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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 11 Oct 2013 | PUNE

Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

The 30th renewal of the Pune Derby is slated for the coming Sunday. It is a race which has had a sponsor throughout its history with Nanoli Stud doing so for the last 18 years. When it was first run in 1984, the filly Prudential Champ won by a distance. Last year, there was a keen tussle right up the short straight with Commander finally getting home by a nostril. Of late, the Pune Derby winners have had chequered subsequent careers but overall it hasn't been a poor race at all. Eleven horses have gone on to win a Classic in the winter and they include two winners of the Indian Triple Crown -- Astonish and Indictment -- and three -- Amorous Knight, Desert Warrior and Forest Fantasy -- of the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1.  

The runnings of the Pune Derby and the careers of  Pesi Shroff and Mallesh Narredu -- whether as jockeys or trainers -- have unfolded side by side. Shroff had already notched up three winners before Narredu got his first but then the latter went on to add half a dozen more while the former managed just one. Eleven Derbies between the two of them shows what a dominant influence they have had on the race. Shroff has already saddled a winner of the Pune Derby while Narredu was within a short-head of getting off the mark last year. 

At the start of the week, Shroff was undecided about running Jeremiah, the facile winner of the Vijay Textiles Deccan Derby, Gr.1 in a record time for the race. He was perhaps mindful of the fact that so far no Deccan Derby winner has doubled up with the Pune Derby. In fairness, though, it has to be mentioned that only trainer Padmanabhan has attempted to do so with Wandering Star in 1997. The gap between the two Derbies is rather small and there is the added fatigue factor on account of travel. No matter how easily a horse wins, a race takes its toll which is not always apparent to the human eye. Several consumate winners of the Indian Oaks have floundered in the Indian Derby. A Jeremiah well within himself obviously sets the standard as he seeks a historic double and become the sixth grey to win the race.

The other runner which will be saddled by Shroff is Circle of Life (Singspiel - Dubai Spirit) who will carry the colours of the Shirkes but runs in the Jacqueline partnership. From being a small, 'hobby' owner  to the heady Jacqueline days, Mr. Vijay Shirke has come  a long way. The local Derby, however, still eludes him, the closest that he came to winning it was in 1996 when Jaguar was just a short-head shy of beating Indictment. Circle of Life is beautifully bred. By a leading sire, her grandam is a Mr. Prospector half-sister to Arazi and Noverre. Circle of Life herself, a last outing winner, is sparingly raced and on board in her three starts, all over a mile. She was beaten by a length and a half by Falcon on her debut in Mumbai. She may just be a trifle short of experience and will obviously be a better filly in the winter. The poser for Shroff is a difficult one. Circle of Life is owned by his principal patrons; Jeremiah sports the silks of new entrants -- M/s. Haresh Mehta & Jaydev Mody -- to his yard. 

Apart from owning a share in Jeremiah which he acquired shortly before the Deccan Derby, Mr. Jaydev Mody owns three runners -- Falcon, Bombardier and Hawker --, all trained by Mallesh Narredu, which will carry his own colours. Falcon (Razeen - Tarnished Lady) has won thrice over a mile. The chestnut took a while to find his bearings -- he was beaten by Trance in one of his earlier races -- but has not looked back after his first win. He was a good fifth in the Poonawalla Breeders' Multi-Million, Gr.1, won the Shapoorji Pallonji Breeders' Juvenile Colts' Championship Stakes, Gr.3 and after a gap of six months bagged the S.A. Poonawalla Multi-Million, Gr.2 beating his stable-mate Bombardier. He hasn't raced beyond a mile but his half-sister Gloriosa won the Calcutta Monsoon Derby over 2000 m. while his full-sister Lad Lady is a winner over 1800 m. and placed second to Southern Bay in Bangalore Oaks, Gr.2. Their dam Tarnished Lady had finished second in the Coaching Club American Oaks, Gr.1 over 2400 m. at Belmont Park. Falcon finished resolutely on his last start -- where Trance was behind him -- and was full of running. He has beaten Bombardier, Circle of Life, Celtic King, Cactus Cash and Dynamo at one time or the other.

Bombardier (Steinbeck - Only Royale) has three wins against his name, the last two over a mile. He has never beaten Falcon. Last time out, he seemed comfortably held by Dynamo but found a second wind to finish on the haunches of Falcon. His dam is a full-sister to excellent stayers in Allied Forces and Perceived Value so  Bombardier should not be lacking in stamina. He may lack the class to make an impact over 2000 m. Falcon and Bombardier will most likely have Hawker (Multidimensional - Access All Areas) setting the pace for them. Hawker led for a long while in To The Manor Born's General Rajendrasinghji Million so he has had an excellent rehearsal for the job.

