquer higher glories.
The Forbes India Million was the added attraction of the day and a competitive line-up of ten went to the post. Relic Hunter and Portia were the market fancies while Shivalik Hero was available at lucrative odds in the betting ring.
Smart Strider settled to lead the field and set up a true pace. He led comfortably with Dominator following a couple of lengths away along with Relic Hunter, who was quick to move into a striking position. Both Portia and Shivalik Hero raced among the latter half of the bunch. Smart Strider picked up momentum and shot further ahead. He had a useful lead coming into the final furlong, however, Suraj Narredu lit up his uncle Malesh Narredu’s Shivalik Hero and three-year-old chestnut colt responded like a seasoned campaigner, covering ground impressively and darting away from the entire field. The leader Smart Hunter paled in comparison. Portia and Relic Hunter did cover ground, but not in the manner Shivalik Hero did. Eventually, both managed to get past Smart Strider.
Shivalik Hero was most impressive and out-classed the opposition with conviction. He bears watching in future as he has a great scope to improve further. Portia improved late, but improved. Unlike during her last outing, Portia chose to race in the rear and then put in her effort which earned her the runner-up berth. Relic Hunter lost to Shivalik Hero for the second time after the Pune loss and was clearly overwhelmed once again.
“He travelled well all through and gave me a lot of confidence the way he was galloping. In the straight, when I unleashed him, he pounded away and his acceleration was impressive. He surely will get the longer trips, for now, mile is right up his alley,” said Suraj Narredu.
“I had prepared him for this race and he delighted me. He is a strong galloper and when he won a five-furlong in Pune, I felt that the scurry was too sharp for him. I felt that seven-furlong trip would suit him more. He proved me right and it feels good. Now I feel he could be nursed to longer distances but I have to be patient with him. He has shown his quality today and I expect bigger and better things from him,” said trainer Malesh.
This is the second Million race that Shivalik Hero won for his master Malesh Narredu, his earlier conquest being the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Million in Pune. Malesh also has a third Million – the PRA Independence Cup in Pune. So the jockey turned trainer is slowly picking up Million races and making his presence felt steadily.
Pronto Pronto was seen in a mock race after the Sunday’s card. He took on Picasso and both Derby contenders limbered up in preparation for the big race which is only three weeks away. Pronto Pronto looked in fine fettle and ended ahead of Picasso without exerting too much effort. He seems to be getting stronger and looked extremely good in the mock. Hills And Stars has already made news with Dr Cyrus Poonwalla procuring a half stake in the filly at an awesome price, breathing more interest to see the latest of the filly touted to be one among the hot favourites for the Derby. And With In The Spotlight winning the Calcutta Derby in an incredible manner, the McDowell Signature Premier Indian Derby (Gr 1) is surely going to be a fiercely fought battle. The countdown to the Derby has begun.