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The McDowell Signature Indian St. Leger

By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd) | 20 Sep 2011 | PUNE


In its inaugural year in 1943, there were just three Indian Classics run at Mumbai. The Indian Oaks and the Indian St. Leger were added the following year, though, the latter race was called the Governor-General's Cup. It continued to be run in that name till India became a Republic in 1950 and the name was changed to Indian St. Leger. So technically, Mansoor Beg [NSB] is the first winner of the of the longest Classic. (Just to set the record right, it was another half-bred -- Royal Windsor [NSB] -- who had won the first Governor-General's Cup in 1944).

In 1970, the race was shifted to Pune and was run there for 21 years before being brought back to Mumbai. The Indian Triple Crown was sponsored and the move back was at the behest of the Sponsors. There is a sizeable group of knowledgeable people who contend that Pune, with the its undulating track and the vagaries of climate -- hence the going -- offered a better test of stamina. It was also felt that with the Invitation Cup having established itself, a campaign consisting of five winter Classics and the new race saw tired horses running in the St. Leger. On the flip side was the argument that the star fillies would hasten off to stud and the attrition of another six months of racing would cut down the fields. Statistics support this latter assertion. The average field for the St. Leger during its 21 years in Pune - not counting the year of Antonios which was a one-off exception -- was fractionally over 5. In the next 20 years after its return to Mumbai, the average was just under 7. A case of six of this and a half dozen of that, one would say.

In 2009, an epidemic delayed the start of the Mumbai season by two months and there simply wasn't enough time to fit in the St. Leger. It was hence shifted to Pune and Antonios won the race. The move this time appears to have a greater degree of longevity if not permanence. With the change of venue, how significant the trends of last 25 years will be is a moot point. In that period, the St. Leger has been won by 18 horses who had earlier won a winter Classic, 14 of them being a winner of the Indian Derby or the Invitation Cup. In its entire history, the St. Leger has been won by 16 fillies and five got-abroads. There are 10 horses still left-in for the coming Sunday's renewal but it is certain that there won't be a winter Classic winner among them. A got-abroad --Ocean and Beyond -- is a near certain starter and there may be an odd filly running. Neither, though, have what can be termed as a fair chance of figuring in the final shake-up.

It is perhaps better to cast the eye back to the Pune chapter of the race. A couple of years before the St. Leger moved to Pune, the Idar Cup (2400 m.) had also been shifted. It would have been an ideal lead-up for the Classic but for the fact that it was scheduled after the St. Leger! When the Authorities got the order right, Mayapan (1980) immediately underlined the wisdom of the change by winning the Idar Cup and then going on to annexe the Indian St. Leger. Much before that, a man with with an All-India vision and eagerness to travel with the right horse for the right race, had discovered the right path. That man was Rashid Byramji. In 1975, having nursed that much talented and courageous filly Sweet Memories from a career-threatening injury, took her to Hyderabad and won the President of India Gold Cup. Following Sunday, coming over to Pune, Sweet Memories waded through fetlock deep water to win the Indian St. Leger. (If the 'fetlock deep' water is a hyperbole, mid-calf level water in the Weighing Room is an incontrovertible fact). The experiment was successful and Byramji repeated it with Commanche in 1976 and Squanderer in 1977 to record a hat-trick. Squanderer, of course, had the benefit of a three-week gap -- not that the great galloper needed it -- between the President's and St. Leger, a more realistic race-planning having dawned on the Authorities.

Bal Lagad failed to replicate the Byramji magic with Royal Tern. The Goculdas-owned colt won the President's beating Own Opinion but Dr. Ramaswamy's chestnut turned the tables comprehensively in the St. Leger. Byramji then added the Nizam's Cup to the route as Everynsky and Almanac completed the Nizam's-President's-Indian St.Leger treble in 1980 and 1982 respectively. Byramji also won the Nizam's and President's with Track Lightning (1981) and Camino (1983) but did not bring those two for the St. Leger. The only time Byramji failed to win the St. Leger after having won the President's was in 1985 with Scintillating but he demonstrated that that the 'formula' still held good with Classic Story in 1990. The Indian St. Leger then moved to Mumbai. Three other St. Leger winners of that period deserve a mention. Tribute had won the Golconda St. Leger in the start previous to her St. Leger triumph. Sir Bruce, like Royal Tern, failed to register the double as Amorous Knight -- again like Own Opinion -- extracted his revenge in 1986 while Capricorn won the Idar Cup as a prelude to his record-breaking success in the St. Leger. To paraphrase, a win at Hyderabad before the St. Leger is highly significant; a victory in the Idar Cup is the next best pointer.

That little bit of historical meandering is certainly pertinent to the coming Sunday. Ordained One already has the Nizam's and the President's in the bag and if he has come out of the last Sunday's race with no ill effects, he will line up for the St. Leger. No one betters the MAM-stable in striking while the iron is hot. Macchupicchu has won the Idar Cup and he is the one with the home advantage and longer rest between the races. He was beaten comfortably by Ordained One in the Nizam's but Shroff's ward was slowly working his way to full fitness after a layoff while winner was in full training. It has to be said, though, that what Macchupicchu beat in the Idar Cup was a motley collection of old horses. On the other hand, Ordained One's scalping Arabian Prince in President's looks very impressive. What works in favour of Macchupicchu is that he has finished closer to Xisca -- his stablemate -- in the Indian Derby and the Invitation Cup while Ordained One was way behind the filly in the Maharaja's Cup and the Bangalore St. Leger.

On pedigree, there is little to choose between the two horses. Ordained One (Placerville - Amazing Princess) is a full-brother a previous Indian St. Leger winner in Noble Prince and the two are very closely related to another in Protégé. Amazing Princess herself is a half sister to Opera Prince, a winner of the South India St. Leger. Macchupichu (Emerald Cat - Anaroma) also has abundance of Classic, staying horses close up. His dam is three-part sister to Arabian Rose (winner of the Calcutta Derby and the dam of two Stayers' Cup winners in Arabian Knight and Arabian Prince) and half-sister to Own Vision (Bangalore St. Leger), Accomplish (South India St. Leger) and Azureus (Queen Elizabeth II Cup). The next dam Self Reliance won the South India St. Leger in record time. Overall, it would appear that Macchupicchu has a mountain to climb if he is to stop Ordained One from winning. It is presumed that Shroff's ward is named after the heritage site located 7000 feet above the sea level in the Peruvian Andes so mountain climbing should come naturally to him. The presumption has had to be made because there is a difference of spelling in official name of that site--Machu Picchu -- and the horse's moniker.

Shroff will also be saddling Berlusconi who was seven and a half lengths adrift of Xisca -- but ahead of Ordained One -- in the Bangalore St. Leger. Ocean and Beyond is not the horse he was at this time last year and doesn't appear likely to be seriously involved. Dante Rossetti was in Calcutta last month while Kilimanjaro and Ice Bound are Bangalore-based. Their current ratings don't warrant a trip to Pune. Ocean Admiral and Lyrical Fantasy, neither of whom has won beyond a mile, could be used as pacemakers.

PAST THE POST. Xisca won the Bangalore St. Leger on 24 July and just a few days later Moonlight Romance had a mock race in Pune. One would have then been justified in thinking that the St. Leger would be won by one of them. Since then, both have had training setbacks and while they have not yet put on the bedroom slippers, they have certainly discarded their racing plates.