Four 'got-abroads' have won the race previously and there are three  of them running on Sunday. The third one -- Kallu Mama (Aussie Rules - Khalimia) -- is the lone outstation challenger.  L.V.R. Deshmukh fielded two 'got-abroads' at Malakpet -- Fastest Finger and Racing Ahead -- while keeping the grey Kallu Mama for Pune. Kallu Mama and Fastest Finger had about the same rating. Kallu Mama's pedigree is just about right for the job and he won over 1800 m. last time out. His three wins have all come at Malakpet while he drew a blank in his soujourns to Mumbai and Bangalore.

Apart from Jeremiah, the other course and distance winner in the line-up is Majestic Reward (Arabian Gulf - Liesl). Trained by Imtiaz Sait for the Agashes, Majestic Reward has three wins from four starts and the only time he was beaten was when To The Manor Born nailed him on the post in Bangalore. The unbeaten To The Manor Born, who is being rested for the winter Classics, would have been a fancied runner here. The progeny of Arabian Gulf requires a galloping trip. Juddmonte bred and owned Arabian Gulf was lightly raced, winning over 2000 m. and placing a short-head second to Soldier of Fortune -- later the winner of the Budweiser Irish Derby, Gr.1 --  in the MBNA Chester Vase, Gr.3 from just three starts.  Like Alnasr Alwasheek, Arabian Gulf is a son of Sadler's Wells. Majestic Reward, from the family of American Triple Crown winner Affirmed, is out of a Placerville mare so he is bred on the cross responsible for In The Spotlight, Southern Bay, Forever Glory, Icebreaker, Star Team, Messalina and others.

Six years ago, the 20/1 outsider Gobelin provided Imtiaz Sait with his first -- and so far the only -- winner of the race. Gobelin never won again. Now, Imtiaz Sait has Gobelin's first foal -- Trance by Phoenix Factor -- racing in the same colours. Trance has run a couple of promising races but hasn't quite built on that promise. Trance, Kallu Mama, Kallu Mama's sire Aussie Rules and the DBA Hyderabad Colts' Championship Stakes, Gr.3 winner Acclaimed are all from the Aga Khan's Mumtaz Mahal family though from different branches.

Mr. Haresh Mehta is the other owner with more than one runner as he also has Celtic King (Noverre -Odabella) running. Last year's Derby was won by a son of Noverre but Celtic King could well be allotted the task of hustling Hawker for the early lead. War Horse (Razeen - Margarita Rita), owned by R.K. Wadhwan, has a solitary win over 1000 m. In no Classic can a runner carrying the brown-and gold livery be ignored and so The Ministerian (Ace - Glorious Fantasy) will have his supporters. A winner over a mile once, The Ministerian carries the same cross as Alaindair and Amelia -- by a son of Danehill out of a Razeen mare -- and he comes from India's oldest Classic family  that is still active today.He was seen putting in good work towards the end of his previous race behind To The Manor Born. And, finally, there is Cactus Cash (Sedgefield - Wishing On A Star). A winner once over 1800 m., he is bred to stay like his half-brother Caesar's Star.


In the 29 runnings of the Pune Derby so far, 12 favourites have obliged. Two trainers -- Bezan Chenoy and Vinayak -- have saddled four winners each of the race. Malvado and Razeen are the leading sires with three wins apiece while Usha Stud heads breeding establishments with six.

The race is invariably run in October and the only exception occured in 1985. It was scheduled to have been be run on Sunday, 6 October but heavy rains saw half of Saturday's card being abandoned and the Derby postponed to 3 November. Sir Bruce was the odd-on favourite to win the race but in trying to slip through on the inside of Incence approaching the Club House turn, jarred his shoulder against the running rail and dropped back as Amorous Knight went on to score a bloodless victory. The two met again in the McDowell Indian Derby, Gr.1 in Mumbai where Sir Bruce levelled the score. The venue shifted to Guindy but the protagonists remained the same as Shroff piloted Amorous Knight to win the Charminar Challenge Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1. The President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1 at Malakpet saw Sir Bruce getting back on an even keel. Back to Pune where it all started, in the Indian St. Leger, Gr.1 Shroff lifted the Knight in virtually the last stride to win the race as Sir Bruce finished only fourth. There was one more clash between the two titans which took place in the Commoner Trophy where both were surprised by the Indian Oaks, Gr.1 victress Silver Haven. Sir Bruce (58.5 kgs.)  finished second about two lengths ahead of the third-placed Amorous Knight (61.5 kgs). The Amorous Knight- Sir Bruce encounters were the highlights of the 1986-86 racing year.