The 2017 Indian Derby is in the books and yours truly was the fortunate guy who won and got his monicker on the roll of honour. It’s the pinnacle of Indian racing and breeding and it takes a lot of blood sweat and tears to stand on that podium. The race itself lasts about two and a half minutes but years and years of toil are what it takes to get there. Hall Of Famer had what it takes and took us into dreamland while one is weathered enough to realize that we lose more often in racing than win, the thought of our grey Filly passing the post ahead of a gutsy Serjeant At Arms will bring a smile to my face the rest of my life.
So I thought let’s see how we were able to stir the pot and cook up an Indian Derby winner. For Dashmesh it started when we took over a mare called Trustworthy (Razeen-Snow by Grey Gaston) on terms from owner RK Jain. Trustworthy was trained in Bombay by Sunderji she ran on Derby weekend over a very unsuitable 5 Furlongs many years ago and flew home to be second. A typical daughter of Razeen; built like a barn, Trustworthy never quite realized her racing potential and blew a tendon soon after her debut. Her dam Snow was a daughter of Usha Stud’s dominant stallion Grey Gaston and a winner of the 1983 Indian 1000 Guineas for trainer Bezan Chenoy and owner NM Irani (As if it was ordained purely by chance I saw the Derby sitting in NM Irani’s daughter Mrs. Bakhtawar Chenoy’s box on the 2nd floor). Breeding is a heartbreaking business and there is a lot of trial and error involved. When mated to Green Forest, Trustworthy threw the Golconda Oaks Gr.2 winner Gisele for owner Sunil Jhangiani and trainer Michael Eshwer, despite high hopes Gisele was an absolute dud broodmare. Elusive Trust was Trustworthy’s get from Elusive Pimpernel our champion Indian racehorse and still considered by many to be India’s best. Elusive Trust was leased out to Deepak Khaitan in whose colours Elusive Pimpernel ran. She too is a well built sort, put into training with Dallas Todywalla, she won twice and she placed second in the Calcutta 1000 Guineas and had a third place in the Calcutta Oaks to go along with that. Elusive Trust retired to stud as a good broodmare prospect and her first foal was the Carnival Dancer colt Amandus who did quite well for his owners in Calcutta winning a fair number of races but he was nothing more than a good horse, definitely below top class.
Mated to Win Legend, Elusive Trust threw Hall Of Famer who inherited her dam and grandam’s solid structure and stood out from the time she was a foal. She has solid bone and the backside of a squatting washerwoman. We retain the occasional filly for racing, which we feel will be assets as future broodmares for the farm. Co-incidentally the breeding industry was in overproduction and supply was far outstripping demand so it just made sense to retain a few as sales were tepid at the time. That year we decided to split our horses among trainers in Bangalore as trainers had to stick to a quota of 16. I felt that she would be a great fit for Paddy’s style of training and thus made the fortuitous decision of sending her to the, “Hall Of Famer.” In fact she’s named after her trainer.
She made her debut under David Allan towards the back end of the Bangalore Winter season and closed well to be 4th behind the highly touted La Dona over 7 Furlongs. David came back saying she already needs a mile & a quarter. Put away for Bangalore Summer she started her season under A Sandesh in a mile maidens race. Just as she looked as if she’d kick on and win she veered out under pressure and was beaten to a close third by Star Nijinsky who went on to win the Deccan Derby in the Monsoon season. A nice added money event for maidens over a mile on Derby weekend called the Mystical Million became easy pickings and this time Sandesh was wise to her tricks and she kicked on to score a facile win.
As Paddy felt she was still a bit immature and weak it was decided to let her have the monsoon season off and strengthen up as we felt we had a filly of classic potential and we’d see her at her best in the winter classics. Paddy had her ready to go for a prep run on Mysore Derby weekend and David Allan was in town to ride Ice Glacier. Hall Of Famer scored an easy win over a mile in the 40-65 event in a cracking timing. It was time to step into big time racing with her. We had an option to go in either the Bangalore or Golconda 1000 Guineas, the latter gave us an extra week to the Indian 1000 Guineas. She hit the front entering the straight and when the pressure came on she drifted out again, David wisely let her drift to the outer rail and then rode her out to beat La Dona by a shade under two lengths. The next port of call was Mahalaxmi and a bit of work on her teeth and an equipment change was done to help her mend her wayward ways.
