The first Sunday of February means Indian Derby Day as RWITC hosts the one race annually that actually brings in casual fans through the turnstiles. This year the prize money on offer has taken a real dip and the winner will take home over a Crore less than what Desert God earned in 2016. Whatever the reasons may be this is not a good development and one hopes to see the Derby purse go back to what it ought to be, exponentially higher than any other race run in India. That said, let’s face it we all race for glory, the money is good and all that but every owner dreams of winning THE Indian Derby, I achieved the dream last year with Hall Of Famer. This year the overall standard of the racing crop so far is perceived to be not the greatest but the Derby is the very race that makes the winner turn into great from good. I’m going to go number wise for each of the contenders as since I’m fortunate enough to have a runner my opinion ceases to be unbiased and as such will not make a choice but I hope my inputs help you to make the right choice. So let’s get on those designer duds and let’s go RACING!!!
Aggregated (Dean’s Kitten-Wonder Smile by Lend A Hand) Brazilian born English Champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa has been engaged to ride the Calcutta Derby winner. After a runner up finish on debut in Pune, this colt was taken by his connections to Calcutta and he paid their faith back in spades, on the second start of his life he surprised many by winning the Calcutta 2000 Guineas as a maiden, on the face of it the form of the race didn’t look great but then again horses make fools of us humans often. He went in to the Calcutta Derby with a lukewarm following but under what was one of the best rides of 2017 in India by Suraj Narredu, Aggregated won the Calcutta Derby quite decisively. As much as was made of Dasrath’s poor ride on Sana, many missed how Suraj pretty much twirled the Western India pro around his finger, chewed him up and spat him out. Apart from controlling the pace perfectly he kept showing and shutting a gap on the rails to Sana which pretty much led to all the indecisiveness that her jockey showed. A winner of two of his three starts, there is bound to be a lot of improvement in this Dean’s Kitten colt who despite being Western India based will make his Mahalakshmi debut in the Derby. The last two winners of the Indian Derby, Desert God and Hall Of Famer took the Calcutta Derby as their lead up to winning in Bombay. His owners Diwan Arun Nanda and family have owned horses for decades now and in Aggregated they have possibly their best runner in the Blue Riband ever. He ought to see out the trip based on his Hastings Derby win, the only fly in the ointment was a very poor timing on that day. He’s a pretty straightforward sort and that enables the jockey to position himself wherever he wants. His brother Colombiana is a very useful sort who is just a wee bit below the absolute best though a very high class terms horse who rarely ever runs a bad race. The dam Wonder Smile is a Bangalore Oaks winner though the race the year she won was a bit light on quality. Trainer Malesh Narredu has won the Indian Derby with the great Be Safe so he knows what it takes.
Big Sur (Win Legend-Validate by Valid Concept) Statutory Warning: “Read this one carefully as I’m biased.” That apart our horse comes to the Derby in great heart and our route to the race was to have 3 races, each 3 weeks apart and to progressively go up in trip, we started with a 9 Furlong which he won well under Trevor in November. In December he took a Mile and a quarter in a cracking timing under Dasrath Singh. Over a Mile and a Half under Trevor he battled hard all the way down the straight with the year older and more seasoned Vulcan giving him a Kilo and a half, to miss by a nose. That race should bring him on further and our trainer Sanjay Kolse was very happy with his final piece of work. He lacks the aura of some of the other contenders but he’s well seasoned and is based locally. He’s certain to see out the Derby distance and we feel he’s sitting on a career best race. Fergus Sweeney rides him and we hope can feed of his luck from what was a fine ride on Mahateji in last Sunday’s Golconda Derby at Malakpet. Big Sur has already shown he stays and we hope he’ll be there at the business end.
Grand Passage (Grandera-Vignelaure Rose by Danehill Dancer) This Karthik Ganapathy trainee is here as a pacemaker for his more heralded stablemate Perfect Star. Bhawani Singh rides him and if he wins it’ll be not just the mother of all upsets but rather a lot more than that. Last seen hassling Castlebridge in the Ruia Cup he walked past the post that day. He is also the lowest rated horse in the field and the only cheque he’s picked up was by running third of three in the Ruia Cup.
