Maj. Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
When Rising Bell, ridden by P. Shanker, won the first Bangalore Fillies' Trial Stakes in 1959, it was just another race. It was not a 'Classic' as it became over a period of time. (The number of so-called 'Classics' in India is a matter of debate which need not be started here. Most countries have five or six Classics in a year; India has 39!)Then, Bangalore raced just during the summer and horses from Bombay, Madras and Calcutta - as those metropolises were then called - congregated in the Garden City for 'summering', though, it has to be said, that Bombay did not come out in force initially. It was Rashid Byramji's annual southern excursion, starting in late '60s, that really set the trend.
A good-sized field is very much on the cards for this year's running of the Bangalore Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.1 - the 'Trial" becoming a 'Championship' from last year - and four fillies have singled themselves out with their performance so far. Portia and Maple Star from Mumbai, Hyderabad's Winning Tactics and the local filly Jersey Girl have risen to the top and they must surely be the principal players for the season's first Classic. All four of them have won more than once and all have a winning bracket during the current Bangalore season over 1400 m. They have similar running styles in that they have stalked the early pace before making their final assault.
Maple Star (Mull of Kintyre - Sonic Symphony) goes into the race on the back of four straight wins. Trained by Karthik Ganapathy, she will probably be ridden by Sreekanth in the Ramaswamy colours. She eked out a fighting victory in her last start over Plenipotent and the main question will be how much that race has taken out of her and whether just a fortnight's gap will be enough for her to recoup. She is certainly a gutsy filly for in her previous run in Mumbai in the Forbes Breeders' Juvenile Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.3, she had to battle to hold Portia, who was getting 5 kgs., by a head.
Maple Star is from the first Indian crop of her sire Mull of Kintyre who had started his stud career at Coolmore. Mull of Kintyre, a winner of the Scottish Equitable Gimcrack Stakes, Gr.2, sired the 2006 Boyle Sports Irish 2000 Guineas, Gr.1 winner Araafa and a few other black-type winners from his six crops abroad in both the hemispheres. However, his overall strike rate fell short of the high Coolmore expectations and he found himself at Capricorn Stud. Incidentally, he is bred on the same Danzig-Alydar cross as Juniper. Juniper, who was third in the Scottish Equitable Gimcrack Stakes, Gr.2, preceded Mull of Kintyre to Capricorn Stud. Mull of Kintyre has recently been re-located to Sohna Stud to fill the void created by Noverre's untimely death. Maple Star's dam won five races upto a mile. Her grandam was a good producer throwing 14 foals of whom half were winners, though none garnered any black-type. The tail-female family is rather plebian but her dam is a daughter of Tirol who was the damsire of last year's winner Lovely Kiss. In one of her earlier wins, Maple Star scalped Blue Ace who went to win the Shapoorji Pallonji Breeders' Juvenile Colts' Championship, Gr.3. Another plus point in her favour is that she is the only filly in the field with a win over a mile to her credit.
Portia (Bertolini - Pescara) went down by only a head to Maple Star in the Forbes Breeders' Juvenile Fillies' Championship, Gr.3. In Bangalore, she won the Nanoli Stud Juvenile Million, Gr.2 in taking style, beating Machiavellianism by four and a half lengths. Both Machiavellianism and Plenipotent are in L.V.R. Dashmukh's yard and the fact that the trainer took the former to Mumbai after his maiden win at Hyderabad probably gives an insight to his take on the relative merits of his two wards. Portia's sire Bertolini, a close relative of Green Desert, is bred on the same Danzig-Alydar cross as Mull of Kintyre and Juniper. He has sired a Gr.1 winner in England as well as in New Zealand. Pescara, the dam of Portia, won a race in France and placed third in a Gr.2 race in England. Five of her seven foals are winners of 27 races abroad. She is a half-sister to a Listed winner who has produced a Gr.1 winning filly. Their dam is a Gr.3 winner in France while their grandam was a Champion 3YO Filly in Italy. Sohna Stud certainly secured a bargain when it purchased Pescara for a mere 11,000 euros at Goff's in 2008. This is the family of the splendid stayer Sagaro, useful stallion Sovereign Path and in India of the Kingfisher Indian Oaks, Gr.1 winner Congratulations. Portia carries the Danzig-Sharpen Up cross that is encountered in so many good horses of the last decade.
