A very intriguing and interesting race for the Invitation Cup will take place on Sunday the Fourth of March at Calcutta. A compact field of ten will face the starter, with no standout 4 year old emerging after all the regional Derbies or the Indian Derby this could well be the year for the elder generation to strike a blow after drawing a blank since the race was opened to older horses. The weight for age terms are far more balanced now instead of the farcical five kilo difference of previous years, now the difference stands at 2 kilos with Fillies enjoying a further kilo and a half sex allowance. Two previous winners will line up in the old warhorse and 2014 winner, Alaindair and the reigning champ Temerity. The winners of the Indian Derby, Oaks and 1000 Guineas line up here along with the winners of the Golconda and Bangalore Derbies run this winter. Here is a brief synopsis of each of the ten runners.
1. Alaindair (Multidimensional-Gods Grace by Razeen) Trained by Altamash A Ahmed, Ridden by YS Srinath. After the debacle aboard the Indian Derby Favourite Prevalent Force At Mahalakshmi where he finished a laboured fourth, saddle pro YS Srinath comes to the 2018 Invitation atop his old friend Alaindair both have combined for 9 victories together. Sparingly raced over the last season the 2014 Indian Derby and Invitation Cup winner bounced back to something close to his best when he took the Indian Champion Cup, a Grade 1 race that is run at Calcutta. His earnings are well over 6 Crores for his enthusiastic young owner Gaurav Sethi, whose colours he sports and his breeder Ameeta Mehra. Not many Indian horses have performed at Grade one level for this long and especially at the age of Eight but this is one gutsy and special horse who has been very well campaigned and handled by his connections. He’s been sitting in Calcutta and training here. The competition has to come East to face him, this has to be a huge advantage for him. The bare form of the Indian Champion was fair, without being spectacular but it was his first competitive race since Pune Monsoon in October and he is bound to improve off that effort. Handling him at this age has been difficult but well done by his trainer Altamash and Alaindair with his glittering CV and wins in his last two starts must be considered a serious contender.
2. Salazaar (Burden Of Proof-Saddle Star by Tejano) Trained by Irfan Ghatala and ridden by P Trevor. Salazaar is a good horse but definitely a notch below the very best, the thing with him is that when you don’t give him much of a chance, suddenly he’ll spring a surprise. He wasn’t able to give 80 rated Escala 7.5 kgs in the Stayers’ Trial Stakes at Madras and he’ll need to improve exponentially on that effort to figure in the reckoning here. A good winner of the South India Derby last year he ran a forward sort of race in the Indian Derby but was well beaten. If he were to win it would be a massive upset. He carries the colours of URBB and deserves his chance here, he needs to run a career best to figure over here and his last run was below par. Then again Escala who beat him last out was attempting a Mile and a Half for the first time in her career and the speed biased program on offer at Bangalore might mean that she was meant to run longer trips but never was made to.
3. Temerity (Intense Focus-Narmina by Alhaarth) Trained by Pesi Shroff and ridden by Neeraj Rawal. The defending champion comes into this year’s renewal blotting her copybook last time out when B Fifty Two beat her in a match race in the Eclipse Stakes over a Mile and a quarter. Clearly Neeraj Rawal doesn’t read too many books but in match races the leader after the first two furlongs usually wins them. Trevor got B Fifty Two in front and Neeraj let him have an uncontested lead, it’s obvious that her pilot was sleeping when Trevor slipped him on top of the straight and held off her rally in the closing stages. That apart it was a fair enough leadup for the Invitation for the Pesi Shroff trained Filly owned by Shyam Ruia and Berjis Desai. She sees out a Mile and a Half very well and has been trained this year with this very race in mind and is possibly the only runner in the race whom one can say that for. She shapes up as a serious contender here.
