So the first Sunday of February dawns upon us, its Indian Derby time. This year the race carries the moniker The Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby partnered by Signature, as Sunday sees Bombay come to the races dressed to kill, this year’s race is as open as they come with a high class lot of Four year olds lining up and most of them have every chance of pulling it off. So here goes my two bits, hope it helps you select a winner.
Costa Del Sol (Phoenix Tower-Shining Glory by Singspiel ) Trainer:P Shroff Jockey: James Doyle.
This colt gets into the race off a runner up finish in the 2000 Guineas after which he smashed the Mile and a Quarter track record giving weight to Bullrun, the Pune Derby winner. He runs in the colours of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala in partnership with the Mistry family and has done little wrong in his career. As a juvenile he took out the Poonawalla Breeders Million, he’s been kept fresh with a winter campaign in mind. He ran a cracking race in the 2000 and was closing fast on Phoenix Tiger at the business end. Shroff had him out again soon after and he donkey licked Bullrun giving him weight, the timing was impressive too but keep in mind that the Mahalaxmi track has been running pretty fast this year. With young James Doyle to guide his fortunes he gets one of Europe’s top talents aboard. I’d say its a given that he’ll get the trip on pedigree too even though he hasn’t run over a mile and a half yet. His broodmare sire Singspiel has been a classy influence for stamina.
Desert God (Burden Of Proof-Running Flame by Steinbeck) Trainer: S. Padmanabhan Jockey: David Allan
The Calcutta Derby winner comes into the Derby with an ideal preparation and by far the best body of work behind him. His trainer Padmanabhan has been India’s big race king for over two decades now. Apart from training Desert God he also bred him, outside of a clunker in the Bangalore Colts’ on dead ground in a messy race this Chestnut has danced many a dance and always done so with praiseworthy efforts. He won the Calcutta 2000 Guineas and Derby this winter with a matter of fact ease just as was expected. He was runner up in the Kingfisher Derby at Bangalore in the Summer behind Angel Dust. Her win in the Bangalore Winter Derby just strengthens Desert God’s form lines, similarly he thrashed Golconda Derby winner King Charles to oblivion when they faced up in the Colts’ Trial during the Hyderabad Monsoon. His victory in the Deccan Derby was very impressive too, a perfect monsoon campaign was blotted by a perfunctory riding effort by Suraj Narredu in the Mysore Derby where he was a fast closing Fourth. He’s already proven his ability to stay the trip, his trainer has an enviable track record in big races and his jockey David Allan knows the colt extremely well. The entire team has been camped in Bombay preparing their champ for the big day. His dam Running Flame would have to be considered the best broodmare at stud in India, with Desert God being her third classic winner from her four foals in India aged four and above. His half brother brother Borsalino (by Choisir) won the Bangalore Summer Derby, his full sister Sur La Tete won the Golconda Oaks and elder full brother Torch Bearer is classic placed.
Phoenix Tiger (Phoenix Tower-Tigress Noire by Senure) Trainer: Dallas Todywalla Jockey: Colm O Donoghue.
You’ll see this fellow come into the paddock with the attitude of a prize fighter with his chest flexing. He’s only lost when he’s been the victim of jockey error. His first big scalp was the Bangalore Colts where his jockey Colm O Donoghue went to the front and rode our Indian talent to sleep in a front running masterclass, unfortunately in what was a messy race the colt got nicked on his hind tendon and his veteran trainer did well to back off and sort him out. He reappeared on Pune Derby day and won impressively. In fact after seeing what was an abysmal Derby where the protagonists were gasping for the line 5 Furlongs out I was joking with Dallas that he may as well have run straight into the Derby that day. He won his first winter target, the 2000 Guineas in workmanlike fashion over Costa Del Sol but blotted his copybook in the RR Ruia when going down to Colombiana as an odds on favourite but it would be fair to say that Colm misjudged things that day. He didn’t quicken up as his rider would have expected too but in a twisted way that experience might have been good as he will learn to hold up. The Indian Derby is always run at a frenetic pace and he might benefit from sitting a wee bit off the pace. Pedigree wise he’s an interesting one, his broodmare sire Senure ought to instill some stamina in him, further back he comes from a non Kentucky American pedigree. The names one finds further back represent some top Florida based stallions like Al Hattab and Minnesota Mac. Though Floridian pedigrees are considered a bit blue collar, the state has produced some absolute stars in American racing.
Myrtlewood (Multidimensional-Adamile by Razeen) Trainer: Pesi Shroff Jockey: PS Chouhan
When a filly hits form the way she has they usually become unstoppable. After an impressive start to her career in Bombay, she went to Bangalore as the hype horse from the hype centre. Things went awry and she never figured anywhere in an abysmal campaign. Shroff put her off for the Monsoon and the results this winter have been stunning. After an easy win in her leadup she showed an electric turn of foot to win the 1000 Guineas under wraps. Any doubts of her staying the Derby distance were dispelled when she cut down a beleaguered opposition in the Indian Oaks. To win here she will have to improve again of a two week gap. Shroff has a proven track record in getting his horses to rebound well off the Oaks. The other problem here is the fillies have failed whenever they’ve faced the colts on an all India basis except for Angel Dust in the two Bangalore Derbies and in both those races, the runner up and third placer were colts. All that aside, Myrtlewood has done nothing wrong and is in here with a solid shot. As for her pedigree Razeen is her broodmare sire that’s all one needs to know.
