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By Mahendra Mallya | 28 Sep 2014 | PUNE

Mr Zeyn Mirza leading Amazing Grace (Trevor Patel Up), winner of The Signature Indian St. Leger (Gr.1)

Dr Vijay Mallya’s Amazing Grace (Hurricane Run - Efrhina ), bred at the Kunigal Stud Farm, displayed awesome talent and won universal admiration for her stupendous victory in the Signature Indian St Leger (Gr1). The race touted as a close fight between the champion gelding Alaindair and the classy filly Amazing Grace and most believed it would be a needle sharp contest. However, that was not to be as Amazing Grace made it a literal no-contest, leaving Alaindair far behind just when the crowd shifted to the edge of the seats to catch some engaging action. There was none. Yet there was no feeling of being let down or any disappointment of the anticipation of an electric finish vanishing at just the time when races of this nature turn to a boiling point. On the contrary the strong crowd rooted for the graceful gait and cheered the new queen of the turf giving her a standing ovation as she trotted back for the photo-ops.

The race was a tricky one and as they jumped out the apprehension of the jockeys was obvious. Alaindair found himself in front with Starry Eyes being yanked hard not to take off. Amazing Grace settled sooner than the rest and had Montreal behind her. They went about the routine march past the stands in that order literally at a crawl over the first three-to-four furlongs.

Starry Eyes played out her trick past the 2000 m mark and went scooting ahead opening up a huge lead of close to twenty lengths. Alaindair didn’t seem too perturbed and jockey YS Srinath let Starry Eyes enjoy her moment in the sun. What was striking here was that Amazing Grace was another ten to twelve lengths behind Alaindair as they galloped well past the half way mark. Those who had wagered on the filly at on-money may have had some really anxious moments. After all, she was taking on the reigning champion on Indian turf! Such a huge leeway would get anyone jumpy. However, Trevor knew what he had under him.

Starry Eyes was panting for breath as early as a furlong from the final turn. Alaindair was catching up briskly and Trevor too must have whispered “now baby” in Amazing Grace’s ears.  Alaindair had barely taken over and turned for home when Amazing Grace unleashed a scintillating turn of foot. Alaindair was instantly floored as Amazing Grace picked up scorching speed and left the great Alaindair shell-shocked! Trevor was not even stepping hard on the pedal, he didn’t have to, Amazing Grace was cruising and was leaping forward ever so fluently. She had left Alaindair behind by a good seven lengths!   Such a comprehensive victory over the top horse in the country was unimaginable. Amazing Grace had raised her game to a different level and now crowned herself as the undisputed empress on the Indian racing circuit.

“We were bullish on Amazing Grace,” revealed Zeyn Mirza, Managing Director of the United Racing & Bloodstock Breeders Ltd. Her sweeping victories in Bangalore are testimony to her amazing prowess. I am delighted with her victory and the manner in which she won.  She has the potential to do well overseas as well and Dr Vijay Mallya will take a call on whether to assign her the next Invitation Cup or to race her in the international arena,” he added.

Asked on the late start to her career, Mr Mirza explained, “She had injured herself as a two-year-old and that delayed her start. I must say Pesi Shroff has done a marvellous job with Amazing Grace. She had barely recovered from her injury when she hurt herself again. He was patient with her and brought her out late in Mumbai and she won her debut race over a mile-and-quarter. The Indian Classics, I will admit came in too early for her, but after the two Indian Classics (Oaks & Derby) she has won everything she was assigned to run.”. When asked to compare her with the likes of Set Alight, Mr Mirza said, “It wouldn’t be fair to compare her with any of the greats from the past, but I would say she is right up there on her current form,” concluded Mr Mirza.      

Shroff however, missed out on a double when hot favourite Storming home from the same connections failed to catch the Poonawalla-owned Ace Fantasy (Ace – Forest Fantasy, Poonawalla Stud). The 13-horse field was huddled together with Bonobo taking up the running on settling down, with Ace Fantasy in second. Storming Home fell back slightly as Fleetwood Mac went past him.

Coming into the straight, Ace Fantasy surged past the leader and soon was engaged in shaking off a strong bid from Fleetwood Mac. Storming Home went a tad too wide at the turn and had to mame his bid from the wide outside. Ace Fantasy was showing no let up and coming into the final furlong had managed to shake off Fleetwood Mac’s threat. However, there was still some ground to cover when Storming Home unleashed his final run. Jockey Darren Williams rode out furiously and managed to stave off the late challenger to win the Sweet memories Trophy from the fast finishing Storming Home. The failed favourite was practically storming in and it would pay to give her another chance.

Trainer Narendra Lagad who has over the years, has had his reign on the Pune turf winning the Trainers’ Championship several times, reached a admirable landmark of 1000 winners. Considering that throughout his career he has been ‘saddled’ with horses with set-backs, Naren’s feat is a remarkable one. The jovial and witty Naren was stuck on 998 for a while, but chose to achieve the coveted milestone on the Leger day sending out a lucrative double, beating hot favourites on both occasions and beating the odds has been his trademark. Jewel at 12/1 beat hot favourite Starry Brook, while Spear of Trium accounted for another hot favourite Ocean Dream.

