Capt Jamshed J Appoo & trainer S Padmanabhan leading In The Spotlight (Martin Dwyer Up), winner of The Eveready Calcutta Derby Stakes Gr-I
It was a marathon season which commenced barely ten days after the monsoon meet and worked its way through the autumn, Christmas, winter, spring and summer meetings. So much transpired through these five months of competitive racing at this centre that it would be difficult to point one single event as the highlight of the season – except perhaps the thunderous and commanding manner in which the filly In The Spotlight pocketed the cash-rich Calcutta Derby Stakes, brushing aside the challenge of the local champion colt Dandified with utter disdain.
One of the salient features of the meet was undoubtedly the utter domination of fillies and mares over their male counterparts. Runners like Abriella, Oriental Diana and Whispering Hills were never found wanting in their respective races. By and large, racing was highly competitive and the totalisator turnover was proof of that. As totalisator manager Chandranath pointed out, the average turnover per race was Rs 5 lakh-plus as compared to Rs 4-lakh of the last cold weather season. This is a hike of over 20 per cent!
General manager, Robin Corner (a former champion jockey of this centre who needs no introduction), was of the opinion that the entire RCTC team performed admirably well to produce a memorable season. “It was a concerted effort from all of us concerned that ensured better results in all spheres of the game”, said a beaming GM when reflecting over the past five months. When asked about the trial run of proposed night racing being delayed, Corner said, “It is very much on the anvil and we are working towards it. The obstacles such as lighting and security that we have been facing will be overcome in due course. A monsoon trial-run is very much on the cards.”
Corner and Clerk-of-the-Course Amit Chaturvedi comprised the core of the stiping department and more often than not helped the Stewards take the right decision in the case of an objection. Corner’s experience as a top jockey here must have helped him clamp down on those riders who resorted to dangerous tactics.
Handicapper Virani became busier by the day as the season progressed and the frequency of racing increased. To his credit, it must be mentioned that there were an overwhelming number of close finishes which enthralled visitors no end. “ I have always believed that apart from the general handicapping scale, one must use one’s discretion to get the best results,” said a far more confident handicapper at the end of the season. He also mentioned that as he was releasing the revised ratings almost immediately after a raceday, it was no longer necessary for trainers to make an entry to get a “handicap mark” as in the earlier days.
Let us now look back at some of the races which caught our attention.
The Calcutta Derby: A large gathering of over 17,000 spectators witnessed one of the finest fillies to grace the Calcutta turf as she pocketed the Eveready Calcutta Derby Stakes and a tidy sum of Rs 80 lakh with ridiculous ease, and in the process relegated the local champion Dandified to second-best status. The fact that the Derby was postponed by a week due to inclement weather, may have given her a little more breathing space after the Oaks canter, but in retrospect it would appear that such statements were mere rationalizations to find an answer to the gross debacle of Dandified.
Padmanabhan-trained In The Spotlight was the second choice of the partisan punters who backed down Dandified to half-money, and was available at 5/2. However, the property of Captain Jamshed J Appoo gave no anxious moments to either jockey Martin Dwyer or her backers as she ran a regulation race and made the season’s piece de resistance look a pedestrian affair.
Permitting pacemaker Danube Valley a free rein from the 2,000 to the 800 marker, jockey Dwyer literally eased the daughter of Alnasr Alwasheek out of Radiate into the lead and the filly did the rest. Christopher Alford for his part rode a copybook race but found one better in the filly. He improved Dandified from the fifth slot to three lengths behind the filly at the bend but that’s where his story ended. It would not be fair to state that “Dandified did not stay”. Rather, he met a tartar in the winner – a champion filly by all rights who went on to win the Indian Derby with ease in the first week of February.
While Dandified may have let down trainer Vijay Singh and his patron-in-chief Mr Deepak Khaitan, they were somewhat compensated by the meteoric rise of a colt named Royal Blue Star. He went on to become the centre’s best stayer by annexing the Queen’s Cup and the St Leger without being stretched.
The Queen Elizabeth II Cup: The Queen Elizabeth II Cup, had seven in starting line-up, but apart from the two four-year-olds, Royal Blue Star and Raznandan, the rest were truly disappointing. The so called seasoned campaigners like Unleashed, Razmaden, Cambiasso and Camorra appeared to be ‘out of season’. The last named however set a good pace but the weight appeared to tell on him. Raznandan who was following him at close quarters took over the running before the straight but his lead was short-lived as the Vijay Singh runner Royal Blue Star (Sunday Doubt-Razpazazz) swept past him in a trice with jockey Neeraj Rawal a mere passenger. The colt was stretching out beautifully in the straight, which would seemed to suggest that he is an out and out stayer. His dam Razpazazz is by Placerville out of Imperial Satsuma which would seem to suggest that he has all the right connections in the breeders’ catalogue.
The couple of three-year-olds who impressed most from their age group were the colt Snowscape and filly Silverina. Both are beautiful specimens sired by China Visit and their clash in the Calcutta Million was truly worth watching.
The Calcutta Million: There were six in the fray for the richest race at this centre for three-year-olds but only one was being backed – and that was the piping hot on-money public choice Snowscape (China Visit-Snow Tiger) from Vijay Singh’s yard. The next in demand was the filly Silverina at 5/1. As the gates opened, the stablemate of the favourite, Accrews, set a cracking pace with Candid Fury in tow. The favourite was tucked in along the rails while Trevor Patel on Silverina dropped her out several lengths behind the pack and off the pace. Christopher Alford on the grey made his move first as the field swung into the straight while Silverina displayed quickfire acceleration to be at his tail in a trice. Thereafter it was a two-horse race with the colt providing C. Alford with his only winning mount of that day.
The season ended on a rousing note with the ‘awards ceremony’ on the evening of the final day coinciding with the running of the Dubai World Cup. Vijay Singh and Christopher Alford were the champion trainer and jockey respectively, while Arbriella was voted the horse-of-the-season with five consecutive wins and Soom Stud Farm the leading owners.