Perfect Star (Excellent Art-Free Radical by Diffident) Perfect Star represents the Goldie Brown silks of the late Dr. MAM Ramaswamy the winningmost owner in the history of the Indian Derby. Karthik Ganapathy’s ward gets David Allan in the saddle, David has won the last two Indian Derbies on Desert God and Hall Of Famer. David Allan rides mainly in the North of England in the English racing season, in the past few years the Scot Ace has had a killer impact on racing in our subcontinent. He recently surpassed Sandy Barclay’s record as the foreign jockey with the most classic wins in Bharat Mata. Perfect Star has been an almost there horse and has been in the shake up in the mile classics without being good enough to win any of them. I personally feel that he lacks the stamina to win a mile and a half classic though his form against the best at a mile is top drawer whether in Bangalore where he wad the runner up in the Colts’ Championship or his fair third in the Indian 2000 Guineas. So far the word on his sire Excellent Art is that his good horses don’t quite get a trip and as such Perfect Star’s chances in what is going to be a truly run mile snd a half look bleak. His dam Free Radical was brilliant but saw out the mile purely on her class. There is a fair amount of back stamina in the pedigree but with Diffident as a broodmare sire and Excellent Art as his sire, it’s very doubtful that Perfect Star will see out a gruelling mike and s half.
Prevalent Force (Multidimensional-Prevalence by Razeen). He will go off as the likely favourite. This handsome bay trained by Darius Byramji takes the South India Derby route pretty much patented by his father the legendary Rashid Byramji the winning-most trainer in Indian Derby history. He obliterated a poor field at Guindy in the South India Derby on Pongal Day at Madras. This horse has done little wrong and comes into the Derby off a 6 race winning streak. He was very impressive in the South India Derby three weeks ago. His track work in Bangalore is very impressive and he comes into the Derby as the likely favourite. He’s beaten Lady In Lace in the Deccan Derby which was run in atrocious conditions. His sire and broodmare sire both bring in lots of stamina though his dam line is predominantly full of sprinter-milers. His jockey YS Srinath has been aboard for all his six victories. His owners the Edwards from Sri Lanka have invested heavily in Indian racing and in Prevalent Force they have a great shot at winning the Derby. His trainer Darius Byramji has won the Derby with Psychic Flame who co incidentally had Pesi Shroff aboard. This year Pesi saddles Indian Oaks Winner, Manifold one of Prevalent Force’s main threats. He’s drawn 12 of 12 but his experienced jockey will know how to handle that. He’s your likely betting favourite.
Rochester (Phoenix Tower-Krasnaya by Red Ransom) Rochester is one of the most consistent horses in Western India. He ended Castlebridge’s Derby aspirations when he took the Ruia Cup a traditional Derby lead up over the 2000 Guineas victor. He ran a very brave second before that in the 2000 Guineas behind Castlebridge. He was the best of the beaten lot in the Pune Derby too. Rochester has been on the go from his juvenile days and is an owner’s dream. He turns up and runs his race on any given day. CS Jodha takes the ride on the Sunderji trained son of Phoenix Tower. Conventional thought says that he might struggle over the mile and a half but he’s beautifully bred and has the stamina influence Sadlers Wells as his 2nd broodmare sire. He comes into the Derby off a career best performance in the Ruia Cup and a little bit of improvement is all that is required to put him in the mix.
Zenon (Champs Elysees-Questa Nova by Rainbow Quest) This Pesi Shroff trainee has been brought along patiently by his trainer after he ran a good race to be Fifth in the Bangalore Summer Derby. A dead cert on his pedigree to stay the Derby distance Pesi has taken an easy route with him by running him over longer trips. Sandesh takes the ride on the Got Abroad. One gets the feeling that he might be a race short over here and still has plenty of improvement in him. Patiently handled by his connections, he definitely deserves to take his chance in the big one. Like I mentioned one feels the race is coming a wee bit soon for him.
Daffodil (China Visit-Hills And Stars by Razeen) Another Filly who was well handled by Pesi Shroff who did well to campaign her over longer trips, after winning two on the trot in Pune she ran second behind Sana in the Calcutta Monsoon Derby as the race favourite. That run in retrospect is a career best and the filly has disappointed since then. She was the Pacemaker for Manifold in the Oaks and will be the de facto rabbit here too once Grand Passage back pedals after 5 Furlongs. I can’t see her winning but she fits her pacesetter role very well, she’s the key to keeping the pace honest.
