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By Mahendra Mallya | 03 Aug 2014 | PUNE

Mr. S M Ruia & Mr. Amay S Ruia leading Westphalia (Neeraj Rawal Up), winner of The August Handicap

After the colourful rainbow bright across the breadth of the Pune race course, warm sunshine bathed the track on Sunday, revealing Mother Nature’s fond bias for the Pune racecourse. The sprinkles came by now and then adding to the ambience and it was a blissful Sunday out for the puneites. The race results however, were a mixed bag with four firm favourites obliging in the nine-race card and barring Arabian Lord and to an extent Alecto, the other winners were not exactly friendless.

The feature event of the day, The August Handicap, was a true racing statement, the top two fancies going hammer and tongs right through the final finish! It was one of those fewer moments for jockey Sandesh who returned second best against some brilliant riding from jockey Neeraj Rawal atop Westphalia (Bushranger – Peace), the second in demand after Sandesh’s Flashing Chieftain.

Sandesh has himself to blame as he kept Flashing Chieftain at the tail end of the field for most part of the race, in a tightly packed field. Although he was not too far from the front, he was vulnerable to the threat of being squeezed from space and the worst fears came true as they turned for home.

Shivalik Breeze led them the closely knit field around the turn with Blend of Elegance alongside. Troppa Bella was stuck along the rails and Westphalia ready to pounce on the leaders. Soul Centric had a clear run on the outside, but failed to quicken. Flashing Chieftain was behind them all desperately looking for an opening.

Westphalia struck the first blow as Neeraj Rawal shot ahead making the crucial first strike at the winning post at just the right moment, leaving favourite Flashing Chieftain to do the chasing. He had stolen the upper hand early in the homestretch and that proved to be the master stroke.

Flashing Chieftain wriggled out a tad too late and came up with a game challenge. He strode fiercely and got alongside Westphalia but Neeraj was determined not to let it slip away. He rode out vigorously to punch home the advantage, edging out the challenger by a whisker.

Westphalia had not logged any track work, yet her Bangalore fitness was evident when she walked into the paddock. Flashing Chieftain ought to rue the missed chance as had Sandesh applied all his skills and tactics in ensuring a clear passage, he may not have had to eat the humble pie.

Jockey DK Ashish is certainly climbing up the ladder and is in good touch of late. Drawn on the extreme outside in the twelve-horse field for the Pennywise Trophy for maiden three-year-olds, he made a clean charge to guide the favourite Quizical (Glory of Dancer – Pouilly Fume) to take charge soon on settling down.  He deftly thwarted the attempt by Absolute Jewel to slip into the lead from the rails early in the race, without infringing any rules or fair play. Keeping Absolute Jewel at bay, for me, was a ‘gem’ of a ploy. He then kept the momentum going all through and didn’t give a semblance of a chance to any of his opponents.

With Quizical firmly in command, Absolute Jewel shared the second spot with Discourse and a length way came Sweet As Honey. On turning for home, Quizical accelerated well and was soon a safe distance ahead. Sweet As Honey improved to second but could not match the blaze of Quizical, who was galloping freely. Ashish brought out the whip inside the final furlong, but only on a ‘stand by’ mode. He never needed to use it. For Sweet As Honey this was her third consecutive effort when she found one better.  She should make her mark soon though. Absolute Jewel ended a decent third and over a five, he can be a live contender.

Followers of Victoria Falls (Razeen – Husun) gained from the heavy betting that Sheer Class attracted at race time. The ante post on-money favourite drifted in the markets and was quoted at 5/4 as Sheer Class was backed down to 18/10 as the horses left the paddock, despite the favourite looking impressive in the parade ring.

Sheer class enjoyed the early command as she led the field of five all through until into the straight. Victoria Falls, who was chasing the leader all the time, arrived with a spirited run and zipped past Sheer Class effortlessly to win in a canter. She was clearly superior and won with absolute ease. Sheer Class also ended a comfortable second, as the rest were too far behind.

After Victoria Falls, the owner-trainer Vacha-Sunderji combine led-in another impressive winner on the day – Rule Downunder (Aussie Rules – Fatat Alarab). Jockey P Trevor handled the top weight (61 kilos) astutely to run away with the race, looking the winner a long way from home, this, despite a gritty attempt from the Sandesh-ridden Stiletto in the straight.