The local filly Jersey Girl (Burden of Proof - Chilli Girl) has a pedigree which brings together Fairy King and Never Bend. Sadler's Wells - a full brother to Fairy King - did exceptionally well with mares whose sires - like Shirley Heights, Riverman and Darshaan - came from the Never Bend male line. Burden of Proof has already got two winners of this race - Lindsay and Siachen - while Chilli Girl is a winner of the Golconda 1000 Guineas, Gr.2. Jersey Girl, a winner of her last two races after having been second in the three earlier ones, has lived up to her pedigree thus far. She has twice beaten one of her likely rivals in State Secret (Placerville - Indistino), a half-sister to the black-type winner Incognito (by Kheleyef).
The least experienced of the four front line contenders is Winning Tactics (Ace - Native Tactics) who is a half-sister to the versatile and consistent Native Knight. After placing second to Montpelier on her debut in the VIF Godolphin Barb Million, Gr.3, she has won twice, both times over 1400 m., winning by seven lengths or more. She won the Sir Charles Todhunter Memorial Cup on the same day as Portia's Juvenile Million win but her time was a shade over two seconds slower. Like Mull of Kintyre, the Danehill horse Ace is represented by his first crop. He has already sired a black-type winner in Blue Ace but standing as he does at the Poonawalla Farms, he would be surely looking for something more substantial. The first six foals of the Bluebird mare Native Tactics were all by Placerville and while they all won, only Native Knight's name is adorned with black-type. So it will be interesting to observe where this Ace half-sister reaches. This is an excellent speedy, running family. This year's Indian Oaks winner Smashing comes from a different branch of it.
The four fillies have had, between them, 17 starts so far and barring Maple Star's debut run where she was unplaced, they have either won or placed second in the remaining 16 of them. That's a consistency of a very high order. Pedigree-wise, it could be said that while 'blue-blooded' is not an adjective one would use in their context, they all have the blood-lines to get the job done. None of them will be troubled by the mile trip.
Portia and Winning Tactics have the ideal three week gap between their last start and the big race on Sunday. Maple Star has just a fortnight to overcome the exertions of a tough last outing. Jersey Girl will be running after four weeks and the usual experience is that longer the gap, the harder it is to keep a horse well honed. B. Puttanna and Karthik Ganapathy, the trainers of Jersey Girl and Maple Star respectively, haven't saddled a Classic winner in their careers so far. Of course, neither had Samar Singh till Lovely Kiss provided him with his first last year. L.V.R. Deshmukh has trained six Classic winners all of which have won at Malakpet; he is yet to lead one in away from his home turf. In fact, no Hyderabad-based trainer has yet sent out a winner of this race.
The Pesi Shroff, B. Prakash and the Shirkes, however, is a very potent combination. When Portia, then ridden by Zervan, was beaten by Maple Star in Mumbai, she was finishing faster than the winner. Five kgs. is a lot to make up but Prakash taking over in the saddle is an immense advantage. This millennium, five fillies - Snow Dew, Priceless, Fond Fantasy, Haunting Memories and Set Alight -- have won the Million in May. They all went on to win the Bangalore Fillies' Trial Stakes, Gr.1. Will the change of name to Bangalore Fillies' Championship Stakes, Gr.1 make a radical difference and buck the trend?
In racing there are no certainties. Certainly, there are other trainers and owners who will be as hopeful as the connections of the Favoured Four. Also, there is always a subscript to any racing event. The subscript to this year's Classics is the underlying battle for the Champion Freshman Sire title. The race between Noverre and Ace was always going to be enthralling. While neither has so far started in the vein of a Razeen or a Placerville, they have had plenty of winners. Hachiko winning the Poonawalla Breeders' Multi-Million, Gr.1 has given an edge at this point to the erstwhile Sohna Stud stallion. Ace and Mull of Kintyre - he may not have the wherewithal to win the title but can certainly play the spoilsport -have so far have had only Gr.3 winners. Expect a keen tussle right down to the wire in this race.
