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INDIAN TURF INVITATION CUP, Gr.1
HYDERABAD
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Tuesday 25 Feb 2014
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

It was during the monsoon season of 1978 that Malakpet hosted its first Invitation Cup as Manitou scrolled his name on the trophy. Five years later, when it was again the turn of Hyderabad Race Club to host the event, it was sponsored for the first time and run at the end of the winter season. Also, it was the first occasion that the full complement four Gr.1 races was run and the Invitation Cup week-end was well and truly established. This Sunday will see the ninth renewal of the race in the historic city.

It is only when the Invitation Cup is held that Hyderabad races in March. By this time, the temperatures are beginning to rise and the going is rendered ultra quick with the track hardened like asphalt. Three of the six Invitations run at the end of the winter season have seen a sub 2.30 timing and the winners have generally held a prominent position coming into the straight. In a fast run race on a lightning quick surface, it is difficult to make up too much ground. The no-hopers in the van also tend to back pedal rapidly just before the bend and hamper those moving up. The track is hence a vital factor that needs to be considered in deciding the riding tactics. Horses running on it for the first time have been known to veer out at the final bend and make for the stables. 

Sunday's race provides an opportunity for Tintinnabulation to become the first horse to win the Invitation Cup twice. It gives Alaindair a chance to join a select band of six - Prince Kartoum (1972), Squanderer (1977), Manitou (1978), Track Lightning (1981), Smart Chieftan (2000) and Moonlight Romance (2011) - who have bagged the treble of Bangalore Summer Derby, Indian Derby and Invitation Cup. That sets up the clash of the generations nicely indeed.

THE CLASSIC CROP

By now, everyone is familiar with the stars of the 2010 crop and have their own favourites. In the past, the Indian Derby held a crucial significance to the outcome of the Invitation Cup. There have been 19 Indian Derby-Invitation Cup doubles. That statistic is matched by horses who failed to win the Indian Derby but came up trumps in the Invitation. Against that we have 13 horses who did not run in the Indian Derby but triumphed in the Invitation Cup.

Of the four winter Derbies run this year, Alaindair's race is the most significant. It was run in a record time, there were no hard luck stories and the winner ran a near perfect race. Among the beaten brigade was Agostini, the winner of the Bangalore Derby. When Tintinnabulation won the Invitation Cup last year, he became the first Hyderabad-based horse to win the big race. A year earlier, In The Spotlight counted the Calcutta Derby among her victories before the Invitation. But In The Spotlight had gone to Calcutta on a successful raiding mission. Generally, the impact of horses based at Calcutta and Hyderabad on the outcome of the Invitation Cup has been minimal. Going by that, it would appear that the challenge of the Classic crop will be spearheaded by the first four finishers in the Indian Derby.

Will the finishing order in the Indian Derby hold good or will it will undergo a change? The answer to that lies in the pace at which the Invitation Cup is run. Alaindair broke Jacqueline's race and track record when clocking 2.28.05. The sectional timings are interesting - (27.08) (25.34) (21.94) (25.06) (24.46) (24.17). The first quarter was the slowest and the third - from 1600 m. to 1200 m. - the fastest. Obviously, those fractions will not be replicated in the same sequence at Malakpet which means that jockeys will have to be mindful of the pace, position their mounts according to it and call for the final effort at the opportune time. We are dealing in seconds and split-seconds. It is so difficult to get it absolutely spot-on and it is one of the main reasons why results change between the same horses, at the same distance and with the same weights.

You can be certain that finishing order in the Invitation Cup will not be Alaindair-Starry Eyes-Circle of Life-Murioi. The question still remains a simple one - will Alaindair reconfirm his superiority ? He beat Murioi by about three lengths in the Indian Derby after having finished three and a half lengths behind the son of Dubawi in the "2000". It is possible that Murioi is a better miler and Alaindair a better stayer. That cannot be judged on the basis of the Derby run alone and this race will give a better indication of their aptitudes. For Murioi to turn the tables, he will need to be ridden less impetuously and produced for his final run around 200 m. post. Starry Eyes ran her best race in almost a year and her running roughly equates to last year's Poonawalla Breeders' Multi-Million, Gr.1 result where she was second to  Murioi. She had an excellent journey along the rails all the way through and she plugged on determinedly without finding an extra gear. The connections will surely tweak their tactics based on Sandesh's feed-back. Circle of Life was almost last at the bend and she was never going to make up that much of ground. A handier position at Malakpet will enhance her prospects.

