• Lady In Lace wins The Golconda 1000 Guineas (Gr.2)
  • Sana wins The Calcutta 1000 Guineas (Gr.3)
MCDOWELL SIGNATURE INDIAN DERBY, Gr.1
MUMBAI
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Thursday 30 Jan 2014
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

The 72nd running of the Indian Derby is upon us and a good quality field of 15 runners will report to the Starter on Sunday. It will include 8 black-type winners, 6 Gr.1 Classic winners and 5 horses, all males, who are rated 100 or above. The winner of every Summer/Monsoon Derby, the Bangalore Derby winner as well as winners of Deltin Casinos Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1 and Villoo Poonawalla Indian Oaks, Gr.1 are in the line-up. 

A fortnight ago, the pedigrees of Jeremiah and Murioi were discussed, especially with their ability to get a 2400 m. trip. It was an academic exercise for at this stage of their careers what they are is far more important than what their pedigrees presaged. It was obvious that Jeremiah had outrun his pedigree in terms both class and distance aptitude while Murioi had done no more than what his bloodlines suggested. Jeremiah, who has only been ridden by Zervan so far, is a laid-back sort, lolling along comfortably towards the tail-end of field and then coming to win his race when asked. His ilk don't catch the eye. In fact, many really good horses - Squanderer and Mystical later in his career did just enough to win. Intelligent horses have no need for show-boating. He is one of three horses - Murioi and Alaindair are the other two - with two Gr.1 wins to his credit and also has five straight wins over 2000m. Zervan will surely be aware that no Indian jockey has ridden an Indian Derby winner since Kamlesh did so on Velvet Rope in 2006. In The Spotlight counted the Deccan Derby among her victories before the Indian Derby but the last Pune Derby winner to hoist the flag at Mahalakshmi was Indictment in 1997. 

Murioi, rated 120, is unbeaten on the Mahalakshmi track. Only Sreekanth has partnered him so far and he has been far more eye-catching than the phlegmatic Jeremiah. Moreover, a line through Circle of Life gives him a decided edge. No winner of the Poonawalla Breeders' Multi-Million, Gr.1 has won the Derby and that is a jinx he has to overcome. He is certain to start the favourite and that, too, is a bit off-putting for only two favourites have come good in the last ten years. 

Alandair was comfortably seen off by Murioi in the Deltin Casinos Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1 and as he is not bred to be a true mile and a half horse, it will be hard for him to reverse the verdict. He is, however, a game and genuine customer and will run his race. He hasn't raced since the 2000 but will be comforted by the fact that the two fairly recent winners of the Blue Riband - Storm Again and Antonios went straight into the Derby after the mile. On the other hand, last five winners of the Bangalore Summer Double - Holding Court, Southern Empire, Bourbon King, Set Alight and Pronto Pronto failed to win the Derby. 

Southern Emperor should have won the Deccan Bookmakers' Golconda Derby, Gr.1 and Sreekanth has had a load of criticism heaped on him for his ride. The fact is that Southern Emperor became the meat in the sandwich between no-hopers falling back and serious runners moving up. A similar situation had caused Agostini's fall in the Deccan Bookmakers' Golconda 2000 Guineas, Gr.2. A jockey has to be alive to possibility of such an eventuality but every jockey has become a victim of it at one time or the other. In any case, Southern Emperor fell back, came round the field and finished like a train. It was a grand rehearsal and as he is bred to stay, the stable has a worthy fall-back if Murioi should run into problems. The last Mysore Derby winner to win the Indian Derby was Elusive Pimpernel in 1995. 

Agostini has had to part with Rs. 9,00,000 of his Bangalore Derby, Gr.1 winnings to take his chance at Mahalakshmi and will need to be on the board to recover that outlay. Last year, Super Storm had a day more between the two races and Diabolical has won the Golconda Derby and the Indian Derby Sunday to Sunday. It is a tough ask for the Mahalakshmi track is stiffer, the competition sterner and the race is likely to be faster. Only two Bangalore Derby winners have won the Indian Derby - Cordon Bleu and the subsequently disqualified Saddle Up and both, like Agostini, were owned by Dr. Vijay Mallya. Cordon Bleu had 11 days between the two races and Saddle Up a dozen. 

The other contender with a three figure rating was Silver Arrow (Verglas - Isotta) - also owned by Dr. Mallya. and he has had to opt out having failed to pass his barrier test. With the Dr. P. Dayanand Pai and Mr. P. Satish Pai Bangalore 2000 Guineas, Gr.2 winner Turf Striker also pulling out at a late stage, it leaves Jeremiah as the only grey in the field. Not since Cordon Bleu in 1988 has a grey won this race. 