It may perhaps be true to say that Aces and Noverres with big battalions have still not come out. One big player on the Classic scene is trainer Padmanabhan and he is likely to be fielding three fillies on Sunday for three different owners. Equine Lover (by Ace out of the Kingfisher Indian Guineas, Gr.1 winner Free Radical), an impressive winner of her only start to date, would perhaps be his principal weapon. Ace stands at Poonawalla Farms and Equine Lover will be running in the Poonawalla colours. This filly, who has an unusual white forehead, is beautifully bred. However, she will be reappearing in just a fortnight's time. Her own lack of experience is compensated by the abundance of her trainer. Padmanabhan, in addition, could have Chase The Sun (Burden of Proof - Catch Fire) and State Secret in the fray.
Dr. Vijay Mallya will also be triple handed, his three runners being saddled by three different trainers. Padmanabhan will send out Chase the Sun for him but surely his main hope will be Centrestage (Noverre - Naivement) who is with Pesi Shroff. Centrestage won well on the same day as Equine Lover so will be under the silks once again rather quickly. She comes from a very stout family - that of triple Ascot Gold Cup, Gr.1 winner Yeats and in India of Manitou, Dynamic Dancer, Think Big, etc. so her exact distance aptitude is difficult to predict. Sunday's mile should be no problem for her, though. The other Mallya runner will be Cocktail Circuit. The Attaollahi-trained filly was well beaten by Maths Baby in her sole run this term. There will be other hopefuls, too, though some of them will be acting as the dolls that are placed on the track when it is not in use.
In the early days of a campaign, Padmanabhan's charges often tend to go to the front. It finds out rivals who are short of peak physical fitness; besides, a good forward run brings on horses much better than a late gallop. So it is more than probable that one of his fillies will dictate the pace unless there is a speedier pacemaker being employed by the Ganapathys. The fancied quartet will be quite content take handy positions and wait for the opportune moment. Encountering a soft going is not unusual in Bangalore and if there is rain about, that may well become a crucial factor. Produce of Fairy King excelled on soft going and some - though not all - runners of his son Burden of Proof have also shown that preference. The Noverres, too, preferred a bit of a give in the ground in Europe.
PAST THE POST
And finally, as always, some trivia:-
* Since the turn of the millennium, six of the eleven favourites have won the race, four have placed second and only one - Romantic Liaison in 2005 - has finished off the board.
* Perhaps, there is no race in India which has been won by so many close relatives. There have been six pairs of full or half sisters - Rock Witness and Fire Haven, Corrente de Ouro and Camineto, Responsions and Summer Dust, Divine Light and Ministrella, Wandering Star and Fond Fantasy and Six Speed and Haunting Memories; a pair of sisters-in-blood in Santorini Star and Snow Dew and three cases of a mare and her daughter producing the winner - Tosca was the dam of Fire Haven, her daughter Pashmina produced Sweet Memories; Moonshine got Mohini while her daughter Urvashi was the dam of Chaitanya Ratham; and, Priceless Asset and Priceless were out of Baroque Pearl and her daughter Queen to Conquer respectively. The closest that we have this year is Jersey Girl whose fourth dam Birthday Girl won the race.
* Race leaders:-
Owner - Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy - 10
Trainer - R.R. Byramji - 7
Jockey - P.Shroff - 5
Stud - Poonawalla Farms 11
Sire - Razeen - 5
Maternal Grandsire - Grey Gaston - 3
Family - Schiaparelli and Qurrat-al-Ain - 3 each
* Ministrella's time of 1.36.5 clocked in 1989 is the fastest.
* The biggest field -- 18 runners -- lined up in 1974 when Sweet Memories won the race.
* Jim Foley and Pesi Shroff have ridden as well as trained a winner of the race.