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By Mahendra Mallya | 17 Oct 2014 | PUNE

Astapi (Placerville – Blurr), trained by Altamash Ahmed and the property of the Rattonseys bred at the Poona Stud Farm, snatched the verdict after a prolonged battle with the never-say-die Okavango to claim the Suresh Mahindra Trophy. The longest race in the country, run over a gruelling 3200m, started off on a shaky note with none of the five runners eager to hit the front. The first couple of furlongs was reduced a trot as Fire Engine and Okavango had their jockeys applying the brakes from the moment the gates flung open. They trotted past the stands and only when they swung away towards the 2000 did they settle down.

Fire Engine, however, was pulling leftwards constantly and finally swerved violently towards the left at the 2000 in a move to make a dash home.  By the time jockey Sandesh urged him to re-start, the bunch had gone way ahead.

Rodeo and Okavango kept each other company most of the way through the back-stretch with Astapi a distance behind, followed by Caesars Star and Fire Engine another distance away. Astapi and Caesars Star started to bridge the longish gap past the 1000 m marker and when Okavango and Rodeo turned for home, Astapi had closed in considerably.

Okavango had a handy lead on straightening up and was travelling reasonably well. That meant Astapi, with young apprentice Bhawani Singh in the saddle, had to do all the hard work of catching up. Astapi responded by picking up speed and showed little signs of tiring. Okavango too was showing a lot of steam and they were heading to the wire neck and neck. Jockey Yash Narredu atop Okavango gave his best and carried the gutsy Okavango on, however, Astapi got powerful as they closed in on the finish. He headed Okavango a couple of strides from the winning post and snatched the race pegging back Okavango by a neck. Astapi added the Suresh Mahindra Trophy to his Stayers’ Cup 2014 crown reconfirming his status as the champion of the longer distance. Bhawani Singh too deserves accolades for making all the right moves in a race that is not the easiest to measure.

Full Moon (Mull of Kintyre – Moonstorm, Capricorn Stud) lived up to large expectations but had to fire on all cylinders to get the better of a serious challenge posed by the speedy Celsius who was on a start to finish mission.  Deep Diver and Rajsamman did their best, but simply could not measure up to the brilliance of either Full Moon or Celsius.

At the turn Celsius was just ahead with Full Moon, Rajsamman and Deep Diver close behind. Celsius kept up the resistance even as Full Moon drew level with a furlong to go. Jockey CS Jodha gave his best yet could not arrest the charge of Full Moon ridden by PS Chouhan. The duo fought gallantly right through the stretch, however, trainer Rehanullah Khan’s Full Moon finished on strongly and in the last few meters drew away from Celsius to carve out a narrow ¾ l victory to bag the Fourth Estate Trophy. Full Moon ended her Pune Campaign on a high note winning three races from five starts this season.

The Pune Mirror Salver wore an open look with no clear favourite and Honeymoon available freely in the threes was the shortest priced. She lost all hopes at the gates with a tardy start and made no impact whatsoever. Cosmic Dancer looked in good touch as he steered the field into the straight and charged further ahead. Ainra and Heart of the City were making little impact on Cosmic Dancer as apprentice jockey SJ Sunil gave his all keeping them at bay. Tammy O (Tamayuz – Ooh Aah Camara, Usha Stud) partnered by Sandesh, switched out past the distance post and arrived with a scorching finish and shocked Cosmic Dancer close home to win by a length.

Vixen (Noverre – Dreaming Waters, Sohna Stud) trainer by Nirad Karanjawalla showed renewed zest and came from behind to down firm favourite Legend of the Seas close home. Legend of the Seas appeared to have had it all sewn up once he took charge early in the straight. Both Alectar and Nazrana who brought the field home were not finding anything worthwhile. Legend of the Seas got past the distance post and was leading by a little more than a length when Vixen warmed up and started closing in. Act of Valour and Guns N Roses were also lingering around but it was Vixen who cashed in with a stronger finish to win the Division II of the Pune Racing Journalists Trophy.

The upper division of the race was bagged by trainer Bezan Chenoy’s Victorian (Razeen – Resplendent Star, Usha Stud) in an emphatic fashion.  Victorian, ridden by DK Ashish, settled well in the third behind early leader Mohegun Sun and Copperglow, with the rest bunched up close behind.

Victorian shot ahead readily on turning for home and looked the winner the moment he took charge.  He was away and clear approaching the final furlong mark and both Copperglow and Gloria were not matching up. Gloria did well to rise from the last position and finish in the money.

Athens (Pioneer of the Nile – Little Treasure, Manjri Stud) picked up her second win from three outings in Pune with a determined effort and successfully warded off a late but stiff bid from favourite Jack Frost and escape to victory. Jack Frost paid heavily for a tardy start and in the end, the short-head loss seemed inevitable, despite his grand effort to force a winning recovery.

Athens almost sealed the issue once jockey Dashrath Singh took her past Thoughts of You and La Femme Fleur on turning for home. Athens surged ahead and procured a handy lead coming into the final furlong. Jack Frost moved up along the rails but still had some ground to cover. La Femme Fleur did not quicken but stayed put to take the third spot. Jack Frost accelerated and arrived with a tremendous gallop in the last 100 meters was a tad unlucky to see a brilliant effort go down so narrowly. Athens prevailed by the skin of her teeth.

Stormyday (Sussex – Fame Star, Poona Stud) came up with a electric display to justify the heavy support she got at race time.  Stormyday did everything right and sprang to box set in third or fourth from the extreme outside draw. Jockey SG Prasad then guided the Antia trainee between leader Rising Angel and Light of Arabia to surge into the lead soon on turning for home. Once in front, Stormyday did the rest herself and accelerated so well that she pulled away from the rest within strides. She was all alone in front coming into the final furlong and won unchallenged, outpacing the rest comprehensively. Izzara improved in the straight to end runner up beating Light of Arabia to third.

Porto Banus (Razeen – Romantic Scene, Usha Stud) posted a facile win finally shaking off his maiden status in style in his 10th outing. He sat up with the pace as Arzaan led the field all the way into the straight.   

Arzaan had favourite Sky Lantern right by his side coming into the homestretch. Porto Banus forced his way between the two and surged ahead with a powerful burst. The Imtiaz Sait ward was out of bounds within a couple of strides as the rest were struggling to keep pace. Porto Banus, ridden by Sandesh went clear to register a splendid victory easing up in the end. Plated ran on to take the runner-up spot, while Cumbre Vieja improved positions to finish third.

For the professionals jockeys A Sandesh and DK Ashish scored a double each.