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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 16 Mar 2020 |

The 2016 crop, the smallest born in India this millennium, completed 21 of its Classics from November 2019 to March 2020 before the outbreak of Coronavirus brought racing to a halt. The most noticeable point was that in almost all of them, the average field rating was much lower than the average for the previous ten years. That does not speak too eloquently about its overall calibre. Incidentally, the last time the winter seasons were so curtailed was exactly sixty years ago when South African Horse Sickness affected the equine population.


It is said that good horses can be born anywhere and at any time. If that is so, then even a non-vintage crop can have an outstanding horse among its members. 2016 crop did certainly have one in War Hammer who, unbeaten in his eight starts, towered above his contemporaries. Injury sidelined him during the monsoon racing and another setback after winning the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby, Gr.1 prevented him from lining up for the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1 in Mysore. In becoming only the fourth horse after Exhilaration, Elusive Pimpernel and Indictment to be still undefeated after winning the Indian Derby, he has etched his name in the records. With Anjeze -- whom he had beaten by four lengths in the Shree Meenakshi Sundereshwara Bangalore Derby, Gr.1 -- finishing three and a half lengths behind Adjudicate at Mysore, it would certainly appear that he would have been in the thick of things at Mysore had he been fit enough to contest.

No horse can be called "great" till he first competes against older horses and then takes on the younger generation. It is to be hoped that War Hammer returns fully fit to racing and faces the acid test. His equable temperament, his readiness to settle comfortably anywhere in the field and the ability to unleash a devastating burst of instant acceleration when asked stamp him as an outstanding talent. Adjudicate is going off, reportedly, to Dashmesh Stud; Star Superior is said to have returned lame after the Invitation Cup and Desert God isn't getting younger so War Hammer should be able tackle the older horses. It is the 2017 crop which will provide a sterner test and that won't happen for another year.  

Barring War Hammer, no colt could notch up more than a solitary Classic while the fillies Anjeze and Paso Robles did. Juliette and Anjeze were clearly the next best of their generation. Both are light-framed and a bit fragile. Fillies generally retire to stud after the Classics are over though it is learnt that Anjeze will remain in training for a year more.


Only Prasanna Kumar, Leo D'Silva and Arjun Mangalorkar led in more than one Classic winner but the last named was the only one to saddle two different horses (Impavid and Royal Crystal) to win a Classic. For Prasanna Kumar, War Hammer won three Classics -- including two Derbies -- while Paso Robles provided Leo D'Silva with a brace.

Three trainers, Aashay Doctor, Parvati Byramji and Jasbir Singh, had their first ever Classic winners. Aashay Doctor and Parvati Byramji are fairly young in their careers but Jasbir Singh has been around for a little over a decade. Parvati Byramji joins Arti Doctor as only the second lady trainer to saddle a Classic winner in India.

Two of the most successful Classic trainers in recent years have been S. Padmanabhan and Pesi Shroff. Both, surprisingly drew a blank. A trough is a part and parcel of any professional sportsman's career but most come out of it sooner than later. Their fans, though, think that it takes an eternity.

Four trainers in India -- R.R. Byramji, Robert Foley, A.B. David and S. Padmanabhan -- have led in winners of over a hundred Classics. One trainer who is sweating to reach that landmark is S. Ganapathy. Having got into the 'nervous nineties' with Bold Majesty five years ago, his progress has been slow. Southern Ruler gave him his 94th. Another trainer on the brink of a landmark is Pesi Shroff. Arabia (South India 2000 Guineas, Gr.2) last January was his 49th. 


It was Suraj Narredu all the way with the jockey pocketing exactly a third of Classics run during the winter months. Last year, he passed two important milestones -- his 50th Classic win and even more important, the 2000th win of his career. That probably lifted a load off his mind and during this winter he has been riding with a refreshing aplomb and confidence. A distant second to him  was David Egan  who was astride three winners (Gift of Grace, Impavid and Anjeze). This was Egan's first visit to India and he has created a favourable impression. Nicky Mackay (Trouvaille) and Nakhat Singh (Supreme Fragrance) were two other jockeys to ride their first Classic winners. 

The three 'centurion' jockeys in India are B. Prakash, Vasant Shinde and Pesi Shroff. The leader among the current jockeys is Suraj Narredu with 61. He has a long way to go to get to his hundred but he is well clear of P. Trevor (35), Y.S. Srinath (34), A. Sandesh (32) and D.A. Allan (32).

