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By Mahendra Mallya | 15 Aug 2014 | PUNE

Mr S M Ruia, & trainer Nosher Cama leading To The Manor Born (Neeraj Rawal Up), winner of The Eve Champion Trophy (Gr.3)

The Pune race course wore a festive look and the Independence day races were held with patriotic fanfare as is usually the case in this city. The Pune Sub-Area Trophy ensured a good representation from the Army cadre. The Pune Sub-Area forms a part of the Southern Army Command which has the largest base in India. Major General Neeraj Bali SM, General Officer Commanding, Pune Sub-Area attended the races along with his fellow officers and family. He presented the trophy to the winners in the two divisions of the race.

The day also marked the running of three races steeped in racing history. The PRA Independence of course marks our country's march to freedom and self-rule and has been a hardy annual at the Pune racecourse. It is one of the few sponsored sweepstakes races for horses in the lower class (Class IV). The Grade III Eve Champion Trophy is another historic race named after Sir Victor Sasoon and his scheme of importing quality horse flesh from England to benefit horse breeding in India. The Rajaram Chhatrapati Trophy is another traditional race named after the ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Kolhapur.  

The action on the turf too was exciting and seven of the ten races slated for the day were won by margins lesser than one length! And another trend that was noticed was that quite a few horses won coming from way behind, which, although not uncommon, yet is not the easiest thing to do on the shorter Pune straight.

The Eve Champion Trophy (Gr3) had an small but illustrious line up of seven. Circle of Bliss was the prime choice and a shade under evens and the rest were at lucrative odds. Caesars Star set a decent pace and was soon joined by An Acquired Taste with the rest of the field following in close proximity. To The Manor Born and Astapi were at the tail end of the field, but only about 4-5 lengths from the front running pair.

At the turn, Caesars Star packed up early and An Acquired Taste was not exactly putting his best foot forward. Circle of Bliss, who was on tight reins entered the straight swooping down on the leaders and shaped well with a furlong and half to go. While the others looked beat, jockey Neeraj Rawal produced To The Manor Born with a big run from the wider outside. The Noshir Cama trained filly arrived with a scorching gallop and collared Circle of Bliss about 100 meters from the winning post and scored a comfortable victory. Circle of Bliss did everything right, but found To The Manor Born a touch better on the day. Circle of Bliss does not seem to have progressed too much after her Mumbai campaign. To The Manor Born has struck early form and she appears to have benefited remarkably from her Bangalore sojourn. Despite conceding weight to Circle of Bliss, the filly who has consistently placed in the classics, Montreal who ended a close third is one for your notebook.

The PRA Realty Group have been sponsoring the prestigious Independence Million for several years now. This race attracted a big field as it usually does, and the odds indicated that this one was an open race. Dreams of You, on the strength of her last out second, was the tote favourite at 3/1. She settled with the pace and at the turn took off to take charge. At one point it looked that she would sustain her momentum long enough, but Oxbridge arrived with a strong run to get past Dreams of You with less than a furlong to go. Oxbridge certainly looked to have had it covered and was being hailed as the winner when out of the blue Just By Chance (Placerville - Age of Fable) stormed in with a scintillating burst. The Sunderji ward galloped with awesome speed in the final fifty and shocked them all with a blinding finish. Oxbridge certainly ran above expectations, but in my opinion, one has to tread with caution in terms if deciding to follow him next. He has been rather inconsistent and seems to have had his share of fitness issues as well. Dreams of could have been kept off the pace like in his last outing. Considering that he was carrying top weight, I felt she could have done better had she timed her run much later than she did.

Fortune Favours (Glory of Dancer - Vantage) won the Rajaram Chhatrapati Trophy wish a sustained stretch-run and made it look easy in the final furlong. Favourite Shivalik Strom saw a steep increase on the quote offered on his ante-post and his odds doubled at race time. He made a start to finish bid over the nine furlong race, but his challenge petered out long before the bend. Wentworth, who matched strides with the leader too wilted when it mattered most. Reynolds brushed up to take charge early in the straight and looked on course until Fortune Favours arrived at top speed. Jockey CS Jodha rode a copy-book race and alerted Fortune Favours well after into the straight. Reynolds had a handy lead past the distance post, however, he looked pedestrian when Fortune Favours arrived on the scene and surrendered his lead tamely. Zidaan did well to put in a spirited finish to end on the haunches of Reynolds.