Ace Bucephalus (Rebuttal - Shantay), now with Irfan Ghatala, came early to Mumbai like Wind Stream last year. He has had a mock race in which he was beaten only half a length by Toroloco. If the time of that mock race - 2.01 is taken at face value, it broke Set Alight's track record. Ace Bucephalus won his first two races at Mysore but is without a win for almost a year in his next seven races where he has usually managed to place. Rebuttal sired Super Storm, last year's winner, and that was the only Classic winner from his second crop. He hasn't had one yet from his third. Can the lightning strike again?     

In our racing, it is a given that the Oaks winner will run in the Derby. Connections of the Oaks winners certainly seem to think so for 50 of the 70 previous winners have come out again in the Derby. Only nine fillies have registered a Oaks-Derby but exactly half of the 50 have been on-the-board. Isn't She Special pulled off a tactical coup with her aggressive front running in the Oaks this year and was a deserving winner. She can hardly do so again as the surprise element is gone. Circle of Life has been second in her last four starts - to Jeremiah, Murioi, Mariinsky and Isn't She Special - with Richard Hughes riding her in the two Indian Classics. Hughes would be better acquainted with the filly now Circle of Life ought to turn the tables on her Oaks conqueror. The other contenders have a mountain to climb to get into the frame.  

PAST THE POST 

The man who has led in most winners of the Indian Derby is Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy, having done so on seven different occasions. His first runner was Cupid in Commanche's race of 1976. Cupid finished only fourth but he still holds the distinction of being the only horse to run in four winter Derbies. Dr. Ramaswamy was only a part-owner in Exhilaration (1989) and the horse did not run in his colours. Amazing Bay, who carried the gold-and-brown livery in 1996, must have pleased him even more. The filly was the favourite as were Star Supreme (1998) and Smart Chieftan (2000). Then came Starsky (2002), Southern Regent (2005) and Diabolical (2007), this trio being at longer odds.

Dr. Ramaswamy has not had back to back Indian Derby winners though he has a hat-trick of failed favourites. The year after Southern Regent won, he had Mystical, by far the best Indian-bred horse of the 21st century. Mystical started as an odds-on favourite. Mr. Haresh Mehta's Holding Court, the second favourite, had taken charge at the distance and seemed striding away to a victory when the 20/1 chance Velvet Rope came with a rattling run to win by half a length. The favourite Mystical finished a close, late third as Prakash woke up from his slumber when it was all over. Neither Velvet Rope nor Holding Court got the better of Mystical subsequently.  

If the defeat of Mystical was perplexing, that of Southern Empire in 2007 was utterly startling. Unbeaten in his ten starts prior to the Indian Derby, Southern Empire was at even a shorter price than Mystical the previous year as stablemate Diabolical scored at the odds of 10/1. Once again Prakash rode what can only be called an injudicous race, lying far too back, misjudging the pace and allowing the winner to win without a challenge. In 2008, Bourbon King (Colm O'Donoghue up) was the public fancy. The favourite's stablemate Sweeping Success (Prakash) looked like landing the prize at odds of 12/1 when Mick Kinane powered home on Hotstepper to win by a neck.   

Have the Gods of Racing frowned upon runners carrying gold-and-brown colours? They have not been on-the-board in the last five Indian Derbies. On Sunday we will know if the Gods have been appeased. 

PULLING UP 

Ratings are the edifice on which the structure of racing is based. That being so, one would expect that in terms races where all horses carry the same weight (other than the sex allowance for fillies), the highest rated horse would win more often than not. Well, that is certainly not the case with the Indian Derby in the last 10 runnings:- 

      2004 -  Psychic Flame (107)           - Psychic Flame (107)
      2005 -  Berlioz (115)                       - Southern Regent (93)
      2006 -  Holding Court (116)              - Velvet Rope (93)
      2007 -  Southern Empire (124)         - Diabolical (112)
      2008 -  Bourbon King (128)              - Hotstepper (89)
      2009 -  Set Alight (117)                   - Antonios (72)
      2010 -  Jacqueline (115)                  - Jacqueline (115)
      2011 -  Moonlight Romance (115)     - Moonlight Romance (115)
      2012  - In The Spotlight (110)           - In The Spotlight (110)
      2013  - Wind Stream (110)               - Super Storm (102) 

It would seem that the fair sex is far more reliable and consistent than generally given credit for!