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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 31 Dec 2019 |

From December of 2016, after Madras Race Club had returned to the fold, outstation trainers once again started taking their Classic hopefuls to Guindy and  South India Classics became competitive. Fifteen South India Classics have been contested since then and the outstation trainers have dominated them completely with only Tudor Treasure, winner of 2017 South India 1000 Guineas, Gr.2, being the solitary success for the Fort St. George forces. (The last two South India St. Legers were open to older horses. The definition of a "Classic" is not to be found anywhere but it is generally understood that it is a race confined to members of one crop only; as much those two races have not been considered as "Classics".) Two Classics is the maximum that a owner has won in the last three plus years and that underlines the competitiveness that now prevails. In the bygone days, all fifteen winners would have sported the same silks.

Among the outstation trainers, Sulaiman Attaolahi, Arjun Mangalorkar, Pesi Shroff and Darius Byramji have been most successful with two wins each and three of them --except the last named -- will bring in the New Year in Chennai. With 10 favourites winning, the public fancies have had a good run but the top-rated horses have found the going tough and only five of them have registered a bracket. A partial reason for that is the local horses notch up a high rating which gets exposed against the invading  hordes. 

The South India Oaks has always been a Gr.1 race and names of some very good fillies like Neon, Star Haven, Aristocracy, Self Reliance, Darado, Birthday Girl and Chaitanya Ratham -- picked purely from memory --  can be found on the Scroll of Honour. (It is understood that race is likely to be downgraded to Gr.2 from next year onwards.) The first South India Oaks of the 'New Era' was run in 2017 and Proserpine beat her only rival -- the maiden Satinette -- by half a dozen lengths. Proserpine raced just once thereafter in the B.N. Gudiyappa  Bangalore Derby, Gr.1 on the Republic Day where she finished nowhere.  The following year, Pesi Shroff came with his 'got-abroad' filly Masquerade and she won easily from Athena. Masquerade then ran fourth in the South India Derby, Gr.1. Her next and final start was in the postponed Bangalore Oaks, Gr.2  in which she broke her left front cannon, came a cropper and was put down on humanitarian grounds.  Last year's winner New Creation had to work hard to attain glory in a nail-biting finish, scoring by a head and a long neck from two Classic winners Tudor Treasure and La Rondine. She next raced in the Hindustan Times Palate Fest Indian Oaks, Gr.1 where she failed to come on board. She had three starts at Bangalore in the summer, won a mile Class 1 race as her swan song and was sent off to Usha Stud where  she has a date with Speaking of Which. 

Though it is not a date specific race -- like the Deccan Derby or Bangalore Derby -- the South India Oaks has been run most often, like this year, on New Years Day. The field of half a dozen fillies contains just a lone local filly and she has an average rating of 57, a shade above the average of last three years.

Star Appearance (Western Aristocrat - Tatbeeq), who enjoys the highest rating, is the only Classic winner in the field having won the South India 1000 Guineas, Gr.2 on her last start at Guindy. She will, in all probability, garner the maximum support in betting.  She has never been off the board in her six starts and has four wins to her credit.  She hasn't yet essayed this trip -- none of the fillies have -- but indications are that she will not be uncomfortable over it. Her dam, a winner over a mile, was was purchased for a pittance by Highgrove Stud at the Tattersalls Sale in December 2013. Though her two previous foals in India have not won, an older daughter is a winner of a stakes race over a mile in U.S.A.  Tatbeeq herself is a half-sister to Crosspeace, a six time winner in England with black-type honours over 2400 m. This is a solid English family even if not currently fashionable. Western Aristocrat's first Classic winner Kangra won thrice over the trip.  Star Appearance accounted for Bostonia, Kirkwood and Supreme Fragrance last time out but faces the other two fillies -- British Empress and Akina Speed Star -- for the first time.

The first South India Classic of the 'Open Again' era was the 1000 Guineas of 2016. It was won by Aika Aika Aika, a Win Legend filly schooled by jockey-turned-trainer R.H. Sequeira at Malakpet. Sequeira is back again this year with another Win Legend filly, British Empress (out of Deputy Empress), who was a reasonably close third to Paso Robles and Cape Kidnappers in the Golconda 1000 Guineas, Gr.2. One of British Empress's two wins has been over 1800 m.. Her dam is a half-sister to the very talented miler Machiavellianism. We have had quite a few mares imported from this branch of the Snoot family in recent years and  some of their produce like  Youre So Beautiful, Plenipotent, Desperado, Cataleya, Mr. Handsome -- not mentioning all -- have earned black-type. British Empress is a grey like Win Legend's more famous daughter Hall of Famer.