Beforememoryfades (Lawman - Gold Bar) kept her date with victory with a clinical performance although Caruso kept snapping at her tail in the final furlong. She jumped out smartly and allowed Intezar and Invincible to guide the field. Caruso found himself on the outside and had to four horses wide even as they took the turn. Beforememoryfades sailed into the lead with a furlong and half to go and jockey Neeraj Rawal waited, keeping his mount on a tight rein until the distance post. He urged his filly only past the 200 and didn’t exactly have to rode her all out. Caruso gained on the leader and warmed up nicely, but found the winner too good. Beforememoryfades won well in hand and can score an encore. Caruso too has had this run as a lung opener and ought to be followed in his next outing.  

Begum Shaherbanoo Lagad along with her husband trainer Narendra Lagad did the presentation honours for the Nawab & Begum Faiyaz Hisain Memorial Trophy, awarding the attractive trophy to Mr Shyam Ruia and his son Amay the owners of Beforememoryfades. 

The lower division of the above race was claimed by Josephine (Khelef - Attitude of Blue) who arrived late with sensational burst. The start to this race was a rough one as Ice Affair, Dhanyavaad, Don Corelone and Great Expectation were jostling for vantage position through the first two furlongs before favourite Don Corelone surged ahead to enter the straight with a slender lead. Great Expectation and then Quid Pro Quo challenged the leader and the Don gave up without offering any resistance. Quid Pro Quo looked good coming into the final furlong but then arrived Josephine with a terrific final burst to sail away and score a stylish victory. Quid Pro Quo was a gallant second. Quick Fire caught the eye as he made up good ground to end in the money.

Jockey Sandesh has certainly struck a purple patch and for the second weekend on the trot he returned with a whopping four winners on a single day. He took with a back to back double in the first two races. He partnered favourite Unico Corazon (Authorized - Bobcat Greeley) trained by MK Jadhav. He waited until the turn, brushing up to be well in touch with the front between 800 and 600 and took charge soon on straightening for home. Once in the lead, he looked formidable and there was no one in the ranks to provide a worthy challenge. Unico Corazon won unchallenged as he strode away from the rest. Golden Wave, the longest priced of the five in the fray did well to claim the runner-up slot.

In the very next race, Sandesh had to overcome a slight check as Artiste in his rush to go to the front, brushed past Cezanne soon after the jump. However, Sandesh soon settled Cezanne behind Artiste and they sped away to take the final turn. Artiste came into the straight held hard but was soon challenged by Cezanne. The duo tussled for a couple of strides, but Cezanne forged ahead in the final furlong showing clear superiority over her more fancied rival. The others were nowhere close.

Awesome Smile (China Visit - Subsonic) finally added to his tally of three career wins when he galloped to his fourth on Independence day. Stalking front-runners Samay Balwan and Windsor Queen until the turn, Awesome Smile rallied well to tackle Samay Balwan. The pair fought out neck and neck early in the straight, before Awesome Smile and Sandesh shot ahead and away from Samay Balwan. Gloria came with a strong gallop and covered a lot of ground to claim the place stakes.

Way Out (Exceed And Excel - Farrfesheena) was outstanding on the track and provided Sandesh with an armchair ride to victory. She took off at the start and settled to lead the tightly knitted bunch that had the last start winner One Kept Secret at the tail end of the field. Sandesh brought Way Out into the straight on a tight rein and the filly moved on the bit extending her margin of lead. Victorious March and Rio who were right alongside Way Out, were not able to keep up. Way Out led comfortably and after just one crack to keep her focused, Sandesh resorted to hands and heels to ensure Way Out duly won the Antonius Trophy on a tight rein, providing Sandesh with his fourth win on the day. One Kept Secret progressed in the straight and did well to end chasing the winner. Sea Treasure is slowly returning to some forward form as she showed when she ended in the money.

It was third time lucky for Titleist (Emerald Cat - Noble Anchor) and Dashrath rode a perfect race to land the spoils. Titleist settled in fourth well behind Polar Zone, Laurus Pride and Ice Gate who dominated the front running alongside one another. Titleist improved in the straight and gathered momentum with 300 to go. Titleist responded well and surged into the lead approaching the distance post. Zoe posted his challenge coming through the inner rails, but Titleist had complete control as he galloped on to win without being threatened. The one to note was Star Gazing. He was kept too far back initially and later was wide at the turn. Despite being in a hopeless position, Star Gazing covered acres of turf in the hands of five-kilo claimer Ajinkya and ended a good third, not too far from the top two.

For the professionals, trainers MK Jadhav and Noshir Cama saddled a double each. Sandesh was once again the star of the day with four winners, while jockeys Dashrath Singh and Neeraj Rawal picked up a brace each.