Stud Farms

The Poonawalla Group of Farms has been at the forefront in India for a very long time and its Classic tally went  past the 350-mark not too long ago. Throughout this time, it has been so relentlessly chased by Usha Stud that it has not had time for a breather. Usha Stud's score is approaching the figure of 350. There a very wide chasm between the Top Two and the chasing pack -- comprising of Dashmesh, Chettinad, Kunigal and Manjri -- who have between 100 and 150 Classic wins each.

Before the emergence of the Poonawalla Group and Usha Stud. it was the Yeravada Stud which was in the van. The last good Classic winner born at Yeravada was  Mohawk, the winner of the 1980 Indian Derby, Gr.1. Then, in 2000, it had Peace Envoy who won the Nilgiris Colts' Trial Stakes, Gr.3. This year, after a gap of 19 years, Yeravada had Izzy, the Calcutta 1000 Guineas, Gr.3 winner. 

Izzy was Yeravada's 92nd Classic winner but a stud farm celebrating its very first was Track Supreme. That nursery at Ganga Nagar, very close to the Pakistan border, was established in the late 1980s by Mr. H.S. Dhillon. Mr. Dhillon passed away a few years back and his son Himmat Singh has taken over the reins. Royal Crystal, the winner of the Golconda Derby, Gr.1 was born at Track Supreme.

No stud farm dominated during the winter months and the spoils were shared. Usha and Kunigal, with four Classics each, were marginally ahead of the Poonawalla Group whose three Classic wins were all at Hyderabad.


The established stallions like Multidimensional, Win Legend and Phoenix Tower kept their wheels moving but the ones who were most successful were Air Support and Western Aristocrat. Progeny of these stallions won five and four Classic respectively. Air Support, whose first crop was rather ordinary, struck back with War Hammer (3), Impavid and Consigliori. Western Aristocrat's four Classic winners -- Royal Crystal, Trafalgar, Izzy and Star Appearance -- were foaled at four different farms. Both Air Support and Western Aristocrat are now resident at the Kunigal Stud.

Only three new stallions had commenced their stud tenures in 2015 and all three of them had a Classic winner in their first crops. Corporate Jungle's daughter Royal Currency had won the Nilgiris Derby, Gr.1 earlier during the summer racing. Both Leitir Mor and Speaking of Which had smallish first crops with the former having 23 foals and the latter 24. Leitir Mor became a Classic sire when his son Vijays Singham won the Golconda 2000 Guineas, Gr.2. Speaking of Which, however, came up with three Classic winners -- Rosina (Calcutta Oaks, Gr.3), Gift of Grace (Stylecracker Indian 1000 Guineas, Gr.1) and Sir Supremo (South India Derby, Gr.1). Corporate Jungle is no more but Leitir Mor and Speaking of Which should build on their promising starts.

Win Legend -- sire of Anjeze -- now has seven individual Classic winners while Western Aristocrat, who gave the Dashmesh stalwart a two year start, has six. Both of them look prime candidates to have their photographs displayed on the Stud Book Department's Wall of Fame. (Ten individual Classic winners is the criterion for the honour).    


The Top Three families in India are Schiaparelli (71) (Divine Light, Mystical, Smart Chieftan, Southern Empire, etc), Wenonah (principally through Stella Marina) (61) (Tosca, Fair Haven, Own Opinion, Royal Russian, etc) and Admiration (52) (Exhilaration, Star Superior, Camino, Amazing Grey, etc). None of them had a Classic winner this winter.

The next seven families on the Scroll of Honour are tightly grouped and there was a bit of musical chairs between them. Aga Khan's celebrated foundation mare Mumtaz Mahal led the way with three Classic wins (Anjeze and Vijays Singham) while Our Liz also had the same number through War Hammer. Our Liz is a well-known international tap-root but most of its illustrious members in India descend from the Kashmir mare Aurelie. Idle Fancy is another internationally acclaimed family -- that of Indian Skimmer, Dark Mirage, First Landing, Medaglia d'Oro, etc. -- and we have had mares from it in India for some years now. It had its first Indian Classic winner through Gift of Grace.


There were two performances during this period that were really noteworthy. One which everyone knows about and the other not as widely noticed. First is that Adjudicate became the first horse to win the Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1 twice. The other is that when Supreme Fragrance won the South India Oaks, Gr.1, she became Razeen's 50th individual Classic winner as a broodmare sire. That makes Razeen the first stallion in India to sire 50 individual Classic winners and also reach that mark through his daughters.