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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 10 Feb 2020 |

In the week before the 2017  Kingfisher Ultra Pune Derby, Gr.1, this site had published an interview with the jockey Y.S. Srinath. In that interview, the jockey had opined that the Hyderabad challenger Lady In Lace would find it hard to win because she was unlikely to stay. A little over a week before the Pune race, Lady In Lace had been beaten by a shade over two lengths in the Deccan Derby, Gr.1 run in heavy going and rain. The colt who beat her was Prevalent Force ridden by Srinath. Srinath had also ridden Lady In Lace to two consecutive wins before her Deccan Derby defeat. He thus had first hand knowledge of the horses involved. Having been astride four Indian St. Leger winners, three victors of the Invitation Cup and one of the Indian Derby, Srinath had the experience and first hand knowledge of what it takes to win a good race over a distance of ground. Here was the opinion of a man well qualified to speak.

In the Pune Derby, Lady In Lace was ridden by Suraj Narredu and she slammed the field by almost a distance and looked a super star. The Mistrys of Manjri Stud made haste to secure her and in the racing blogs Y.S. Srinath was pilloried and lynched. He was accused of deliberately misleading the racing public so that better odds could be obtained on Lady In Lace. The jockey kept his counsel and the storm blew over. Today, the jockey stands vindicated.  After the Pune Derby, Lady In Lace raced nine times, four of those starts were over a mile and she won them all. The remaining five were beyond a mile and she was beaten in each one of them. She clearly did not stay.

One swallow does not make a summer and one good win over a distance does not proclaim a horse as a stayer. Lady In Lace had been beaten by Prevalent Force in the Deccan Derby, Gr.1. Subsequently, Prevalent Force won the South India Derby, Gr.1 by over eight lengths beating a couple 2400 m. winners trained Pesi Shroff. There were many Western India observers for the race and they were suitably impressed. Prevalent Force was installed the favourite for that year's Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby, Gr.1  but finished only fourth behind Rochester, Lady In Lace and Manifold, about three lengths behind the winner. He raced once more over 2400 m, was unplaced and is now excelling at a mile or shorter in keeping with his pedigree. The winner Rochester himself failed to come on board in the Invitation Cup at Calcutta. Rochester, died soon afterwards so could provide no further inputs about his suspect stamina. , 

Take the case of Castlebridge who won the Mysore Derby, Gr.1 in the all time best timing recorded for 2000 m.India. He added the Jacqueline Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1  in Mumbai beating Rochester. Rochester, however, turned the tables in the R.R. Ruia Gold Cup, Gr.2. Castlebridge then ran in the colours of URBB and the connections pragmatically accepted the reality. In 17 starts since then, Castlebridge has not been sent beyond a mile. 

War Hammer's Indian Derby win just a week after winning the Shree Meenakshi Sundereshwara Bangalore Derby, Gr.1 is the toast of the town at the moment. In 2013, Super Storm came to Mumbai with a comparable gap having finished only second at Bangalore. He put it across his sixteen rivals to win the McDowell Signature Premier Indian Derby, Gr.1 despite being a son of the sprinter Rebuttal. He raced 19 times thereafter, six of those starts were over 2400 m. or more but his two wins came over a mile. .     

Here we have cases of four horses -- Lady In Lace, Prevalent Force, Castlebridge and Super Storm --  scoring impressive victories in important races over a distance at which they never won again. Of their class there was never any doubt. The first named were top rated in their races while Super Storm had the third best rating. Of course, there is an assumption here that the rating is indicative of class. There were concerns, based on their pedigrees, about their suitability for the distance they were essaying. They simply outran their pedigrees on that particular day and then reverted to pedigree expectations later. What made them hoist the winning standard on those days ?. 

It is tempting to ascribe the "form" as a possible reason. The word "form" is used in its broadest sense and is not limited to a mere tabulation of a horse's previous runs. It encompasses the horse's mental and physical state on the day of the race. Viv Richards has said, "There are days when you know you are going to get big runs. You wake up feeling good and you hum as you shave. You want to rush down for breakfast and when the first ball hits the sweet spot of your bat, you know it is your day. That's how I felt that day at Old Trafford in May of 1984.".  (Richards scored 189 not out, making 93 of the 106 for the last wicket partnership with Michael Holding and that is considered one of the great ODI innings). 

Horses are intelligent living beings. They have their moods and physical problems. But, surely, there are days when everything seems just right to them. On such days they are invincible. Those who are close to them, like the syce and the trainer can sense and perceive how their horse is feeling but most of the people who wager on them do not have this knowledge. It may be simplistic to say that form, aided by class, enables them to outrun their pedigrees on an ordained day.


By winning two Derbies emphatically, War Hammer has put to bed concerns regarding his stamina. Though his victory at Mahalakshmi was more spectacular, his win on his home turf was more significant. In the Indian Derby, he beat Trouvaille and Wizard of Stocks and both those horses -- neither a confirmed stayer -- had much lower ratings. The fourth placed Juliette didn't have the clearest of runs and in any case the filly failed to reproduce her Indian Oaks timing. On the other hand, he got the better of the course and distance winner Anjeze who ran up to her form in her previous start.

The Invitation Cup at Mysore next month will provide the confirmatory test when he will come up against Star Superior, Adjudicate and Desert God. All three are rated much higher than War Hammer. Star Superior, though, is somewhat like the four cases mentioned above. The Indian Derby win is his only victory so far over 2400 m. He finished third behind Adjudicate and and Desert God in last year's Invitation at Hyderabad and has studiously avoided that distance in his five wins from five starts since then. He is currently in the form of his life.

It is going to be a race worth waiting for.