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By Usman Rangila | 15 Aug 2023 | PUNE

Begum Shaherbanoo Husain Lagad receiving The Pride Group Independence Million from Mr Sudendu Shah

Rarely does a Western India professional dare to pitch a last outing winner in the Independence Trophy, a Class IV handicap race for horses who are rated 46 and below. Most trainers give their wards, who are rated above 46, an easy outing or two to get a drop in the handicap and fulfil the eligibility criteria. But this strategy was hardly in trainer Narendra Lagad’s mind as he “brought” Alpine Star to the lowest class and reaped a rich bounty when the relegated grey horse scored a runaway victory late last month. However, Alpine Star was slapped with a whopping 7kg penalty by the handicapper, which would have probably taken Lagad nearly a year to get rid of it.

That said, Lagad was forced to enter Alpine Star for the Pride Group sponsored Independence Million by shelling out the late entry fee of Rs 2 lakh, ten times more than the initial amount for this sweepstakes event. It’s not that Lagad or the owners would have had to break the bank to make the required payment but the trainer reluctantly agreed when coerced by Alpine Star’s co-owner Begum Shaherbanoo Lagad. Alpine Star justified his owners’ faith with a glorious triumph in the prestigious event.

Alpine Star found Blazing Bay, the pacemaker for the wonder mare Juliette in the past, doing him a favour by setting the initial pace and, in the process, facilitating Mustakim Alam’s effort to settle down his mount over the mile and half trip. Alpine Star (Surfrider – Snowing) followed Blazing Bay into the straight and was still racing on the bit as he smoothly overtook the latter. PS Chouhan ridden favourite Vincent Van Gogh, who was always in close attendance of Alpine Star, challenged him soon but was unable to raise a winning gallop. Aware of the danger lurking behind, Mustakim drove Alpine Star confidently and escaped the clutches of Vincent Van Gogh, who got into his stride a wee bit late. A neck separated the first two. Jerusalem ran on to be in the money ahead of Django and Chat. Django was disqualified from the fourth place after his rider failed to weigh-in with the declared weight.

Lagad was spot on with the placing of his wards and wrapped both divisions of the Astral Flash Plate through C’est L’amour and Mirae. Interestingly apprentice AK Karande piloted C’est L’amour to a narrow win over stablemate Mighty Thunder but he lost astride Zukor by a shorthead to Mirae. It was a touch-and-go case with all the three winners he led in but Lady Luck was indeed smiling on Lagad on that day. C’est L’amour lacked initial speed but she was not far behind leaders Habibi, Mufaza and Lightning Blaze. The bay mare entered the fray as the front-runners began packing their wares and wrest control of the running from Habibi at the two-furlong post. The threat to C’est L’amour came from unexpected quarters as her J Chinoy-ridden stablemate Mighty Thunder, who came tantalisingly close to toppling the winner but seemed reluctant to spoil his master’s party. Bomber too made his presence felt quite late before ending three-parts of a length behind Mighty Thunder but well ahead of Volare. Rookie Navnath Bhosale ridden Mirae (Roderic O’Connor – Yesteryear) disputed the lead with Trinket from the word go and gained the upper hand with a furlong and half away from the winning line. Zukor, who was lying in wait behind the front-running duo to throw his challenge, moved closer to Mirae with each stride but the latter was vigorously ridden by Navnath to thwart her rival. Almas ran leisurely to finish third ahead of Trinket.

Altaf Hussain and Akshay Kumar shared the day’s honours with Lagad as they logged in a double with Snowfall and Mount Sinai. After failing to concede weight and being humbled by a younger horse, Altaf did the best possible thing in allowing Snowfall to compete where her handicap played a big role. Snowfall (Territories – Markabah) sat well up with the front-runners in the initial stages and moved up to be in a striking position behind Coeur De Lion and owner-mate Emperor Roderic. The latter flattered briefly after wearing down Coeur De Lion in the last furlong and half only to surrender meekly to Snowfall, who was full of running when given her head by Akshay. Snowfall went sailing into the lead to make amends for her previous two failures and also avenge her defeat at the hands of Emperor Roderic in the initial phase of her career. Arabian Phoenix finished on well to grab the second berth from Emperor Roderic. Pride’s Angel completed the judge’s frame.

Mount Sinai, though making his first appearance this season, made light of the heavy impost on his back and gave a thrashing to his rivals in the lowest class. Akshay settled Mount Sinai (David Livingstone – Belle Jour) just behind Come Back Please and Scottish Scholar and switched gears when the field straightened for home. The bay gelding took charge of the running and then lengthened his strides under the whip to put the issue to rest. The Flutist finished on to take the second spot ahead of Speculator and Come Back Please.

Debutant Julius produced a sparkling run in the home stretch to foil the start-to-finish bid of Winter Agenda in the Magansingh P Jodha Cup run over seven furlongs. Apprentice MS Deora ridden Winter Agenda, sent out by Adhirajsingh Jodha, found himself in front and probably relished doing so as he refused to give up his lead in the straight. Karthik Ganapathy schooled Julius (Multidimensional – Silken Star) meanwhile improved with every stride from the rear and was driven out by Bhawani Singh in the straight to overwhelm Winter Agenda just a few strides before the wire. Kubric flashed onto the scene quite late and ended a notable third ahead of favourite Kanya Rashi, the runner up’s stablemate. Kings Love ran prominently in the front pack and retired gracefully to finish fifth.

Shazaan Shah saddled Lord and Master lived up to the promise shown in his previous run where he finished on the fastest behind the winner It’s My Time last month. The bay gelding, though being tested on a mile trip for the first time, was so well tuned by Shazaan Shah that Lord and Master jumped out smartly from the gates and made every post a winning one in the hands of Santosh Raj. The favourite came under pressure in the straight but he kicked on gamely to ward off Rue St Honore’s threat. Empower ran on to be third while Pink Jasmine ended fourth.