SOUTH INDIA OAKS, Gr.1
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
There were just three Turf Authorities in India as the 1950s drew to a close. The Indian Classics had been run for about 15 years and were firmly established. The other two Turf Authorities decided to have their own 'regional' Classics in 1958-59 with the Calcutta Derby being run on the Boxing Day and the South India Derby following suit on the Pongal Day. Both the Derbies were run over 2000 m. At Guindy, they also staged the South India St. Leger contested over a mile and a half. While Calcutta took a while to come up with a full complement of five Classics, Guindy had them all starting from 1959-60. Thus, the first South India Oaks was run in 1960 and won by Mr. M.P. Davis's Golden Pollen. The race has the unique distinction of being the only 'regional' Classic, other than the Derbies, to enjoy a Gr.1 status.
Over the years, some very talented fillies have won this race. The South India Classics lost their prestige for a period of about two decades when the outstation horses stopped contesting and all the Classics were won by Dr. M.A.M. Ramsawamy's horses, majority of them bred at Chettinad/Sholavaram Stud. Last year, the outstation horses once again began going to Guindy and all the five South India Classics were won by them. The field for this year's South India Oaks is very light on quantity as well as quality and it is going to be some years before it regains its earlier standing.
The two Guineas run during the current year have been won by Bangalore-based horses and there is no reason to suppose that Star Portal -- the lone local filly -- will buck the trend on the New Year's Day. The competition that the local talent faced during the good, old days emanated chiefly from Bangalore and in particular from Rashid Byramji's raiders. Hardly, if any, challengers came down from Calcutta; a few Malakpet-based runners have scored and only one Western India trainer has made a successful trip to Guindy. That was Imtiaz Sait who came down with his filly Celestial Haven in 1989 and won the South India Oaks.
Last year, the Western India trainers ignored Guindy. Not so this year with Pesi Shroff fielding Daffodil and Cambridge in the two Guineas. Three fillies were scheduled to come across from the west coast to the east coast for the South India Oaks and that would have been the strongest Western India challenge for any Classic at Guindy. However, Zanara has reportedly had some health issues and will not be participating.
On her last start in Mumbai, Zanara was narrowly beaten by Glorious Eyes over 1800 m. with Take Five (Excellent Art - Pandora) half a length away in third. Zanara was giving 2.5 kgs. to Malesh Narredu's filly so Take Five would have had a tough task to turn the tables over an extended trip. The progeny of Excellent Art has not won a black-type race so far over a mile so a mile and a half appears a bit too far. Take Five is the first foal the unraced Pandora. Pandora's seven siblings are all winners but none of them -- nor their dam Perpetuate -- won beyond a mile. It is, however, a staying family with Academic, Starfire Girl and Marchetta -- all Indian Classic winners over 2400 m. -- close up.
Undeterred by the failure of Daffodil and Cambridge, Pesi Shroff comes from Mahalakshmi with the 'got-abroad' Masquerade (Stormy River - Fabulousday) who shed her maiden status a week ago over 2000 m. on her fourth start. Always in a box seat, Shroff's filly took command at the top of the straight and won untroubled, beating nothing much of any significance. Hazara Stud bought her dam at Deauville in February 2014 for €22,000. Fabulousday placed twice at 3 in French Provinces including once over 2400 m. Three of her foals abroad are winners including full-brothers Mydor and Daydor with the former winning three races over 2300 m. in French Provinces. So, although her sire was a top class miler, Masquerade's siblings have shown a modicum of staying ability. Overall, though, the pedigree of Masquerade is just about average. Several 'got-abroads' run well above the dictates of their pedigrees and every year, Shroff has a filly or two that he prepares for long distance races away from the beaten path. Amazing Grace, Heather and Aquamarine are three examples that come readily to mind though that trio had better pedigrees and a bit more experience.
If Take Five and Masquerade have just one win against their name, the two Bangalore challengers Athena (Multidimensional - Amore Mio) and Concept Win (Win Legend - Conceptual) have none as both are still maidens. Last time out, Athena finished finished a well beaten second to Kangra in the South India 1000 Guineas, Gr.2 but she did have some much higher rated fillies behind her. She has never been off-the-board in any of her five starts and being by Multidimensional out of mare from one of Usha Stud's top families -- that of Camino, Camineto, Corrente de Ouro, Own Ordain, Nairn, etc -- there is plenty of potential to be tapped. The question is whether the race comes a tad too early for her especially as the family is brilliant up to 2000 m. but less effective at longer distances. What is certain is that you will get a run for your money with her.
Concept win has placed just once from her four starts. Last time out, she was 13 lengths behind Athena in the South India 1000 Guineas, Gr.2. That is too much of a leeway to make up though she is bred to stay on her dam's side. Trainer Arjun Mangalorkar should know the filly well for he trained Conceptual to win six races including the St. Legers at Bangalore and Hyderabad. During his racing days, Win Legend never won beyond 1400 m. On the other hand, he has shown his ability to meld well with the stamina in his mares by producing the likes of Hall of Famer, Angel Dust and Fly Like the Wind. His four Classic winners so far are all fillies.
The local filly Star Portal (Rebuttal - Fairy Fantasy) is not only the highest rated contestant but has won more races than her four rivals put together ! She is from the last crop of the Mr. Greeley horse Rebuttal who began spectacularly only to taper off in later stages. He did sire two Derby winners in Super Storm and Toroloco; however, by and large his produce had more speed than stamina. Star Portal has not won beyond 1400 m. nor raced in excess of a mile. Star Portal's dam did not win but was a half-sister to Fire Arch, the winner of Sprinters' Cup, Gr.1, a race which their dam Time and Place also won. The family is essentially brilliant, useful at a mile and only Almanac won at longer distances.
The average field rating is a measly 51 considering that this is a Gr.1 event. Class -- of which there is a glaring dearth -- may count for more than stamina and how well tuned a particular filly is will be vital. It is certainly not a race to wager.
PAST THE POST
India goes into 2018 with the markets closing at an all time high, the Sensex having closed above 34,000. The future of racing, though, is far from rosy or settled.
Nine Classics have been run during the current year and eight of them have been won by horses who were not only well fancied but had also shown their potential during the preceding Monsoon seasons. The exception has been the maiden Aggregated who surprised the field in the Calcutta 2000 Guineas, Gr.2.