The Indian 1000 Guineas was a heartbreaker and Mrs Patmore got us by a head, what was heartening to see though was how she pinned her ears back and almost got up on the wire with a second wind, added to that she didn’t drift out. In a heated battle that day she showed a lot of heart and character to fight. On further study the rail mayn’t have been the best place to be on, on that day as all winners came wide. It was either the Indian or Bangalore Oaks next before a tilt at the Indian Derby. Paddy was away with Desert God in Dubai and I on vacation with my family in Thailand when Mrs. Sharmila Padmanabhan got the brilliant idea of heading to Calcutta for the Derby where we had to pay a hefty final entry. Once the training team had decided to head East there was no second guessing that call. Boy what a call it was, sitting in box seat off a hot pace when David asked her to run she decimated the opposition winning by 8 1/2 lengths geared down and still running the fastest Calcutta Derby of all time in 2:28 and change. Left in her wake were Calcutta Oaks and Guineas winner Silver Beauty and the highly touted Pune Derby winner Accolade who had gone off as favourite. We knew we had a great chance in the Indian Derby, added to the fact that our trainer and jockey were defending champs in the blue riband and Paddy had done the Calcutta-Indian Derby double twice in the past four years.
The race itself never quite went to plan though put simply when you win it’s all hindsight. When Lucas veered out David found himself in front, he was able to get Hall Of Famer to settle in front and in retrospect man what a brilliant ride it was. When I looked up at the 1:20 and change split for the first 6 Furlongs I thought in my mind, “boy we’ve got this!” He had everyone off the bit turning for home without having yet gone for broke, Serjeant At Arms under an inch perfect ride from Sandesh split horses after coming the shortest way home looked as if he’d pass us for fun but when David asked, the filly answered in spades, showing that grit, pinning her ears back and fighting off her challenger. We won the Indian Derby, I let out a real roar, the sort of reaction that is joy, relief and fulfillment all rolled into one and lifted my wife in the air with a bear hug, luckily she never hurt herself.
Hall Of Famer is a product of events that span continents and testament to the memory of two of India’s greatest breeders Major Pradeep Mehra of Usha Stud, who imported Amber Forest the 4th dam of Hall Of Famer and bred the grandam Trustworthy and my father Sonny Brar who set up Dashmesh and the day he saw Trustworthy he simply told Mr Jain, “whatever the cost I want that mare.” I must thank Patrick Barbe our friend, agent and advisor who was insistent that we must stand a son of Sunday Silence and found us Win Legend (who was languishing in Japan after his racing career) after we lost Sunday Doubt who produced two classic winners from his only crop. Many must have scoffed at us when we imported a Japanese stallion but as they say nothing works like success. I’m very grateful to my staff in Sarainaga at Dashmesh who had faith in me and stood by me through some really tough times. They had a good shindig after the Derby with a DJ and all. They are the true heroes who make for a successful organization. Similarly to be thanked are people like Paddy’s Jamadar Kalam, Kamrool and Mujeeb as well as Inderjeet Singh who rides the filly in the morning and pretty much entire team Padmanabhan a thoroughly professional outfit which works very hard and deserves every accolade heaped upon them.
I was taught well by my father and brought up with the ethos of being honest to the process day in and day out without worrying about the end result, it’ll come if it has to. There’s no shortcut in the horse business they have to be fed, watered, cleaned and looked after every single day. Many in this business have stood by us in our tough times and they all know who they are.
It’s been a long hard journey and every time I thought about Elusive Pimpernel winning the Indian Derby, it always crossed my mind would we ever get there again? I guess that monkey’s off my back now. I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of good wishes from across the world. Western India has not been a priority market for the stud for a long time and the disconnect of the clientele there is summed up by someone who said it’s refreshing to see a small farm win the Derby. Well if you insist despite a 133 Classic wins, we’re small and that’s fine by us. Our motto is that it’s quality that counts and not quantity. My father always said you need to produce that one horse and that’s just what my mighty grey queen is!