While the above mentioned horses would be considered the main contenders, the field in this year’s Derby is very deep and there are plenty of others who run with a good chance.
Sea Lord (Admiralofthefleet – Loch Katrine by Selkirk) Trainer: Sulaiman Attaollahi Jockey: Trevor Patel. A late maturing type, Sea Lord has been given plenty of time to grow into his large frame. After running second on debut over 7 Furlongs, he won his maiden over the same trip next time out very impressively. After this he was put away with a winter campaign in mind. He took out a conditions event in Bangalore on his winter reappearance in impressive manner. He next lined up in the Golconda 2000 Guineas, he went under to Golconda Derby winner King Charles by a neck, it was a funny race where everyone finished in a heap. Chris Alford rode one of those brilliant races on King Charles, where in all honesty he schooled his younger contemporaries. Sea Lord was immediately loaded up and headed to Bombay for the Ruia Cup, he ran a good third, looking like a horse who would benefit greatly from that experience. On raw form he needs to improve a couple of kgs to be in the mix. His trainer and jockey are so hot right now that merely touching them could give you third degree burns. Looking at him he looks like the mile and a half is right up his street but a lack of seasoning might cost him in a race where one is going to find plenty of subterfuge. URBB racing manager Zeyn Mirza is two for two when he’s worn a hat for a Derby so you can expect him to wear a nice Panama on the big day. Sea Lord’s broodmare sire Selkirk has a good connection with the Derby having thrown Starsky as a sire and Velvet Rope as a broodmare sire. His sire Admiralofthefleet was in my mind one of the best bred horses to land in India in recent times. He had a curtailed career as a stallion due to health issues because of a neurological disorder. He was the moral victor in the race for leading first season sire last year as the winner Arazan had 72 starters to Admiralofthefleet’s 25. Sea Lord belongs to a top class family that has had immense success at the top level in both America and England. Further to that he is inbred 3X3 to top stallion Danzig through a son and a daughter.
Brilliant Cut (Burden Of Proof-Clear Cut by Tejano) trained by Irfan Ghatala, ridden by S John. This fiery tempered and flashy chestnut comes into the Indian Derby as a final entry after a runner up finish in the Bangalore Derby behind Angel Dust. Known to be a slightly temperamental sort this chestnut son of Burden Of Proof has been putting in very consistent performances during the monsoon and winter seasons. He was a little bit unlucky not to win the Mysore 2000 Guineas, a great ride by Trevor on Bold Command and an inversely inferior effort by his jockey cost him dear. Similarly in the Mysore Derby on very firm ground both Desert God and he sat too far back while the race developed in front, he was still beaten less than a length by Mogadishu. The real deal was seen in the Bangalore 2000 Guineas when he came with a searing last to first run to win under wraps. He went off as favourite in the Bangalore Derby but just when he was being hailed as the winner he was cut down in the shadow of the wire by Angel Dust. He’s suspect for stamina and has a bit of a temper, one has to see how he handles the Derby day crowd and the wide open spaces of Mahalaxmi. Irfan and his team have worked very hard to calm him down and his last two efforts have been great. He deserves to take his chance and its good to see his connections’ faith in him. He is suspect for stamina and is seen to best effect when he’s switched off in the rear, his siblings have been best at a mile and thereabouts.
There are others that will take their chances in the big race as well; the two Arazan colts, Bold Command (Arazan-Indian’s Feather by Indian Ridge) and Bold Appeal (Arazan-Bold Bird by Razeen) will show up with fair form behind them. The statistical leading freshman sire has been blown out of the water by his late contemporary Admiralofthefleet once the racing’s got amped up with Bold Command’s Fourth being his only showing in any classic run this winter but then again in racing anything is possible and redemption, however unlikely could always be just around the corner. The Karthik Ganapathy trained Bold Appeal was among those that laboured home in the Pune Derby among the front bunch his Bombay campaign has been less than stellar with poor efforts in the Morvi and 2000 Guineas. He is a course and distance winner last time out in a Class two set in a poor timing, so he needs to improve quite a bit to be in the mix in the Derby, he looks a ploddy staying type and these sometimes go better over the extended mile and a half. Bold Command was the hype colt in Bangalore until he almost got beat by Brilliant Cut in what was supposed to be a cakewalk in the Mysore 2000. Ridden well up with the pace by Sandesh in the Mysore Derby on very firm (read unsafe) ground he just knuckled under to Mogadishu. Since then it doesn’t look as if Bold Command has made the requisite step up and he was a well beaten Fourth in the Indian 2000 Guineas, he is entitled to improve on that effort though as it was his first run at Bombay.
