Maj. Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
The 70th Indian Derby will be run this Sunday. A Derby is meant to crown the best horse of a particular crop over the classic distance and while it does succeed in that objective frequently, it also throws up some real shockers from time to time.
Bucephalus was certainly not the best horse of the 1943 crop. A June foal, he got his name inscribed on the Roll of Honour only because Her Majesty met with an accident in running which nearly brought her down. Pyare Miya, the 1975 winner, had never won before the Derby and nor did he win after it. Vasant Shinde on Everynsky and Jagdish on Aristocrat were so engrossed in watching each other that they were caught napping by Wally Swinburn on Mohawk who stole the race. Astronomic would not have won the race in 1993 had the Derby not been postponed and led to a clash with the Indian Turf Invitation Cup. Supervite figures in the list of Indian Derby winners only because her bracket-mate Saddle Up's samples tested positive leading to the gelding's disqualification. There is no rational explanation for Mystical, one of finest Indian-breds of all time, losing to Velvet Rope and Holding Court in 2006. The following year, Southern Empire should have bagged the crown but for the jockey hopelessly misjudging the pace of the race and Set Alight lost the race in 2009 because of what can be described as a rather "impetuous" ride.
There are several imponderables which cause a horse to lose a race whereas the winner has to do everything right. In any sport, percentage play is of utmost importance. It may not bring success on a given day but over a period of time the percentages invariably come on top. Time then to have a look at previous Indian Derby winners and reflect on the path they took to win the Blue Riband.
People employ a variety of methods to make their choice. Form, pedigree, systems based on timings, astrology, numerology, colorology, "inside information", blind following of tipsters, jockeys and trainers and even the good old "pin-in-the-eye" method. They all have their votaries. This collective wisdom of the masses translates into one horse being backed more than the others and being called the Favourite.
One would have thought that the consensus verdict would result in a horse who wins more often than not. Unfortunately, it doesn't. Only about 35 % of all favourites win though the percentage is higher for the Classic races. 46 % of all Indian Classics have been won by favourites and that is the exact percentage for Indian Derby as well. The Indian Oaks and the Indian St. Leger have a better percentage of successful favourites. The percentage for the Indian Derby has fallen substantially in the last ten years with just one favourite obliging.
Previous Runs Winners
46 of the 69 winners so far had won their previous start, 19 had been on board while four were among the "also-rans". As a matter of interest, the four also-rans are Deepak (1944), Gold Street (1951), Pyare Miya (1975) and Antonios (2009). Time Interval
When did the Derby winner run his/her previous race? Past trends show that majority of winners had a gap of three to four weeks between the Derby and their previous start.
Less than 7 days (7 out of 69 winners). Odds On, Chakori, Rose de Bahama, Rose Royal, Fair Haven, Mansoor and Diabolocal. Diabolical won the Golconda Derby on the last Sunday in January, travelled to Mumbai and won the Indian Derby on the first Sunday in February. Remarkable!
8 to 14 days (14/69)
15 to 21 days (13/69)
22 to 28 days (17/69)
29 to 35 days (11/69)
More than 35 days (6/69). Fair Wood, Sir Bruce, Exhilaration, Astronomic, Elusive Pimpernel and Storm Again. The longest gap - 44 days - is in the case of Astronomic.
As important as when the Derby winner had raced previously is the matter of the distance of his previous start. Previous statistics seem to favour a lead-up race over 1800 m. or 2000 m.
Less than 1600 m. (1/69) Bucephalus won the Jasdan Cup over 1200 m.
1600 m. (17/69)
1800 m. or 2000 m. (28/69)
2400 m. (23/69)
Indian 2000 Guineas. 13 Indian Derby winners had run in the Indian 2000 Guineas in their previous start. Nine of them had won the race.
R.R. Ruia Gold Trophy. This race had started as the Trial Stakes. For some years it was run as Sir H.M. Mehta Gold Cup and the, finally, the R.R. Ruia Gold Trophy. This is the 'natural' lead-up for the Indian Derby, especially for colts. 26 Indian Derby winners have used the Ruia as their lead-up and 16 had won it. In recent years, like the favourites, Ruia winners haven't fared too well in the Indian Derby
Indian Oaks. 14 Indian Derby winners had last raced in the Indian Oaks and nine of them had won that race.
Other Races. Not everybody follows the same path and eight 'off-beat' Derby winners prepared for the big day by running in other races. Five of them had won that warm-up.
Classics at Other Centres. Eight Indian Derby winners had raced in a Classic at another centre and only one of them - Nelston - had not won his race. Nelston had finished second in the Golconda Derby. Topmost and Psychic Flame had won the Calcutta Derby; Track Lightning, Almanac and Astronomic came to Mumbai after winning the South India Derby while Diabolical was fresh from his Golconda Derby triumph and Cordon Bleu had the Bangalore Derby (or the Arc de Triomphe as it was then called) in her bag.
17 fillies have won the Indian Derby but there are only nine Indian Oaks-Indian Derby doubles. By and large, the Indian Derby time is much faster than the one clocked by the fillies in their race. There are only eight instances when an Oaks was run in a faster time. Neolight had clocked a better time than Star of Gwalior in 1956. Neolight herself ran in the Indian Derby but could only finish third. That exactly what happened in 1963 also. Gwalior Lass could not reproduce her Oaks time and was only third to Prince Pradeep and Zindabad. A year earlier, Remembrance had won the Indian Oaks beating Rocklie. Rocklie won the Indian Derby in a slower time with Remembrance only fourth. One of the great aphorisms of racing is that horses run against each other and not against the clock. The time and pace factor is a very important aspect when analysing a race in retrospect but it can never be predicted.
Past The Post
Percentages, sectional fractions, penetrometer readings, great grandsire and the fourth dam. These are all facts and can be interpreted with knowledge, deep study and lots of time. The Derby should, however, be a fun race. Watch it without a stake or if you must have a flutter, let your heart rule. That way, you get the best out of what is supposed to be the best race of the season!