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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 27 Sep 2012 | PUNE

Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

The 69th renewal of the Indian St. Leger, a race which was originally run as the Governor-General's Cup, is at the mercy of In The Spotlight, The daughter of Alnasr Alwasheek is indubitably way, way ahead of other foals born in India in 2008 and is opposed here by a mediocre lot. As of the moment, there are still five rivals holding ground but any of them could be scratched on Friday. In The Spotlight, from 14 starts, has won 10 races, all black-type contests, and they include eight Classics and five Gr.1s. The Feeble Five, on the other hand, have just three Gr.3s to their credit in 61 combined starts. In The Spotlight is rated 130 as against the next best rating of 110. In The Spotlight has a win over the distance against her name; none of her rivals has so far ventured beyond a mile and a half. 

All racing reasons suggest that In The Spotlight is home, hosed and dry. Can she be beaten ? Yes. Because this is racing. Less than a fortnight ago, Camelot, seeking to become the first English Triple Crown winner since the great Nijinsky, started at 4/10 on in the Ladbrokes St. Leger, Gr.1. Camelot went into the race unbeaten in his five starts. He was a winner of four Gr.1s, three Classics and two Derbys. Yet, he was beaten on the Town Moor by a horse who had never won a black-type race !  One would like to think that even those who had backed Encke in that race would have had their joy moderated by the failure of a good horse to make history and achieve legendary status.

The Indian St. Leger has been run 23 times in Pune and 14 favourites have won the race. The 60 % strike-rate of favourites for the race is much higher than the norm. This year's race should boost that percentage. There is nothing new to write about In the Spotlight so perhaps it may be interesting to touch upon the nine occasions when a Leger favourite bit the dust in Pune.

The first of these was the Gwalior horse Storm (Hervine out of Indian Derby winner Rocklie) who had played second fiddle to Prince Khartoum in the Indian Derby and the Invitation Cup at Madras. That looked a solid form line and he was expected to win the final Classic of the year. He was beaten by his paddock-mate Noor-E-Shiraz (Prince Pradeep - Ghazalah). Noor-E-Shiraz, then owned by Mr. M.D. Mehta, had beaten Storm as well as Prince Khartoum in the Indian 2000 Guineas and the R.R.Ruia Gold Cup. He broke down and was sold to Dr. Vishnu Kakkar, later to be a Member of RWITC Managing Committee for a number of years. Dr. Kakkar entrusted "the crock" to trainer "Torchie" Dougall and Noor-E-Shiraz was slowly patched up and put right. He was given two starts in Pune; in the Turf Club Cup and the Governor's Cup. Shammu Chavan rode him in both the races. In the Turf Club Cup he was given an easy outing; In the Governor's Cup, which Storm won by almost a distance, he ran a forward race before 'retiring'.  Chavan thought that the horse was feeling his legs and so was reluctant to ride him in the Leger. Dr. Kakkar, then when there were a few more persuasive men and when at his best, got Pandu Khade to take the ride. There was no better judge of pace than Khade who sent Noor-E-Shiraz into the lead at 1200 m. marker and came home in solitary splendour to win in a record time ! Noor-E-Shiraz later stood as a stallion at Dr. Kakkar's V.R. Farms while Storm went to Pratap Stud.

Two years later in 1974, the Dara Pandole-trained Asopo gelding Forward Thrust was the favourite to win the Leger. By rights, it should have been Topmost. Mr. D.K. Das's colt, trained by Byramji, had won the Indian Derby as well as the Invitation Cup earlier that year. Topmost had colic in the week preceding the big race and was scratched. Richelieu, owned by the Goculdases, had a mild attack colic on the eve of race but with Topmost absent, the cherry-and-black stable decided to take a chance. It was a brave decision and as so often happens, fortune smiled on the plucky Richelieu who was piloted by Ernie Alford. Ernie Alford had a long and successful association with Bal Lagad's stable but Richelieu is the only Classic winner he rode in his entire career. 

