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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 27 Sep 2013 | PUNE

Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

The first shift of the Indian St. Leger, Gr.1 to Pune in 1970 can be linked directly to the institution of the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1 in 1963.  In the seven runnings from1963 to 1969, the average number of runners dropped down from a little over 8 to just about 5. It was hoped that moving the last Indian Classic to Pune's monsoon season would give a boost to numbers which, it was reckoned, had dwindled due to horses having first to move to the Invitation centre and then back to Bombay. After all, the Invitation was held in Bombay only when its turn came.

The first 21 years of the Indian St.Leger in Pune did not exactly fulfill those expectations because the numbers did not improve. What it did though was provide a more picturesque setting, variable goings and a slightly more testing track. The move back to Bombay in 1991 was at the behest of the Sponsors. The Clubs have always believed that he who pays the piper calls the tune and have been more than willing to accommodate. Then, in 2009, an outbreak of a virus caused a late start to racing at Mahalakshmi and the resulting truncated season necessitated the Indian St. Leger going back to Pune. It was again run at Mahalakshmi in 2010 but the last two runnings have been at Pune and so will the 70th renewal this Sunday.

As we near the fag end of the Classic year, we are left with a familiar puzzle because there hasn't been a towering performer among the 2009 crop. Just when one of them seems to break away and assert unmistakable superioirty, a poor run muddles the picture. 

The highest rated horse in the field -- An Acquired Taste -- is also one who has yet not won a Classic. He is also the only member of his crop -- apart from Tintinnabulation -- to have won a Graded race beating older horses. In fact, trainer Altamash Ahmed's ward is a winner of five black-type events which is more than any contemporary of his has managed. Versatile and consistent, his beating Ocean and Beyond over 2400 m. in the Idar Gold Trophy, Gr.3 at no great advantage gives him his high rating. Against that is the fact that in his only essay over 2800 m. in the Bangalore St. Leger, Gr.2, he was comfortably seen off by Tintinnabulation and Wind Stream. An Acquired Taste and Tintinnabulation have crossed swords twice before -- in the Invitation Cup and Bangalore St. Leger -- and the latter has always finished ahead.

Though An Acquired Taste enjoys the highest rating, it is fair to say that Tintinnabulation is the leader of his crop. Not only has he finished ahead of An Acquired Taste in both their encounters, he is the winner of the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1 beating older horses and also has his local Derby and the Bangalore St. Leger in his bag, the latter race making him the only winner over the distance in the field. His stock came down a notch or two when he finished off-the-board on his last start in the President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1 on his home turf. There are two probable reasons to overlook that run. Firstly, the heavy going; and, secondly, being denied a clear run at a crucial juncture. His two Gr.1 wins have been on top of the ground; he handled the slight give adequately to get the job done in the Bangalore St. Leger, Gr.2 while he finished off-the frame in heavy going that prevailed in the Kingfisher Derby Bangalore, Gr.1 and on his last start.  Clearly the one to get past, he has the incentive of becoming the first one of his vintage to win three Gr.1 contests.

Wind Stream won two Classics -- Poonawalla Mysore Derby, Gr.1 and Bangalore 2000 Guineas, Gr.3 -- as a 3YO. At 4, he is winless from 5 starts but has three solid seconds -- in the McDowell Signature Premier Indian Derby, Gr.1, President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1 and Bangalore St. Leger, Gr.2 -- to his credit. His run in the Invitation Cup was inexplicably poor while he was just out for an airing under Ahsan Quereshi in the Maharaja's Cup, Gr.2. His connections have shelled out Rs. 6,30,000 for his final entry and that is a pointer in itself.

Borsalino hasn't won for almost a year but ran his best race of recent times when third just behind Native Knight and Wind Stream in the President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1 at Hyderabad on his last start. He had his favoured going there which may have helped him and noticeably, he opted to come from behind whereas he was a forward runner in his two Derby triumphs as a 3YO. Like Tintinnabulation, he bids for his third Gr.1 win.

As it stands, a win for either An Acquired Taste or Tintinnabulation, both bred at Hazara Stud, will be very much on the form lines; a victory for Wind Stream would not cause too many eyebrows to be raised while if Borsalino comes in first it will be a mild upset that should not put the chairs and TV sets in any danger. They may well be if one of the other three runners goes past the post first. The weather may have a part to play with scattered thunder showers  forecast for Saturday but a clear day anticipated on Sunday. If the form of the 2009 crop has been a bit up and down, the Pune weather this year has also been rather unpredictable.


And, finally, brief notes about three early Indian St. Leger winners at Pune.

THUNDER STORM (1970).  There are 10 winners of the Indian Triple Crown and an equal number of horses who ran in just two of the Triple Crown races and won them both. The grey Thunder Storm, winner of the first ever Indian St.Leger run at Pune, belongs to the second category. Cast off by the poweerful Gwalior stable because of his aversion to the starting stalls, Thunder Storm mended his ways when trained by Dara Pandole. On the day Loyal Prince won the Indian 2000 Guineas, Thunder Storm ran in a Class VA race over a mile and won it easily under jockey J. Wilson. He went on to win the Indian Derby, ran second to Loyal Prince in the Indian Turf Invitation Cup and landed the very short odds in the Indian St. Leger, with Stan Smith sending him on well before the final bend. He had a highly successful career in his post-Classic years. He was later the lead horse at BTC. In the Indian St. Leger, Thunder Storm beat Look Out, one of the four horses to have been a runner-up in all the Triple Crown races.

NOOR-E-SHIRAZ (1972). Though he won, like Thunder Storm, both the Triple Crown races that he participated in, Noor-E-Shiraz is the forgotten horse of the 1968 crop. He was owned by Mr. M.D. Mehta for whom he won the Indian 2000 Guineas by two lengths with Prince Khartoum short-heading Storm for the runner-up spot. After winning the R.R. Ruia Gold Cup effortlessly by five lengths from Storm, he was a cinch the Indian Derby but broke down and missed the race. Prince Khartoum beat Storm in the Indian Derby as well as the Invitation Cup and did not run thereafter. In the meantime, Noor-E-Shiraz was was purchased by Dr. Vishnu Kakkar and entrusted to trainer T. Dougall. Storm won both his lead-up races stylishly while Noor-E-Shiraz was once a distant fourth in one of his two starts in Pune with Shamu Chavan up. Chavan declined the St. Leger ride on Noor-E-Shiraz fearing that the dicky legged horse would come a cropper and so Pandu Khade took the mount. Well before the half-way stage, Khade brushed Noor-E-Shiraz into the lead and he romped home seven clear of a hapless Storm. He broke down in his only start of the following year at Madras and was retired to stud.

RICHELIEU (1974).  The oldest Western India racing colours -- cherry and black hoops of the Goculdases -- were finally carried to a victory in an Indian Classic through Richelieu. The Indian Derby winner Topmost was in Pune but developed severe colic and it was known that he would not start. Richelieu himself had a similar, but milder, affliction on the eve of the race and spent a better part of the night walking. The absence of Topmost prompted the connections to take their chance and under Ernest Alford he won by three lengths from Prime Time. Richelieu's dam Christmas Eve was so named because she was a premature foal born on 24 December. Richelieu himself was born on 20 June. Only Doorani, another Indian St. Leger winner, has a later birthday amongst all Indian Classic winners.