Jewel (Chevalier – Spica, Ruia Stud) came from a long way back to surprise favourite Starry Brook who was shaping well coming into the final furlong. Star Lightening, who was making his debut as was Starry Brook, had a handy lead coming into the straight. Hallelujah too looked good at one stage but both faded away early in the straight. Starry Brook took charge approaching the distance post, which is when Darren Williams atop Jewel started to coax her mount to accelerate. With a little over a hundred to go, Starry Brook looked on course, however, once Darren got Jewel going, the filly arrived with a fiery burst to zip past Starry Brook and sail away for a comfortable win. This incidentally was Jewel’s maiden win in her sixth attempt. Starry Brook was surprised close home and will live to fight another day, while Star Lightening have glimpses of sharpness and may have needed this run.

Spear of Trium (Diffident – Queen of Hearts, Yervada Stud) battled on stubbornly to wrest back the initiative that prime fancy Ocean Dream and assumed. Spear of Trium ridden by the fast improving apprentice Bhawani Singh led them into the straight and was soon challenged by Dashrath ridden Ocean Dream. At the distance post, it seemed like Dashrath and Ocean Dream would have it easy as they got past the Naren ward. However, Bhawani Singh’s never-say-die attitude got Spear of Trium to dig in deep and spurt ahead in the final fifty.  Pure Bliss improved in the final run up to earn place money.

In The Limelight (Emerald Cat – Sound of Silence, Capricorn Stud) dealt a severe blow to the ‘jodi’ comprising Deep Diver and Rajsamman. Ridden by apprentice jockey SJ Sunil, In The Limelight fought it out with Deep Diver right from the entrance of the homestretch all the way to the wire. Two promising young lads, Bhawani Singh atop Deep Diver and Sunil partnering In The Limelight rode their hearts out and in the end, In The Limelight not only nosed out Deep diver, but also broke the course record, clocking 57:98 seconds for the five-furlong scurry. Wild Waves ran well to beat Rajsamman for the third place, both finishing close to the winner.

This new record was nearly beaten on the same day by Rehanullah Khan’s Palace Girl (Tejano – Sarabande, Kunigal Stud). Palace Girl was sent on a start-to-finish mission and jockey Sandesh had no difficulty in tackling a good bunch of rivals. They got a flyer at the gates and got down to business straight away from the start. Scarlet of Hope quickly settled to gallop alongside Palace Girl with Locarno, heart of the City and Born To Win close behind.

Once into the straight, Sandesh got Palace Girl to quicken well and soon left her opponents far behind. Palace Girl has had her share of fitness issues and trainer Rehanullah Khan has done remarkably well to get the mare to optimum racing fitness. The mare had come to the paddock with strapping on all four legs, which obviously was a precautionary measure. Palace Girl, owned by Mr Ashok Rajani and Mr Kersy Chindi strut her fitness and speed, nearly clipping the newly set record, clocking a nippy 58:14 for the 1000m sprint to win the Division I of the Menorah Trophy. Born To Win ended a faraway second beating Scarlet of Hope to third.

The lower division of the race was won by Faisal Abbas ward Skyjet (Glory of Dancer – Desert Sky). Skyjet was right up in front with Lovable Locks and Holiday Dancer. Once they turned for home, Skyjet pulled away from Loveable Locks and stretched her lead to win unchallenged. Trending was the one to show some spunk in the straight to gain on the rest and take the runner-up spot. Lovable Locks kicked on to grab the place money.

Top weight Capilano (Phoenix Tower – Ballybunnion, Manjri Stud) from the stables of C Rajendra put in a sustained stretch-run to down Antartica Zone to win the Mahajan Cup. Sitting third until the straight, Capilano made his move midway in the straight to get past Antartica Zone and post a comfortable victory. Wind Craft hung on to third place just about managing to keep her nose ahead at the wire from the late challenging Presence. Tammy O was out awkwardly and though she was with the bunch, she shifted out and was running almost five wide rights through, thereby losing all her chances of even raising a fighting run. Zenofic too disappointed and failed to make any impact.

Copperglow (Declaration of War – Cats Whiskers, Lingwood Stud) won the opening race of the day improving on his last start second. He had it easy this time as he improved from fourth to come one behind leader Wind and Rain. Copperglow took the turn slightly wide which gave a chance to Wind and Rain to wrest back the initiative briefly. However, in the final 300, Copperglow sped past and well ahead of Wind and Rain to seal the issue much before the winning post. Dream Yuga kicked on to keep the third place warding off the late bid of Chasing Dreams.

For the professionals, trainers Narendra Lagad and Sanjay Kolse saddled a double each, while jockeys CS Jodha and Darren Williams rode home two winners each.