There is little doubt that the Invitation Cup week-end's racing, featuring four Grade 1 races, represents the very best that Indian racing has to offer. The first Indian Turf Invitation Cup was run at Mumbai in 1963 and in rotation thereafter at Kolkata and Chennai. After Bangalore and Hyderabad became independent Turf Authorities, the rotation took place over five centres with Hyderabad joining the cycle in 1978.
When the event moved to Mumbai in 1979, the programme featured a Sprinters' Cup on Saturday and the Invitation Cup and Byculla Club Cup over 2800 m.on Sunday. The Sprinters' Cup was not an "invitational" race though Sholay and Auro Flame from Bangalore and Satinsky from Chennai came over to participate. Perhaps unwittingly, the seeds of a grand week-end of racing with races over different distances, were sown that year. The following year a proper Sprinters' Cup was staged at Kolkata while Chennai added the Stayers' Cup in 1981. With Hyderabad introducing the Super Mile in 1983, a neat pattern was completed. The rotation from centre to centre was seamless and the week-end grew in stature.
The last year of the previous millennium threatened the established order. Labour unrest at Kolkata had brought racing to a standstill. Bangalore Turf Club stepped in and agreed to stage the event after its own season was over and did so in the first week in the first week of April. Ironically, racing had resumed at Kolkata by then! The carousel halted once again when it was the turn of Kolkata to host. R.C.T.C. was financially strapped so it was decided to bypass Kolkata and move on to Chennai. To make up for its 'double default', Kolkata, which had worked its way out of the financial woes, staged an out-of-turn event in 2007. In 2009, there was an off-season fire in the Members' Grandstand at Mahalakshmi and the winter season had to be postponed due to an epidemic. In the truncated Prospectus, no place was found for the Invitation Cup week-end. The breeders were insistent that the event had to be held, came up with contributions towards the stakes and Hyderbad Race Club did the honours, becoming the first centre to stage back-to-back Invitation Cups. Mumbai did likewise in 2010 and 2011 when first Kolkata and then Chennai opted out for one reason or the other.
The last decade has been a trying one but it is to the credit of the racing administration in India that commitment to established order has triumphed over the lame pleas of 'force majeure' situations. The threat to the holding of this year's event was grave indeed with the labour unrest at Bangalore taking a violent turn and races scheduled for 17 and 18 February having to be cancelled. It is to be hoped that all sections connected with the sport eventually come to be guided by the principle that "The Show Must Go On".
So the Garden City is all set to host the 50th running of the Indian Turf Invitation Cup. Ten renewals have already taken place at Bangalore and in the last six of them a full complement four Gr.1 races have been run. These 24 races have seen 15 locally-trained horses exploiting the home turf advantage to emerge victorious. On the other hand, with only nine favourites coming up trumps, the Bangalore punter has had a lighter wallet.
Ever since the "Big Four" have been the norm of the Invitation Cup week-end, the ultimate test of versatility and hardiness has been to win the Sprinters' Cup on Saturday and the Super Mile on Sunday. Only two horses have passed this acid test -- Bergamo in 1985 and Strengthtostrength in 2002. Spectacular Quest, too, has won these two races but he did it in different years, winning the Super Mile at Chennai in 2005 and the Sprinters' Cup a year later at Bangalore. Obviously, you can only win the Invitation Cup once for it is a race restricted to four year-olds. Own Opinion, who won the race in 1979, also added the Stayers' Cup to his CV in 1981. He is the only Invitation Cup winner with another Gr.1 success at the 'Grand Week-end'.
Klairon Gold (1983 and 1984) and Oasis Star (2008 and 2009) have won the Sprinters' Cup twice. The Stayers' Cup double stands to the credit of Aztec (1984 and 1985) and Ardiles (1987 and 1988). Aperitivo, who won the Stayers' Cup at Kolkata in 2007 and Secret Memory, the Super Mile victor of the same year, were three-parts brothers while Stayers' Cup winners Arabian Knight and Arabian Prince share something more than just the first part of their names. They are both out of Arabian Rose and hence half-brothers. Another pair of siblings of note consists of Star of Windsor (Stayers' Cup) and Moonlight Romance (Invitation Cup). Time and Place won the Sprinters' Cup in 1988; nine years later, her son Fire Arch won the same race. Spectacular Quest, mentioned earlier, had the 1998 Invitation Cup victress Forest Fantasy as his dam while Sprinters' Cup winner Palazzio's Sun is out of the Super Mile winner Palazzio.
The "Big Four" era also coincides with a period in Indian breeding which has been utterly dominated by two nurseries – the Poonawalla Group and the Usha Stud. Poonawallas lead Usha 13-10 when it comes to the winners of the Invitation Cup but Usha has the upper hand when all four races are taken into account (36-33). Malvado, Razeen and Placerville are the only three stallions who have sired at least one winner of each of the "Big Four". Razeen, in addition, figures as the damsire of winners of all the four races. However, the stallion who has had the most impact on one race is Common Land who himself sired seven winners of the Sprinters' Cup while his daughters have provided two others.
The dream of anyone actively involved would be to win all the "Big Four" races in the same year and thus complete a grand slam. Several have come close but so far no one has achieved it. Owner Mr. Deepak Khaitan and his jockey Aslam Kader had the first "sighter" of a clean sweep in 1995 having won with Exclusive Virtue, Astronomic and Elusive Pimpernel. Exclusive Virtue, attempting a Bergamo, was the favourite for the Super Mile but finished only third. Then, in 2006, Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy had won the Sprinters' Cup with Spectacular Quest, the Stayers' Cup with Forever Elegance and the Invitation Cup with Mystical. All three horses were ridden by B. Prakash, trained by S. Ganapathy and all were bred at Poonawalla Farms. As nine horses circled behind the starting stalls for the Super Mile, the feelings would have been mixed. Dr. Ramaswamy had two runners -- Southern Regent and Spectacular Quest -- in the race and both were trained by Ganapathy. The owner and the trainer would not have been particular as to which one won. Prakash was astride the Usha-bred favourite Southern Regent. The racing script always has a twist in the tale. Southern Regent was looking a winner all over when
his former paddock-mate Amazing Power nailed him on the post. So, the spectacular quest of a grand slam continues and the dream lives on. 10. No jockey has had as much impact on the grand week-end as the French rider Christophe Lemaire did in 2002. He rode Strengthtostrength to a Sprinters' Cup-Super Mile double and was astride The Pelican in the Invitation. He had no ride in the Stayers' Cup but rode seven winners over the two days.
There have been a few years when not a single favourite obliged in the "Big Four" and some when favourites won them all. As a general rule, at least one favourite comes good in one the four races. By and large, older horses have an advantage over the Classic crop in the Sprinters' Cup and the Stayers' Cup and the honours are about even in the Super Mile. And, there has been just one year -- 1996, Chennai --when neither the Usha Stud nor the Poonawalla Farms won a Gr.1 race over the week-end.
PAST THE POST
Relevent details of the "Big Four" over the last ten years are provided so that viewers can work out the trends from different angles. One thing is certain, though. A grand slam is most unlikely since no owner, trainer, jockey or stud farm has horses with realistic chances in all the four races. Click Here