Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
"A Classic is never simple". That's what a scribe wrote recently. The race he was previewing was the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, Gr.1 at Curragh. There were just five runners in the race and it included the unbeaten Camelot. Ballydoyle's newest star was also the only Classic winner in the field. Sunday's 51st running of Bangalore's summer showpiece is certain to have more than five runners and you can be sure that there will be no unbeaten Classic winner in the fray. Still, it is simple. It is simply a wide open contest.
There are two points worth noting about the race. The first is that a good miler can and often does win the race. More than half of the winners this millennium have failed to win a Graded race beyond 2000 m. later in their careers. Secondly, the Fillies' and Colts' races run in June have a huge bearing. 24 of the previous 50 winners have won one or the other and most of the others had run in those races. In the last 11 renewals, six winners - two fillies and four colts - have done so.
Two daughters of Bertolini fought out a stirring duel for much of the straight in Bangalore Fillies' Championship, Gr.1 last month and it was only in the closing stages that Vijays Pride asserted a slender superiority over Portia. The winning time of Vijays Pride was fractionally better than the one clocked by Machiavellianism a week later in the Colts' race. Portia held a vantage position upto the bend and was the first to make her move. Ridden with greater restraint, there is the possibility of her turning the table on Vijays Pride. On the other hand, the Hyderabad filly was running only her third race and so she is open to greater improvement. These two fillies, who finished well clear of the third placed Jersey Girl, appear to be excellent milers and should have their say. There was just half a length between them on the track and there isn't much more pedigree-wise, either. Vijays Pride's grandam is a half-sister to Epsom Oaks, Gr.1 winner Casual Look while Portia's grandam was herself a Group winner in France and is a daughter of a Champion 3YO Filly in Italy. It is also worth remembering that in their last head-to-head encounter, Portia had thrashed Machiavellianism by four and a half lengths.
There is no reason to believe that the extended distance will enable Jersey Girl - if she decides to run - to bridge a substantial gap. State Secret was the first to challenge the pace-setter Turf Lightning and the first to run out of steam. She has been noticed bolting in her track work. Turf Lightning is more of a sprinter than a miler while her stable-mate Maple Star ran a real shocker in the Fillies' race. You can never discount runners from trainer Ganapathy's yard though they are not as feared in big races as they were some time back.
Montpelier finished ninth in the Bangalore Colts' Championship, Gr.1 but he was within five lengths of the winner Machiavellianism. The close proximity of runners at the finish suggests if that race is run again five times, you will get five different results. The best backed runner in that race was Hachiko. On winter form in Mumbai, he was clearly superior to Machiavellianism and Borsalino who finished ahead of him in the Colts' race. There are two possible reasons for this. One, that the others had improved and the other that he was not in the same fettle as when he won the Poonawalla Breeders' Multi-Million, Gr.1. Perhaps, a combination of both. The connections were probably aware that he was only half-baked while his bracket-mate Silver Birch was piping hot. So, perhaps, Hachiko was given just an outing and it was noticeable that though he finished only sixth - without serious urging by his rider - he was not very far behind the winner.
Inter se relationship between horses, established on the basis of performance in Graded races, generally holds good except for temporary lapses of form or fitness. In time, Hachiko will demonstrate this. However, his chances this Sunday have to be taken on trust since there is no 'on course' evidence of his having returned to his best. In fact, his last piece of work with Tachyon was fairly pedestrian. There is another rider, too. The connections could well opt to pin their faith on the filly Portia who has been working well in the company of Volterra. Silver Birch, who ran a decent enough race, may be entrusted with just the pace-making mission this time.
Machiavellianism won the race with a swooping run from the back that was reminiscent of Pronto Pronto's effort last year. He was going away from his field past the winning post and became the first black-type winner of his Belmont Stakes, Gr.1 winning sire Jazil. He is tracking well, is very much a live contender and if he wins, he will surely earn his backers much less than what they received last time. Lacking a rear-view mirror, Suraj Narredu astride Shivalik Hero, would not have been aware of the speed with which Machiavellianism was devouring ground and even if he had one, there was not much that he could have done for he was all out. Plenipotent, from the same family as Machiavellianism, was the first to challenge Silver Birch. In the end, he ran out of puff and shifted left under pressure. His sire Iffraaj bequeaths more speed than stamina. Like Hachiko, Borsalino went into the race without a warm-up run. He ran respectably but it is hard to see a son of the sprinter Choisir winning this race, though his dam Running Flame stayed well. Super Storm who, like Shivalik Hero, is by Rebuttal, finished only eighth behind Machiavellianism. He is likely to excel over longer trips than Shivalik Hero.
Only one winner of the Kingfisher Derby Bangalore, Gr.1 this millennium had not run previously in the June lead-ups. That was Classical Act in 2002. In fact, the Tippu Sultan Cup which he won by eight and a half lengths, was his only prior experience of racing under silks. So a run in the lead-up Classics is not a sacrosanct requirement and that should hearten the connections of Tintinnabulation (Intikhab - Tourmalet). His last win over 1800 m. by an effortless seven and a half lengths, has pleased several astute observers. Tintinnabulation has won both his races at Bangalore so obviously likes the course. However, he is yet to run in graded company and to take on Gr.1 winners is a tough task. Silver Birch had won his race by 15 lengths and yet was founding wanting, however narrowly, in the Colts' Championship Stakes, Gr.1. Tintinnabulation ought to run a good race though he could find one or two of the others getting his measure.
