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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 24 Sep 2014 | PUNE

Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

The previous four Indian Classics of the current year have seen only one favourite oblige and that was Murioi whose margin of victory in the Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1 was clear cut. The other three Classics have been claimed by outsiders and if they won with a lesser margin than Murioi, their wins were not in doubt as the race unfolded. On paper, the last Classic promises to provide a stirring contest, though there are just four runners with two from the same stable, and a real thriller is what everyone will be hoping for. The King of the Turf faces a stern challenge from Queen Bee.

There is obviously something wrong with our rating system. Alaindair, who has won five Gr.1 races is rated only 123. Amazing Grace, who is yet to win a Gr.1 contest, is rated higher at 125 ! There will be explanations but prima facie it just doesn't seem right.

Her rating and the good old 'ladies first' dictum warrants that Amazing Grace is spoken of first. A late bloomer, she made her debut over 2000 m. just a few days before she turned 4 and romped home comfortably from her stablemate. The Indian Oaks and the Indian Derby were next two starts and they came far too early in her career. Still, she ran most respectably and finished well ahead of several more experienced runners. Since then, she has won all her half a dozen starts with the last four of them being graded events. What has been most noticeable about her upward curve is the ease of her wins. On her last start, she won the Idar Gold Cup, Gr.3 beating Circle of Bliss with ridiculous ease. Besides, while she had been coming with a late run earlier, she hit the front at the top of the straight and sailed away to show that she doesn't rely on just one style of running.

Alaindair has not been beaten by any horse alive in India since 1 May 2013. His solitary reverse came in the Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1 where Murioi - his breaking down in the Invitation Cup and then being put down was so sad - proved just too good. Last year in Bangalore he won his two Gr.1’s making the running. In his last three Gr.1 wins, he has been raced behind the early pace, made his move in the straight and then held off all challenges with a degree of comfort. He went down to Bangalore for the summer but did not run. Allegations that he shied away from taking on Amazing Grace are totally baseless. The fact is that he bled after one of his workouts and the connections decided not to take chances. That is his Achilles heel. A horse who has bled once is always susceptible to doing so again. He came out to race exactly six months after the Invitation Cup and though some astute paddock watchers felt that he lacked a bit of condition he again beat Agostini by double the Invitation Cup margin.

One hears it being bruted that Amazing Grace has not beaten much. That is far from truth. She has beaten Agostini - twice second to Alaindair and Circle of Bliss who has placed in three Indian Classics and just missed coming on the board in the Invitation Cup. On pure form, there isn't much between Alaindair and Amazing Grace though the edge, slight as it is, rests with the filly.

Turning now to pedigrees though at this stage of their careers it not as significant. Amazing Grace has won over 2800 m. while Alaindair is yet go over that trip. The manner of his wins over 2400 m. suggests that the extra 400 m. should not inconvenience the gelding unduly. Amazing Grace's dam, the Woodman mare Efrhina, did not race at 2. She won her first race at the age of 5 over 2400 m. at Southwell. Having got the hang of things, she returned to the Nottinghamshire track two days later and won her second race as a favourite. One of her two other wins also came at Southwell. Despite four wins, she was quite ordinary for her best rating was 67. One of her foals, All About Alfie, is a winner of three races over 2400 m. despite being by the sprinter Antonius Pius. Efrhina was purchased for 30,000 euros in foal to the Arc winner Hurricane Run, a fine racehorse but somewhat disappointing as a stallion. The best part of Efrhina's pedigree is that she inbred to the bluehen mare La Troienne.

By comparison, Alaindair's bloodlines appear almost plebian. Admittedly, he is from the first crop of sire sensation Multidimensional.  His dam God's Grace did not race due to a paddock injury which fractured her leg. Before Alaindair, God's Grace had seven foals none of which won a black-type race. What the doyenne of Usha Stud  thought of the mare is well illustrated by the fact that she was sold carrying a full-sibling to Alaindair. After Alaindair's exploits, God's Grace has been bought back by Usha Stud. Miss Goolagong, the third dam of Alaindair, came to Usha Stud in 1977. She has established a fairly successful clan with the likes of Klairon Gold (first horse to win the Sprinters' Cup twice), Perfect Timing (McDowell Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1), Echoes of Light (Indian Champion Cup, Gr.1) and Right Ahead (a useful stallion at Sans Craintes) being the most notable. Alaindair's grandam Regal Star won both the fillies Classics at Calcutta. The damline is good enough in the Indian context but Amazing Grace's family is internationally acclaimed.

Several of the legendary RRB's champions picked up the President of India Gold Cup, Gr.1 before winning the Indian St. Leger and that is what Alaindair attempting. A couple of years ago In The Spotlight, too, bagged the same double. The Idar Gold Cup is also a good lead-up race. Macchupicchu and An Acquired Taste had won it while Antonios was a close second in recent years.

Indications are that all four will accept with Montreal making the pace for Starry Eyes. Starry Eyes was the first Multidimensional to make an impact but she is not among his seven Classic winners. Without a win in her last six starts, it is difficult to make a case for her. She is, however, bred to stay. The race will probably take the decisive turn as they approach the Club House bend and riding tactics will play a crucial role in the outcome. Amazing Grace has never been ridden by anyone other than Trevor Patel and Y.S. Srinath has not been beaten on Alaindair. It is safe to say that the two jockeys know their mounts well. Will whoever makes the first move last out till the finishing post or become a target for the late finisher ? Therein lies the fascination of this race.

It is indeed a clash of graces. A son of God's Grace up against Amazing Grace !


Six fillies - Sweet Memories, Tribute, Menorah, Pennywise, Classic Story and In The Spotlight have won the Indian St. Leger at Pune.

The 1990 running has some parallels to this year's contest. Desert Warrior had won the Indian Derby as well as the Invitation Cup at Calcutta and had warmed up with a good second in the Idar Gold Cup. Classic Story had bagged the South India Derby, South India St. Leger and Bangalore St. Leger. A true stayer, the filly was given two easy outings over a mile during the Bangalore Summer season. She then picked up the Nizam's Gold Cup and President of India Gold Cup at Hyderabad and headed for Pune. Desert Warrior with Pesi Shroff astride was an odds-on favourite. Nothern Bloom unseated her jockey going past the stands first time around and Vasant Shinde took over on Classic Story with a full circuit to go. As expected, Desert Warrior challenged the filly in the straight and the two were stride for stride over the last furlong. Riding one of his finest races ever, Shinde almost 'lifted' Classic Story to win by a short-head.