Lady In Lace (Chinese Whisper-Sea Spray by Burden Of Proof) The pride of Hyderabad and Tohana, what a machine this lovely filly has been. After a Nine race Juvenile campaign at Hyderabad which was good without being great, it was at Bangalore Summer India stood up and took notice of the queen. During a sabbatical with Rajesh Narredu at Bangalore she gave weight and a proper thrashing to the field in the rich Arshad Ali Cup a terms event on the Saturday of Bangalore Derby week. I reckon she would’ve taken the Derby itself if she had run there instead. Back with Prasad Raju she first beat Bangalore Derby winner Manifold in the Hyderabad Fillies Trial. She was beaten though not disgraced in a runner up finish in the Deccan Derby which was run in a slog. She came back in two weeks in the Pune Derby and thrashed Rochester and the rest decisively. Arguably the best Filly of this crop she took the Golconda 1000 Guineas before winning the Indian 1000 Guineas at Mahalakshmi in a hard fought race where the first four home ran cracking races. Reportedly she missed her intended lead up for the Derby; The Golconda Oaks due to a slight lung infection. She showed her well being in a 9 Furlong mock race on Indian Oaks day. Despite all the rumours flying around I feel a little bit of freshening up in what has been a long and hard campaign for her will do her a lot of good. She’ll be ridden by Suraj Narredu in the Manjri colours of Shapoor Mistry. This will be her biggest test till date as she attempts the Mile and a Half for the first time in her life. As a granddaughter of the stamina influence Montjeu one thinks she’ll get the trip. Her dam line on the other hand is chock a block full of speed influences. The consummate over achiever she’ll stamp herself as an all time great if she wins the Derby.
Manifold (Multidimensional-Dhaawiah by Elusive Quality) Normally a CV that boasts wins in the Bangalore Summer Derby and the Indian Oaks would go to post as Favourite but this has been an interesting classic year. A steady improver Manifold announced her real arrival when she won the Bangalore Fillies and Derby double the latter in a hard fought battle where her stamina got Castlebridge on the post. After a respectable second behind Lady In Lace she was rested with a winter campaign in mind. After an easy win in her lead-up, she was very aggressively ridden when a good fourth in the Indian 1000 Guineas. She next appeared in the Indian Oaks two weeks ago and won decisively when ridden in check. The field for the Oaks was poor this year but she can only beat what ran against her. David Probert replaced her regular pilot Neeraj Rawal in the Ladies Derby and will again ride the Pesi Shroff trained filly. Her dam line doesn’t quite shout stamina but she gets the trip alright as she demonstrated in the Oaks. A two week turnaround isn’t ideal but Pesi has done it a few years ago with Jacqueline. She’ll be there in the mix again no doubt.
Sana (Multidimensional-Yana by Razeen) The Calcutta Filly came a cropper in her home Derby under an atrocious ride behind Aggregated. Indian champ P Trevor picks up the ride replacing her regular pilot Dasrath Singh and a better pace scenario in the Indian Derby will suit the Bharath Singh trainee a lot more. She’s guaranteed to stay and is yet another star bred on the Multidimensional-Razeen cross. If she’d laid down a marker as an odds on Favourite in the Calcutta Derby she’d be running as one of the favourites here. There were genuine excuses that day and one can see her running a lot better over here. She’s needs things in the race to pan out correctly for her in the race as she isn’t the easiest to settle but she’s a very genuine contender in here. Her sporting owners deserve a big one and she might just deliver today.
Themis (Lord Shanakill-Soul Society by Inchinor) The Oaks Runner up is definitely a notch below the best Fillies of this generation. Her veteran trainer will be a popular winner if she wins here. After she beat Manifold in the Shapoorji Million for Fillies in Bombay last March, Manifold has steadily increased the gap over her decisively since. A career best over here mayn’t be quite good enough to see her win. Neeraj Rawal picks up the ride on the Shirke and Dhunjibhoy colour bearer. She might not be good enough but yes she’s good enough to be in the field. If she were mine I’d definitely have her running here. The Oaks form looks very soft Manifold apart and a win by Themis will be a big surprise.
A lot will depend on the luck and running of the race as always. Favourites have a poor track record in the Indian Derby. Will Prevalent Force carry that burden and break the jinx? Let’s see what happens in yet another fascinating renewal of India’s biggest race.