Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
An interesting recent tweet simply said -- " Note to all sports commentators. No result is 'destined', no 'script' exits and nothing is 'fated' or 'written in the stars'." Partially true because indeed no script exists. But how else can you explain Rafael Nadal being stunned by Lukas Rosol, ranked nearly a hundred rungs below him, other than say it was 'destined' or 'written in the stars' ? In sports, performance on a given day is all that matters.
The 'script' for the remainder of the year had In the Spotlight waltzing through her races, winning three St. Legers - Bangalore, Indian and Golconda, taking her tally of Classics to 10 and sharing the top spot with the great Chaitanya Chakram. That would have lent credence to the claims made on her behalf. It may still come to pass but it won't be easy because the heroine of just four months ago opted to play an entirely different role in the Maharaja's Cup.
Going into big races with mock races as preparation is not trainer Padmnabhan's usual style. He normally gives - or atleast used to give his wards a race run before their intended targets. In those lead-ups, his runners were just about "14 annas" because he rightly believed that race would bring them on. There are reports that In The Spotlight went into the Maharaja's grossly over-weight. The filly is not only talented but going by Martin Dwyer's quote, her gallant heart overshadows her talents. As Camorra hustled her from bend to bend, she gave her all but by the time the push came to a shove, she was running on an empty tank. Being a gutsy filly, she still tried her best. In the process, she used up every vestige of her energy and was treading water at the end. From the Indian Derby in February to the Maharaja's Cup in July, the inter se relationship between In The Spotlight and Smashing has been over-turned by 16 lengths. Clearly, In the Spotlight is not herself and just a fortnight's gap between the Maharaja's Cup and the St. Leger may not be sufficient to restore her to her pristine condition. The Bangalore St. Leger was at the mercy of In The Spotlight before her last run. Now, if she does run in the St. Leger - and there are many veteran racegoers who feel that she needs time off - she faces a strenuous prospect.
Toroloco, having won two races during the current term and placed a good third in the Chief Justice's Cup, Gr.3 to Smashing and Ridgeway, is clearly the form horse. He had won the Bangalore Derby, Gr.1 over 2400 m. in the winter so he stays a mile and a half. That is the longest distance he has essayed so far. In the St. Leger, he will be tackling 2800m. for the first time. Sir Bruce won the McDowell Indian Derby, Gr.1 and the President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1 but was beaten in the Bangalore as well the Indian St. Legers. Southern Regent won the McDowell Indian Derby, Gr.1, Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1 and the President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1, all over 2400 m. but was beaten by Warsaw Pact in the Indian St. Leger, Gr.1 and by Andreyan in the Bangalore St. Leger, Gr.2. He did win the Golconda St. Leger, Gr.2 beating two unthreatening rivals, though. The point is that Toroloco, who is bidding to become the tenth horse to win the Maharaja's Cup and Bangalore St. Leger in the same year, is venturing into an unknown territory.
Rebuttal, the sire of Toroloco, had a fabulous start to his stud career siring four Classic winners. Only the Kunigal Stud stallion Burden of Proof has had more - five to be precise - in his Freshman year. Every stallion produces horses who excel over a wide range of distances. Razeen, Placerville and Alnasr Alwasheek have sired Sprinters' Cup as well as Stayers' Cup winners but their essential influence was over the Classic distance. Conceptual, who won the Bangalore St. Leger, Gr.2 some years back by was sired by Valid Concept, a horse who never won beyond 1200 m. So would it be correct to aver that Valid Concept imparted stamina to Conceptual ? A stallion can only bequeath what he possess. Rebuttal won two races in his career, one over 1200 m. and the other over a mile. His pedigree is not stamina orientated. (Rebuttal has 24 dosage index points of which only 1 point shows stamina). Rebuttal had 41 foals in his first crop. How many of them have won beyond 2000m. ? A stallion is, or should be judged on the aptitude of majority of his produce. Rebuttal has so far shown himself to be an excellent sire. His chief influence is in getting precocious sprinter-milers. Toroloco will be on the premises in the St. Leger and you have a good chance of getting a run for your money.
