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By Mahendra Mallya | 18 Jan 2014 | MUMBAI

Capt. Jamshed J Appoo & trainer S Padmanabhan leading Isn't She Special (David Allan Up), winner of The Villoo Poonawalla Indian Oaks (Gr.1)

Great successes in sports, it is generally believed, bears fruit more often when the mind is strategically applied and is backed with a performance to full potential. This equation is apparently deadly. On Sunday, the connections of Isn’t She Special did just that and whipped out an incredible victory in the Villoo Poonawalla Indian Oaks (Gr1). The daring success, owner Dr Jamshed Appoo attributed to trainer Padmanabhan’s wily planning coupled with jockey David Allan’s measured riding, combining perfectly to the staying bilities and class of the filly Isn’t She Special (Ace – Rain Splasher), bred at the Poona Stud Farm (Pvt) Ltd.

The 2400-meter journey began on a dramatic note as the 14 four-year-old filles jumped out of the gates to a loud roar from across the Grand Stands. What followed was even more sensational as Venus Marina darted into the lead with an energetic start, to pile up a massive lead within the first quarter of the race.  Isn’t She Special, who had similar plans, didn’t seem to mind this at all as jockey David Allan was content to let the leader do her bit, as he stayed in second spot, yet far ahead of the rest of the bunch. Circle of Life, the prime favourite was prepared for this sort of nippy start, was at the front of the chasing pack.

Venus Marina rolled away further in the backstretch, while Isn’t She Special always in second, kept vigil on the pace maker’s moves. The rest were at least 15 lengths or so behind Isn’t She Special. David Allan sensed that the leader was not going to keep it going, hence made the bold move to go ahead at the half way stage. Sure enough, Venus Marina packed up approaching the 1000 m mark. Isn’t She Special took over the running going at a brisk rate and was leading by a widening margin.

With less than 1000 to go, David Allan set his filly to an auto-pilot mode, a useful breather, ideal to keep something in the reserve for the business end. This implantation of the drawing board plans is what proved crucial to the eventual outcome of the race.

With about 800 to go, Snowing started to bridge the gap and caught up with Isn’t She Special as they turned for home. Snowing covered about seven to eight lengths between 800 and 600 and that gave a cue for the rest to follow suit.

Isn’t She Special was not done yet. When Snowing got to her haunches, her engine revved again and the filly propelled away with renewed zest. Haunting Moments and Circle of Life had to make up at least five lengths at that stage, with just over 400 to go. While the former wilted, Circle of Life started to accelerate. She galloped swiftly and was certainly gaining on Isn’t She Special. Richard Hughes got the best out of Circle of Life, but the ratio between the deficit and the distance available to get to do it in, could have been an interesting poser to any mathematician to solve.   

Isn’t She Special had to feel her legs if Circle of Life had any chance even at her speed in the final furlong. That didn’t happen. Isn’t She Special, displaying extreme fitness, kicked on, smothering the strong gallop that Circle of Life produced in the end. This was an exemplary product of advance planning, deriving optimum levels from available resources and perfect implementation on the ground. Kudos to trainer S Padmanabhan and jockey David Allan. Capt Jamshed Appoo was jubilant. “All Credit to Paddy and David, and what can I say about Isn’t She Special? She gave off her best and was courageous all the way. It was a bold move indeed, but the filly was the real star. I must thank the Almighty. Such moments are pure pleasure and I am lucky to have experienced such joy with my modest string of horses, “said Capt Appoo.

“I felt we did the right thing in staying well ahead from the start. It was a long distance race and I had to give my filly time to rejuvenate at some point. I got the chance to do so at the right moment. She had the required power in the homestretch and I had to build up on the early advantage. She galloped well in the first half of the straight and then kept going all through. She was as determined and that helped. I was confident we would make it in the final furlong,” said David Allan.

Trainer S Padmanbhan was ecstatic. “David rode a perfect race. We had spoken on the way to go for this race in advance. I had trained her dam (Rain Splasher) so I was confident about her staying abilities. We had no second thoughts on going at a fast clip right from the start. When Venus Marina set a steady pace, it worked to our plan as this was exactly how we wanted (to start off). I was a wee bit concerned when Isn’t She Special went into the lead at 1000. She tends to go to sleep and I tell you she did. Snowing ‘s arrival close to her was again lucky for us. That gave Isn’t She Special the wake up call. She was alert again and the rest went perfectly according to the script,’ said trainer Padmanabhan.

Dr Cyrus Poonawalla along with his son Adar did the presentation honours. Adar who gave away the trophy to Capt Appoo, said, “I have very fond memories of my mother (Mrs Villoo Poonawalla) and it is a great joy to have a Classic as important as the Indian Oaks to be named in her memory. She was an ardent horse lover and I feel it is apt to name a fillies’ race after her. It would be ideal to sponsor this race in future as well. I congratulate the winning connections; it was certainly a thrilling race.”

Mr Vivek Jain, Chairman RWITC, thanked the Poonawalla family and presented a memento Dr Cyrus and Adar Poonawalla on behalf of the Club. “I thank the Poonawalla family for their support and sponsorship. They have agreed to Sponsor this race every year in future as well. It will certainly add to the colourful flavour of the Mumbai races.  We appreciate their contribution to racing and thank the Poonawalla family for their continuous support,” said Mr Jain.

While Isn’t She Special garnered the spotlight, Circle of Life was gallant in defeat. Keukenhof put in a spirited run to end a notable third ahead of To The Manor Born. Starry Eyes disappointed, but I wouldn’t write her off yet. Highraz and Amazing Grace improved in the straight too. They would do well in future. The day belonged to isn’t She Special. She surely was ‘In The Spotlight.’