4. Rochester (Phoenix Tower-Krasnaya by Red Ransom) Trained by SK Sunderji and ridden by CS Jodha. The Indian Derby victor comes to Calcutta to confirm himself the best of what has been perceived to be an ordinary crop. It’s a pity many Western India trainers lack the ambition to travel their horses out from there despite the abysmal stakes on offer there. Raced exclusively in Bombay and Pune this brave colt who survived a colic surgery as a youngster has never run a bad race. He caught my eye in the paddock at Bombay on Derby day and he was the comprehensive winner of the Blue Riband. He’s good value for his Derby victory and if he maintains form from the first Sunday in February to the first Sunday of March he’ll take a lot of beating. He’s proven over the trip and can be ridden as the race develops, he can rate or come off the pace. His jockey gels well with him and understands him well, he needs to be driven along a bit but answers the urgings steadily to the wire. He’ll go off as one of the favourites and rightly so. His owners enjoyed the ultimate thrill of winning the Derby, it was great to see his breeder and part owner Shapoor Mistry and his son Pallon’s joyous reaction at Mahalakshmi. Sunderji should’ve won the Indian Derby in 1989 with Desert Warrior but took a sabbatical to look after his family business and handed over the horse to Altaf Hussain. It took him 28 years to reach that winners circle, racing is a crazy game and as the old saying goes especially for Shiraz in this case, better late than never!
5. Star Carnation ( Excellent Art-Attractress by Dilshaan) Trained by S Ganapathy and ridden by David Allan. The Goldie Brown colour bearer surprised many with a fast closing second behind Kangra in the Bangalore Derby which was run a week after the Indian Derby. A bit of an aberration as his sire has produced very precocious stock in India which are top horses up to a mile but Star Carnation shook that theory up quite a bit. He takes his chances here and might well be a horse that is improving late but improving fast. His trainer who in his heyday has not just carried all in India but even trained Mystical to win in Dubai has been on a bit of a cold streak after a cracking Mysore main season. He’ll be a long-shot but gets the magic-man in Classics, David Allan aboard, it’ll be interesting to see how he looks in the paddock as I’ve found the trainer overdoing his horses a bit in recent times.
6. Kangra (Western Aristocrat-Georgina by Polish Precedent) Trained by Sulaiman Attaollahi and ridden by A Sandesh. When this filly moved to Sulaiman Attaollahi for the Bangalore Summer Season from Hyderabad not many would’ve noticed or cared but what a great move it was, she’s won the Mysore and South India 1000 Guineas over a mile and then the Bangalore Oaks and Derby over a Mile & a Half two weeks after the Oaks. Many say Lady In Lace’s Cinderella story is one for the ages, I being privy to a lot more information than others will tell you that her owner Marthand Singh Mahindra and his wife Rina’s story is much better. Sheer belief and grit have got the fast talking “Mouth Of The South” Marty as he’s known to us to the top echelons as an owner. He got into racing 27 years ago in 1990 when his father Suresh Mahindra suddenly passed away. He gave up a corporate job in America and returned to live in Bangalore. He inherited his father’s Turquoise and Gold Silks which were dominant in the days that his father ran Greenacres Stud (Now a part of the Poonawalla Group as Greenfields Stud) near Pune. When Marty came back he set about sorting things out in an operation that had stagnated, everything takes time as they say and this year Marty has hit the heights in a big way. On Bangalore Derby weekend his colours were carried to victory in all three big races. Marty breeds his own and races them in his own silks, it’s easy to buy champions but to breed and own them deserves a lot more respect. A victory here will get us another speech with joyous tears and emotion. His partner Prabhakar Reddy has owned horses since the 80’s and after a hiatus due to political commitments he’s back enjoying his racing and at the very top. Kangra has done everything asked of her, the short straight at Calcutta will suit her and a victory for her is a distinct possibility. She too shapes as one of the serious contenders. Well, I’ll be rooting for her anyway as her dam Georgina is on her way to Dashmesh as you read this!
7. Lady In Lace (Chinese Whisper-Sea Spray by Burden Of Proof) Trained by Prasad Raju and ridden by Suraj Narredu. The story of the year no doubt. A little known of Filly at the end of 9 Juvenile starts at Hyderabad this Star Filly showed what she was really about when shifted to Rajesh Narredu for the Bangalore Summer Season. She gave weight and slaughtered the opposition in the Arshad Ali Khan Trophy one day before the Bangalore Derby, in retrospect she would’ve won the Bangalore Derby if her connections had gone there instead. A good horse is a good horse anywhere and the myth about Western India being the premier centre in India has taken quite a hammering in the past few years. Lady In Lace underlined that when she whupped the rest in the Pune Derby and later the Indian 1000 Guineas. After that she picked up a lung infection and went straight from the Indian 1000 Guineas to the Indian Derby. She ran a very brave race to be runner up but came up short against a spot on Rochester that day. Her trainer Prasad Raju told me that he wasn’t able to train her at full tilt and as a result he came up short, now she comes into the Invitation with no excuses and should’ve come on a lot from her Derby run. Not the greatest of lookers and bred at Tohana Stud Farm, she’s changed a lot of perceptions that people have regarding owning horses. Sold at a relatively cheap price as a youngster, Shapoor Mistry bought into her at a huge markup after the Pune Derby. That price looks cheap now, as the old saying goes a good horse is cheap at any price and a bad horse is expensive for free. This filly has put Chinese Whisper firmly on the map and her breeder, young Frankey Singh has got him a full book this year. They have bred Charon to win the Invitation when his Grandfather Sardar Harpal Singh was at the helm of affairs. He chose Chinese Whisper before he passed away on the advice of the late HS (Kaka) Dhillon of Track Supreme Stud, to stand at stud and in doing that he might have left his Grandson a gift of an Invitation Cup. Lady In Lace is the sort of horse that makes racing the fascinating sport that it is.