One, in fact, the only runner in the field who has proven his credentials to get the trip is Swiss Don, the winner of the Stayers' Cup, Gr.1 over 3000m on this very course. Swiss Don side-stepped the AKK Entertainment Golden Jubilee Indian Turf Invitation Cup , Gr.1 to run in the longer race and his gallant victory duly justified that decision. He has had a run in Smashing's Chief Justice's Cup. That run told us that he was racing fit but threw no light on his current form. He neither ran a forward race nor did he put in a good finishing run despite being under the whip well before the final bend. That run, of course,will bring him on and he has had time on his side. While his stamina is undoubted, his form come Sunday has to be trusted.
Southern Bay had beaten In The Spotlight twice on the track (one race was taken away when the filly came positive) before the latter extracted her revenge in the AKK Entertainment Golden Jubilee Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1. The tactic that day of Ganapathy's filly going to the front and setting a slow pace boomeranged with the result that Southern Bay was well beaten into third. However, Southern Bay did finish ahead of Toroloco and earlier she had beaten Swiss Don by a length and a quarter in the Vijay Textiles Golconda Derby, Gr.1. Though she hasn't raced beyond a mile and a half, the extended distance is well within her compass pedigree-wise. Her dam is a full-sister to Smart Chieftan, Classical Act and Southern Empire, all three of them winners of a St. Leger. Purely on past record, Southern Bay has as good a chance as any runner. Her two uninspiring runs this term are a downer. Perhaps she was being trained in the races themselves and the St. Leger is her real target for the season.
Another likely runner is the enigmatic Ridgeway. In a career of nine starts only once has the son of Sunday Doubt run two races alike. That was at the start of the current season when he twice placed second in consecutive races, first to Toroloco and then to Smashing. Ridgeway started by winning on debut. On his next outing, he was off the board. Back to winning ways at the start of the winter season, he was unplaced when taken to Hyderabad for the Golconda 2000 Guineas, Gr.2. He then ran a close third to Southern Bay and Swiss Don in the Vijay Textiles Golconda Derby, Gr.1. That was followed by an unplaced effort in the Invitation Cup. Southern Bay, Swiss Don and Toroloco have his measure on form but he will be running after an unplaced run in the Maharaja's Cup so is due for a better showing. Ridgeway is without a win in his last six outings. In a handicap race, that is not of much consequence but a Classic demands a winning habit. However, the latest stable gossip suggests that he may not line-up on Sunday.
The key to any race is the way it is run. The UB Team got its tactics spot on in the Maharaja's Cup. None of its pacemakers ever went into the lead because that would have enabled In The Spotlight to sit behind the pace as she has done in the past. Instead, Camorra, a seasoned stayer, kept snapping at the heels of the younger filly, making her pull out a little more all the time. If In The Spotlight is allowed to run the race at her own pace, she has enough class to lead them all a merry dance, especially in a small field. For someone else to win, she has to be subjected to pressure earlier in the race.
PAST THE POST
When Nectar Queen won the first running, the race was held towards the end of the winter season. It was shifted to the summer season in 1992. There have 38 renewals of the race so far and while it is no surprise to see Rashid Byramji topping the list of successful trainers, his tally of 18 winners is simply staggering. His son Darius saddled two, so more than half the winners have been Byramji trained. No surprise either, that Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy leads the owners with seven wins while Vasant Shinde has punched home nine.
The field for the Bangalore St. Leger is yet to go into double figures. Only three horses, Aristocrat, Abide and Salute Her have won the race breaking the three-minute barrier. Salute Her did so during the summer season while the other two when the race was run earlier.
It is a pleasant surprise to see Northern Dancer's son Ilheus, who stood at Dashmesh Stud, topping the Sires' List with four winners. In fact, Dashmesh-Hargobind also top the Stud Farms' list having provided nine winners.