"Rank Outsider In a Field of Three" maxim came to the fore in 1978 when the Indian Derby-Invitation Cup winner Manitou was a twenty-paisa favourite with the Indian 2000 Guineas winner Ipi Tombi at 2/1 and Linden Flora available in double figures. Linden Flora (Linden Tree - Gambia), who had started his racing as Ayappa Saranam, won to give the Poonawallas their first Indian Classic victory in their own colours. It was also the first Indian Classic win for the jockey Robin Corner. Manitou never ran again while Linden Flora never won again.

Own Opinion (Simead - Purita) had demonstrated in the Invitation Cup where a posse of pacemakers had hassled Royal Tern,that he was a better stayer than the Goculdas horse. Despite that, the local sentiment meant that Royal Tern went out as a half-money favourite in the 1979 Indian St. Leger. This time, Own Opinion had only Red Chieftan to cut the wind but the son of Red Indian did his job so well that Jagdish easily got the measure of the favourite who could finish only third. Both Own Opinion, who gave Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy his first Indian Classic in his colours, and Royal Tern raced with distinction for the next couple of years.

Columbia, the winner of the Charminar Challenge Indian Turf Invitation Cup at Hyderabad in 1983, was the public fancy for the 1983 Indian St. Leger. His trainer Dara Pandole had passed away some time after the Invitation Cup and the colt was then trained by his son Nosher Pandole. For the Leger, Columbia and Dr. Ramaswamy's got-abroad filly Tribute (Distant Land - Broma) were both equally fancied on the books but the local runner was the Tote favourite. They did finish 1-2 but the filly outclassed the colt by 10 lengths.

The 1985 Indian St. Leger winner Midori (New Model - A'propos) was also a got-abroad born at Pratap Stud and he landed the prize at the nourishing odds of 15/1. The favourite for the race was the Malvado filly Scintillating who didn't quite stay. She won some good races the following year to show that it was the distance which had done her in.

If Royal Tern and Own Opinion were two horses roughly equal in calibre and separated by their staying propensity, so were Sir Bruce and Amorous Knight. Sir Bruce won the Indian Derby; Amorous Knight picked up the Invitation Cup. The St. Leger was a kind of 'decider' and it was the jockeyship of Pesi Shroff which enabled Amorous Knight (Knight of Medina - Glamorous) to win a thrilling race in which two short-heads separated the first three home. Sir Bruce, the favourite, was not among those three. There were five fillies in a field of seven for the 1989 Indian St. Leger and they filled the first five places ! The favourite was the Indian Oaks victress Midnight Madness. The winner turned up in the shape of Pennywise (Cossack Dancer - Posh Penny). Pennywise was trained by Magan Singh Jodha who was then in his first year as a trainer. He ended that Pune season as the Champion Trainer and Pennywise remains the only Classic winner he has saddled.

After the 1990 running, the Indian St. Leger moved back to Mumbai. It was a fitting farewell as sheer saddle artistry of Vasant Shine on Classic Story (Ilheus - Classic Touch), enabled the filly to hold the Indian Derby-Invitation Cup winner and the favourite - Desert Warrior (Shroff up) by a proverbial whisker.



Owner - Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy (6)

Trainer -  R.R. Byramji (6)

Jockey - Shamu Chavan (5)

Stud Farm - Poonawalla Group (14)

Sire - Placerville (6)

Fastest Time at Pune: 2011 MACCHUPICCHU (2.57.30)

Slowest Time at Pune: 1988 MENORAH (3.23.5)

Biggest Field at Pune: 1984 CHARON (9)

Smallest Field at Pune: 1977 SQUANDERER (3), 1978 LINDEN FLORA (3)

Got-abroad winners - Prince Pradeep (1964), Linden Flora (1978), Tribute (1983), Majestic Eagle (1991) and Zurbaran (2003) Own Opinion (1979) and Mayapan (1981) were full-brothers being by Simead out of Purita. Smart Chieftan (2000), Southern Empire (2007) and Change of Luck (2010) were fully related being by Placerville out of Stunning.