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By Ikram Khan | 12 May 2024 | OOTY

Trainer J Sebastian leading Royal Defender (P Sai Kumar up), winner of the HPSL Nilgiris Derby (Gr.1)

Top trainer Sebastian and leading saddle artiste P Saikumar did it again at Ooty. Sebastian and Saikumar combined successfully to land the Derby riches last year on Something Royal and this year they struck it rich again, Royal Defender winning the blue riband of the season, the HPSL Nilgiris Derby in resplendent fashion. It's not easy to register two straight Derby victories at the same centre back to back, but Sebastian and Saikumar made it look easy, the champion colt beating his nine rivals by more than five lengths. The winner surprisingly needed to win the race a second time at the Stewards room after Yash Narredu,the rider of the runner-up This Is Gold protested that Royal Defender had cut across This Is Gold before negotiating the final curve and as a result he had to check his mount . Yash made it clear that his mount lost about five lengths after the check and that is difficult to make up this leeway in  the short straight . How Yash made this estimate and arrived at the five length loss was baffling. Maybe the youngster  in his protest was looking to offset the margin of victory in his bid to strengthen his case. But the fact is that This Is Gold was never gaining ground on the winner who despite drifting out won in emphatic fashion. The stipes and stewards after a long debate chose to rightly overrule what appeared a desperate protest, lodged more out of courage and not conviction. For the record, the 1000 Guineas winner Grey Wind finished third, while the 2000 Guineas winner Bharat finished down the field.

The speedy Knotty Wonder from Ramanathan's yard proved too good in the lower division of the Sardar KB Ramachandra Raj Urs Memorial Trophy . The winner confidently piloted by Vikram hit the front soon after the field of nine runners came under the starter's flag and showed a clean pair of heels to win without being unduly extended. Spirit Of Rose followed the smart winner home ahead of the Mandanna schooled Celeste, while Speculation from Suresh's yard who garnered good support to close the first favourite failed to even save money in place. 

The upper division saw the favourite Knight In Hooves record his second straight success in the hands of Kuldeep Singh. The winner, who had proved very superior to his rivals in his last start again produced his best and after a ding-dong battle in the final furlong with another in-form contestant Pneuma, gained the verdict at the shadow of the winning post. The topweighted Supreme Grandeur finished third ahead of Berrettini who at one stage looked good to add pep to the finish before losing steam in the final furlong. 

The James McKeown schooled Starkova piloted by Soufyane Moulin entered the winners' circle, the four to one shot  edging out the second in demand at the betting ring, Royal Baron close home. A facile last start winner Brilliant Lady, fancied strongly to provide an encore performed below par much to the disappointment of the large following. McKeown who led in Starkova earlier combined successfully with Moulin, to score on the well-backed favourite Wolf Creek, the winner of the Turf Authorities Of India Trophy run over a distance of nine furlongs. Abnegator followed the winner home, while Glorious Evensong finished a creditable third, the Sebastian ward edging out Abilitare to pull off a good gamble in place. 

The lesser fancied Dedicate from Vijay Singh's yard came up tops in  the Dr.MAM Ramaswamy Memorial Stakes . Leading pro Hindu Singh produced a confident effort on the winner who looked a picture of fitness at the paddock parade. The second in demand at the betting ring, Knotty Dancer followed the winner home ahead of the favoujrite Still I Ride, who found the first two too good to handle and had to settle for the third place. 

The B Suresh schooled Prince Purple shocked the followers of form in the opening event, the RCTC Trophy run over a sprint. Arjun from the stables of Sebastian's yard was fancied most, but the public choice failed to display his true potential and eventually finished in the ruck. Gajabo Grande gained the runner-up berth ahead of the Rupa-trained Sea Waters who appears tio have regained form and fitness and is likely to earn his cornbill next time out.