It looks like being a face-off between two sets of colours, one from Hyderabad and the other from Mumbai. Machiavellianism, Vijays Pride, Plenipotent and Tintinnabulation - and a pacemaker if considered necessary will all be saddled by Vittal Deshmukh and carry the same colours save the distinguishing cap. There is talk, though, that the filly and Plenipotent may not run and keep their powder dry for the Hyderabad monsoon plums. Portia, Hachiko and Silver Birch will be in the colours of the Shirkes. In 1970, Mr. K. Balakrishna Rao's colours were carried to victory by Rock Haven and Young Turk in the first two Classics. The hat-trick bid was foiled by Pendragon. Nine years later, Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy was in a similar position with Nicolette and Aristocrat only for Everynsky to play the spoilsport. Dr. Mallya's silks were to the fore in 1991 (Misty Heights and Classic Conquest) and 2000 (Six Speed and Allocated) but Flirting Vision and Allaire thwarted a clean sweep. Mr. Deepak Khaitan won the first two Classics with Averoff and Acrobat; Smart Chieftan won the Derby that year. Only Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy has won all the three summer Classics in one year. That was in 2006 when Haunting Memories won the first and Southern Empire picked up the remaining two. Hyderabad's "Pochampalli Pink" has a realistic chance this year of emulating the well known gold and brown colours.
This is the first year when the first two Classics of the Bangalore summer season have been won by "got-abroads". Both have been trained by L.V.R. Deshmukh who thus has the distinction of being the first Hyderabad-based trainer to win a Bangalore Summer Classic. Deshmukh, who learnt his craft under the legendary Rashid Byramji, also has another plaudit. His first runner, Rank Contender, came in an easy winner under the Kiwi jockey R.J. Hannam. That was on 24 July 1995 so he has been around for a fairly long time. Red Orchid gave him his first Classic winner in 2003 by winning D.B.A. Hyderabad Colts' Trial Stakes. That Classic winner came after he had completed eight years of training; one less than his mentor. Rashid Byramji saddled Radhapyari to win the Indian 1000 Guineas, Gr.1 at the start of his tenth year. All but one of Deshmukh's eight Classic winners have sported the colours of the late Mr. D. Pratap Chander Reddy.
Modest, hard-working and conscientious, Vittal Deshmukh has been a leading Hyderabad trainer for well over a decade. He deserves his success and all the recent praise that has been heaped on him. However, one mustn't forget that Vijays Pride paid Rs. 461 on the Tote for win while Machiavellian returned a dividend of Rs. 479. That's a 2160 to 1 double! Talk about the lightning not striking twice!! The real pressure on a trainer or a jockey comes when training or riding a well fancied runner. Deshmukh faces the acid test on Sunday.
Past The Post
There are just three summer Classics every year at Bangalore but winning them all in one year is not easy. Those who have achieved this uncommon distinction are:-
1963 - Yeravada Stud - Hovercraft (Fillies') and His Majesty (Colts' and Derby)
1980 - Usha Stud - Corrente de Ouro (Fillies') and Track Lightning (Colts' and Derby)
1983 - R.R. Byramji - Camineto (Fillies' and Derby) and Vibrant (Colts')
1985 - Stallion Everyday II - damsire of Chaitanya Ratham (Fillies') and sire of Sir Bruce (Colts' and Derby)
1990 - Poonawalla Farms - Arfa (Fillies'), Star Contender (Colts') and Romantic Dancer (Derby)
1990 - Stallion Malvado - sire of Arfa and damsire of Star Contender and Romantic Dancer
1992 - Poonawalla Farms - Summer Dust (Fillies') and Astounding (Colts' and Derby)
1992 - Stallion Riyahi - sire of Summer Dust and Astounding
1996 - Darius Byramji - Santorini Star (Fillies' and Derby) and Phantom Dancer (Colts')
1997 - Usha Stud - Wandering Star (Fillies') and Star Supreme (Colts' and Derby)
1997 - Stallion Razeen - sire of Wandering Star and Star Supreme
2006 - B. Prakash - Haunting Memories (Fillies') and Southern Empire (Colts' and Derby)
2006 - S. Ganapathy - Haunting Memories and Southern Empire
2006 - Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy - Haunting Memories and Southern Empire
It is comparatively easy for an owner, a trainer, a stud farm or a stallion to win all three races in one year because they own, train or produce several horses each year. A jockey rides only one horse in a race but he often has a choice of the mount from a number of likely contenders. It is impossible for a mare to do so because she produces only one foal a year. And, a filly cannot win the colts race or the other way around. Therefore, the feat of the Usha Stud mare Celandine is all the more meritorious. Her daughter Corrente de Ouro won the Fillies' Trial in 1980; her son Camino won the Colts' Trial and the Derby in 1983 and another daughter Camineto won the Fillies' Trial and the Derby in 1984. Equally spectacular is the record of the mare Stunning whose three sons, Smart Chieftan, Classical Act and Southern Empire won the Kingfisher Derby Bangalore, Gr.1.
Four favourites, Snow Dew, Southern Empire, Bourbon King and Set Alight won the race in the last 11 renewals.
Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy has led in eight winners of the race while trainer R.R. Byramji has saddled 10. Top Indian jockeys Vasant Shinde, Aslam Kader and Pesi Shroff have each booted in four winners. Razeen has sired half a dozen winners while his predecessor Grey Gaston figures as the maternal grandsire of three. So it is no surprise to see Usha Stud top the list with 13 winners. The Schiaparelli family has provided seven winners of the race. Set Alight won by a distance in 2008 and her time of 2.2.32 sets the standard.
How many racegoers of today know that when the race was first run in 1962 it was called the Kunigal Derby and Mount Everest had to cover just a mile to win it?