Of the other members of the Classic crop, past performance and pedigree indicate that Southern Emperor, Jeremiah and Snowdrift have it in them to spring a surprise. Snowdrift, though, holds an invitation for the Super Mile and may take his chance over the shorter distance.

OLDER HORSES

The "open" Invitation Cup is just a year-old and it isn't appropriate to say that the older horses are still looking for their first win. After all, last year the three places in the frame behind Tintinnabulation were occupied by older horses. Of the 21 horses invited for this year's race (including three reserves), there are seven older horses of whom three have invitations for other races over the week-end. Wind Stream is likely to prefer the Stayers' Cup and Super Storm may opt for the Super Mile if not the Stayers' Cup. Super Storm has not won since his surprise win in last year's Indian Derby.

The hopes of last year's Classic crop rest principally with An Acquired Taste and Tintinnabulation. By pulverising Tintinnabulation by almost a distance in the Signature Premier Indian St. Leger, Gr.1, An Acquired Taste earned a rating of 133. That figure is unmatched by any of the invitees at any stage in their career. Since then, he has not had a winning bracket. Third in his next three starts at Pune, Mumbai and Calcutta, he seemed to be brought along with a meticulous plan. However, he ran a miserable race on his last outing in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Gr.3. Besides, Ocean And Beyond has an edge over him in terms of handicap based on their last two meetings. Like Alaindair, An Acquired Taste is owned by Dr. Neville Devlaliwalla and trained by Altamash Ahmed. It is hard to fathom what the stable tactics will be.

Last year's winner Tintinnabulation will be running on his home turf. After being beaten by An Acquired Taste at Pune, L.V.R. Deshmukh's champion returned to Malakpet and bagged the Golconda St. Leger, Gr.2. In regular work thereafter, he has come under the silks just once during the current season when he scored a course and distance win giving the consistent Sherman Oaks considerable weight. He has more wins over 2400 m. than any other runner in the field. Interestingly, he was ridden by Y.S. Srinath last time out so the jockey must have an astute idea of his merit relative to Alaindair. He will be fresh but perhaps a more searching schedule would have stripped him fitter. After glorious last year, L.V.R. Deshmukh has had a quieter year and must be yearning to finish off on a high note.

What Tintinnabulation did to Sherman Oaks, Toroloco - a representative of the In The Spotlight vintage - did to To The Manor Born in the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Eclipse Stakes of India, Gr.2. Sherman Oaks and To The Manor Born are from the B-string of the Classic crop and they have been well beaten by older horses. Toroloco has not won over 2400 since winning the Bangalore Derby, Gr.1 two years ago. Over in Calcutta, Ocean And Beyond scalped the Eveready Calcutta Derby, Gr.1 winner Snowdrift giving 4kgs. to the younger horse. In his Classic year, Ocean And Beyond had run second to Moonlight Romance in the McDowell Signature Indian Derby, Gr.1 and was third to the same filly in the Invitation. Last year, giving 4 kgs. to the winner, he was a length and a half shy of Tintinnabulation. Both Toroloco and Ocean And Beyond have nine career wins with three of them coming over 2000 m. which appears to be their ideal trip. 

Just once in his 29 lifetime starts has Ocean And Beyond failed to come on the board so the oldest horse in the field is the type who invariably provides a run for money.  

The Invitation Cup is an annual event. The biggest stake holders in the sport are the punters and they deserve to be informed well in time of the nominations for the four main events. Surely, by now the modalities ought to have been streamlined and norms defined.

PAST THE POST

*    And, finally, some miscellaneous points to ponder:-

*   No winner of the Indian Derby has won an Invitation Cup when it has been run at Malakpet at the end of the winter season.

*  Fate of the Favourites.

** Overall - 22 in 51 runnings;

** Last ten years - 4 out of the 10.

** At Malakpet -  2 (Manitou and Adler) out of 8. 

*  Seven winners of the Invitation Cup - Prince Regent, Mother's Boy, Columbia, Own Beauty, The Pelican, Zurbaran and Simply Supreme - had not won a Classic before winning the Invitation. Three of them did so at Malakpet.

*   Only three horses, not on board in their previous start, have subsequently won the Invitation Cup. Venus de Milo (1969), Bright Hanovar (1971) and Simply Supreme (2004). 

*   Being Percentage-wise.

**  27 winners had won their previous start (52.94 %).

**  30 winners had their previous start in the Indian Derby (58.82 %).

**  19 winners had their previous run on the same track (37.25).

**  32 winners were ridden by the same jockey on their previous start (62.75)

**  40 winners had their previous run within 30 days (78.43).