8. Mahateji (Multidimensional-Blue Sky by China Visit) Trained by M Srinivas Reddy and ridden by PS Chouhan. The Golconda Derby winner comes into the Invitation after running a tired looking third in the Bangalore Derby. The bare form of her Derby win looks poor as does her Golconda Oaks win, where she was disqualified for an Atenolol positive an unfortunate situation which isn’t properly addressed by our Turf Authorities. Now the poor trainer has to sit out and face a suspension and a genuine winner has to be disqualified in a Grade 2 race. Atenolol is in all likelihood a contaminant and is NOT a performance enhancing drug, it’s a blood pressure medicine. Anyway she’ll be facing stiffer opposition here, Lady In Lace smashed her in the Golconda 1000 Guineas and Kangra in the Bangalore Derby. I’m a bit puzzled by the change of jockey here as Fergus Sweeney rode her very well and understood her style. She needs to rest as she looked flat in the Bangalore Derby but then again it’s the Invitation Cup and she deserves to take her chance.
9. Manifold (Multidimensional-Dhaawiah by Elusive Quality) Trained by Pesi Shroff and ridden by David Probert. Last year Pesi came to the Invitation with the Indian Oaks winner and Indian Derby third Temerity and won it. This year he comes here with Manifold who has exactly the same credentials on her CV. The Bangalore Summer Derby winner is a live threat here as she got interfered with early on in the Indian Derby and got shuffled back in a race that was unsuitable for a horse coming from the rear. Further to that the two weeks gap between the Oaks and Derby isn’t ideal and the month gap that Manifold gets to the Invitation would mean she’ll benefit greatly from it. She gets the trip and was a genuine hard luck story in the Derby. I feel she’s sitting on a big performance here and is one of the genuine contenders. She runs in her breeder Ameeta Mehra’s Silks and is one of the three in which the astute Berjis Desai has a stake, Mahateji and Temerity being the other two. Look for her to be right there at the business end.
10. Sedulous (Tariq-Zellers by Efisio) Trained by Neil Devaney ridden by S John. Sedulous was the victim of the most asinine ride by a jockey in this calendar year when Arshad Alam sat a good ten lengths behind the last horse until 600 metres out in the Bangalore Oaks. The poor filly ran gamely to get third but would’ve needed a turbo charged nitro fueled jet engine to make up some thirty lengths on those ahead of her. Arjun Mangalorkar’s long time assistant Neil Devaney has done very well with the opportunities that have come his way and Sedulous is the sort who’ll pick up a terms race in time to come. Neil gets to saddle an Invitation runner in his first year as a trainer and that’s a creditable feat in itself. Her sporting owners Clinton and Sujay are top guys who play the game in the right spirit and it’s nice to see them duke it out with the big boys. One certainty is that S John will go overweight on her as he struggles to do 57 kg and she carries 55.5 kg. The young man’s penchant for Beer and Biryani seems to be getting the better of his riding career. That apart Sedulous isn’t exactly bred to see out a stiff mile and a half and is clearly overmatched here even if she were getting 5 Kilos off rather than 1.5 more but then again racing is about dreaming and there’s a reason the sport is called racing!
The rest of the Invitation races look to have standout contenders in my opinion and all being well should win, I think Azzurro will take a lot of beating in the Stayers. Ruffina looks a shoe in for the Sprinters and Castlebridge back home in Calcutta for the Super Mile looks outstanding in that set. It’s hot in Calcutta and the action on the track will make it even hotter! Good Luck for the weekend to all connections and may the best horses win!