Pesi Shroff has won this race twice earlier as a jockey -- Celestial Haven (1989) and Traffic Police (1996) -- and once as a trainer as mentioned above. He journeys from Bombay with Akina Speed Star (Dean's Kitten - Cockayne) who got rid of her maiden tag just recently in Mumbai on her fourth start over 1800 m. and did so making every yard of the running. All foals of Cockayne in India have started their racing careers with Shroff and the best of them was undoubtedly Tiger Tops who  won the Oaks in Calcutta and Mumbai and split Be Safe and Quasar in the McDowell Signature Indian Derby, Gr.1 among her many accolades. Inbred to Sadler's Wells, she has oodles of stamina and will most probably make the running. Leigh Roche will know her better now and will keep her at the optimum pace. She is a bit inexperienced -- certainly at this level -- and looked somewhat of a plodder on her last start so will need a good lead passing the Monument.

Bostonia (Multidimensional - Real Excellence) is still a maiden after four starts but was finishing on in the South India 1000 Guineas, Gr.2 after taking the turn wide. Her immediate family is Classic and staying. Grandam Allaire won the Kingfisher Indian Oaks, Gr.1 and produced Star Nijinsky (Deccan Derby, Gr.1). Allaire's full-sister Silken Star is the dam of Oriana (Calcutta Oaks, Gr.3). Bostonia is herself a full-sister to Winged Foot (Bangalore Oaks, Gr.2) while Oriana and Star Nijinsky are also daughters of Multidimensional. Multidimensional has been rather quiet of late in the Classics though he did get the Gr.2 winner Tasawwur on Sunday. He could bestir himself with Bostonia.

Kirkwood (Win Legend - Bold Reply) held the box seat behind Star Appearance and Royal Currency till the bend in the South India 1000 Guineas, Gr.2. Surprisingly, she came under pressure when asked for an effort, failed to get on terms with those ahead of her and lost the third spot to Bostonia. Her dam won up to 2000 m. and was a full-sister to Elusive Hero (Golconda Derby, Gr.1). Perhaps she was caught unawares when the race came to a boil. Bred on the same Win Legend-Elusive Pimpernel cross responsible for Hall of Famer, Sir Cecil, Angel Dust and Anjeze, her jockey is sure to get her moving at the right moment this time.

The only locally trained filly is Supreme Fragrance (Multidimensional - Dior). A sister-in-blood to Knight Templar, she should have achieved more than just a solitary win so far. She has the talent but her kinks -- getting off slowly and running erratically -- have stood in the way of her realising her potential. As the 'hostess', she may be on her best  behaviour but faces a tough task competitively. 


Madras Race Club, where Star Appearance last raced, has her rating as 75. Bangalore Turf Club Ltd., where she is based, shows her with a rating of  68. In the case of Bostonia, too, there is a difference of one point. One wonders how the principle of "reciprocation" works. In a terms race, it does not matter because horses carry weights according to the conditions and not the ratings.

There is an old saying, "There is no class in Classics". What it basically means is that you can't anticipate results of Classic races by applying the usual handicapping methods. Because of their importance and prestige, "old school" owners target their horses for their favourite Classics. The aim is to get the horse to his fittest level for the race in question and everything else that has goes before it is just a means to the desired end. The method does not always succeed nor does it always fail. It will surprise many that even a Classic is sometimes only a stepping stone. Even the greatest race in the world, the Epsom Derby.

There is story of some owners being interviewed before the Derby a few years back. The interviewer wished the owners good luck and mentioned that their horse must be bursting out of his skin for the big race. "Oh no," the interviewer was shocked to hear. "He is well and he will be extended to his fullest but he is not a Derby horse. His target is the St. Leger at Doncaster !". In this case, things did go according to the plan. The horse, an out and out stayer, ran respectfully at Epsom and went on to pick up the oldest Classic in the world at Doncaster.


In a sensational development, the local filly Royal Currency (Corporate Jungle - Private Collection) has been added to Wednesday's field which will now number seven and have the average field rating upped by two points to 59. This matter will receive its due publicity elsewhere and is not being touched here. It also means that some of the statements made above do not hold good. They are not being corrected individually at this stage and the indulgence of the viewers is requested to ignore them.

Royal Currency, a winner of Nilgiris Derby, Gr.1, had run second to Star Appearance in the South India 1000 Guineas, Gr.2, a neck ahead of Bostonia. She wasn't catching the winner that day but the additional half a mile gives her some hope. Her sire won all his races in U.S.A. at mile and that was also the maximum distance over which her dam won in France. (Incidentally, the dam of Royal Currency should not be confused with the Malvado mare Private Collection who had a long tenure at stud in India). This Private Collection has produced a winner in France over 2100 m. and comes from a family that has some stamina. The former Doaba Stud stallion, Twist And Turn, is from it. What is a bit disconcerting is that no track work of Royal Currency has been reported since early October. Perhaps, she thrives on light work.