Colombiana (Noverre-Wonder Smile by Lend A Hand) After a sub par 2000 Guineas rebounded to score in the RR Ruia Gold Cup under a positive ride from Yash Narredu where he went to the front and held off Phoenix Tiger. He’s been close to Desert God and Costa Del Sol before too so it would be prudent to keep him in the mix as he did win the Ruia a bona fide Derby lead up akin to the Dante Stakes in England. He will be ridden by top Irish jockey Pat Smullen as confirmed by the rider on twitter. His owner-mate Setaflame (China Visit-Set Aside by Steinbeck) a half brother to the celebrated Set Alight comes in of a decent effort in the Calcutta Derby where he ran a respectable third behind Desert God. A final entrant, he ought to be a Derby winner but for quite possibly one of the worst rides of 2014-15 by Shailesh Shinde aboard him in the Calcutta Monsoon Derby. His trainer perennial Calcutta champion Vijay Singh has trained many a top horse at a national level though Setaflame does appear out of his depth here, Suraj Narredu takes the ride. Arun Nanda will have a third representative in his silks as Ostwind (Holy Roman Emperor-Ertiyaad by Sakhee) His few seconds of fame came when he beat Phoenix Tiger at Bangalore albeit receiving weight and Phoenix Tiger getting a rank bad ride. He ran poorly in the Ruia and on that run he’ll be making up the numbers.
The gutsy Pune Derby winner Bullrun (China Visit-You Are My Miracle by Razeen) will also take his chance in the Indian Derby but he was given weight and a sound thrashing by Costa Del Sol in his last start over a mile and a quarter. He was in deep distress after a grueling Pune Derby and I’m sure Cooji Katrak will have been quite easy on him since to freshen him up, so he is bound to improve quite a bit on his last run. Jefferson (Ravel-Crystal Slipper by Burden Of Proof) ran a very decent Fourth in the RR Ruia Cup despite being off the racecourse for 5 months or so. He’s a son from the first crop of the Fusaichi Pegasus horse Ravel who has had a fair start to his stud career. He won the SA Poonawalla a major lead up for the Pune Derby but was sidelined since with a niggle. His run in the Ruia was good and he will improve from that as he was bound to be ring rusty as a result of the layoff. Dashrath Singh will take the ride on the Sunderji trainee. Magnificence (Arazan-Burning Fire by Polish Precedent) is a horse who shows up in every big race, he runs respectably but isn’t good enough to match strides with the best though, he’s a notch below this level on all evidence.
Gestapo (Mastercraftsman-Dajolie by Auenadler) He was one of the talking horses of Western India and was impressive in his first two starts. By Mastercraftsman a son of Danehill Dancer who has got off to a stunning start at stud, the unfortunately named Gestapo comes from a German family which would normally mean lots of stamina but his broodmare sire was a sprinter, further back there are plenty of stamina influences and he races like a horse that should stay. Jim Crowley will most likely be aboard him but didn’t give him the best of rides in the Ruia where he finished off board though he was beaten only Four and a half lengths. If he’d won that he’d go into the Derby as one of the prime contenders but he’ll have to find a lot on that run
Oaks Fourth placer Shivalik Heroine (Orpen-Ifni by Bering) is also in at the handicap stage but will find it tough to step up and improve that much in two weeks since her Oaks run. Shadowfax (Multidimensional-River Memories by China Visit) named after the grey horse from Lord Of The Rings was an impressive winner of his last start but he’s never looked Derby material then again I guess when owners pay through their nose in many cases for their horses they feel they should run the Derby, conventional wisdom says no chance but hope is a lot of what this sport is about. Chris Alford who rides him might need to ride like Gandalf the Grey and wave a magic wand to win here. Star Formation (China Visit – Prevalence by Razeen) has run well through the year with runner up finishes in the 1000 Guineas, Bangalore Fillies Trial and Golconda Oaks but she ran dead last in the Oaks, on that run one wouldn’t see her in the mix. Another final entrant is B Fifty Two (Phoenix Tower-Bailey’s On Line by Shareef Dancer), named after two pretty lethal things, the American Bomber Aircraft or a tasty shooter that’s not advisable to knock back post midnight at a bar or else the results can be disastrous. Jokes apart this colt looks a decent staying type though a bit short on class. He comes from a dour staying family and its surprising his connections haven’t put him over a trip beyond a mile yet, since RWITC has a good programme for staying horses. Airco and Lavender Blue are likely in the field to set pace if they run.
I’m not going to hazard a choice because I think its an open Derby and a strong case can be made for many of the runners that line up, I’m rooting though for the Bangalore boys because that is my home centre and sometimes its nice to see the hype machine simmer down a wee bit as this is the Indian Derby and not the Bombay Derby! The Derby has thrown up some serious surprises, lets face it nobody really thought Noble Eagle or Super Storm would win. One can make a calculated guess but in what is a very layered and multi faceted sport there are a number of unknown variables that could come into play such as stamina, luck of the race, preference of ground, pace, traffic etc. There’s a reason our sport is called racing and its all about opinions. So come one and come all and please bet on the tote because that bookie steals from racing!