The front-running pair of Staying Alive and Angel In The Sky seemed in a tare away hurry as they went streaking ahead at a brisk pace. Stiletto stayed in third, about three lengths behind this pair and Rule Downunder was even further behind.   

Stiletto improved gradually to close in on the front runners and assumed command soon on straightening up. Rule Downunder was still not in a prominent position, but one look at him, enthused confidence, as he was travelling extremely well. Stiletto had stolen a march approaching the distance post and had a handy lead. But all that came to a naught when Trevor alerted Rule Downunder. The Sunderji trainee came dashing down and collared Stiletto in split seconds and ran away further to score an emphatic victory. Staying Alive was left five lengths further behind as he took the place money keeping Sansani at bay at the finish.

Trainer Malesh Narredu sent out a fine double starting out with Autumn Love (Rebuttal – Flintstone) in the day’s first race, with his budding son Yash Narredu in the saddle. The young lad is on a winning spree and he showed it was not all luck by exhibiting some serious riding talent when coming from behind and beating Mt Tianmen over a sprint.

Mt Tianmen ridden by the reliable jockey Kavraj Singh had set the tone leading from the start. Indispensable settled in second with Autumn Love close behind. Tote favourite Always There just couldn’t find his feet and was languishing in the rear.

Mt Tianmen entered the straight with a sizable lead and looked on course to go on from there. Yash Narredu was working constantly, coaxing Autumn Love to move on ahead. With a furlong to go, Mt Tianmen looked hard to get at, but Yash Narredu’s determined efforts produced rewards as Autumn Love bloomed in the dying moments of the race. Autumn Love made a final lunge forward to get going in the final fifty and pip Mt Tianmen on the post.

Oriental Masti (Glory of Dancer – Shaduf) won on a similar last ditch effort to the thrill of his connections who had secretly fancied the gelding.  Hot favourite Zurich goofed for a moment soon after the jump and by then the others had charged ahead. There ended his chances.

Laurus Pride and Oriental Masti were fairly ahead coming into the straight, with Emerald Fortune and Archimedes in tow. Laurus pride had a slender lead over Oriental Masti and he surged ahead further to earn himself a handy lead. Jockey Sandesh astride Oriental Masti was putting all efforts in charging up his mount. He finally found Oriental Masti responding in the last 100 meters and the Rajendra trained gelding came alive just in time to peg back Laurus Pride in a close finish. Archimedes finished on far too late, but did gain ground noticeably. Zurich made the forward surge only after finding a gap, which came when all was over.

Zeda (Phoenix Tower – Flyme To Themoon) justified her popularity in the betting ring with Sandesh doing a good job in the saddle. He took off from an outside draw to settle quickly behind early leader Peppercorn. Heart of the City, Passion Prince, Mahiki and Asahi followed in that order.

Into the straight, Zeda surged into the lead with Heart of the City coming at her. Heart of the City bumped into Zeda’s haunches at a crucial juncture; fortunately nothing untoward occurred from this bump. Zeda maintained a stranglehold right through and even the late charge from Asahi was not enough to topple Zeda. Asahi caught the eye slipping in through the inner rails.

Alecto (Glory of Dancer – Flying Home) won with surprising ease leaving top fancies Pepe Senior, Sheer Romance and Josephine no chance. Jockey TS Jodha was quick to move to second behind Pitbull who led them into the straight and faded away. Alecto took charge soon and a crack or two from Jodha saw him stretch away past the distance post. National Pride made a good attempt and improved to second. Pepe Junior finished on to end a tame third. Josephine made little impact and Sheer Romance, after being third until the turn, simply disappeared.

Arabian Lord (Storm Trooper – My Way) returned the richest payout on the totes (Rs 360). He led from the word go with jockey Towfeeq Shaikh in the saddle with My Freedom close behind. Arabian Lord quickened well on straightening for home and all efforts from My Freedom went in vain. Titleist ended in the money, with Be Cool finishing on well to fill the frame.

For the professionals,  trainers   Sheraz Sunderji and Malesh Narredu saddled a double each. The star of the day was jockey A Sandesh who scored a popular treble, but could have made it four winners if he had got it right on Flashing Chieftain.