(This report was filed from India by Major Srinivas Nargolkar, the former Keeper of the Indian Stud Book.)
MUMBAI–The China Visit filly Moonlight Romance, beaten twice over a mile by Siachen, got her revenge in scintillating style over the 2400m of the HDIL Indian Oaks, Gr.1, winning by over four lengths from her own bracket-mate and pacemaker Sunlight (also a daughter of China Visit) with Siachen only third. It was the fastest Indian Oaks ever as Moonlight Romance stopped the clock at 2.30. Six fillies went to the post and half of them were owned by Mr. Rakesh Wadhwan, all trained by Cooji Katrak. The distance was expected to suit Moonlight Romance better than Siachen and accordingly the former was better backed. Sun Elegance and Sunlight dashed out of the gates to set the pace. Sun Elegance, who made the early running, was perhaps unable to cut the fractions necessary to test Siachen’s suspect stamina and Paul Mulrennen on Sunlight overtook her as they came into the backstretch. Sunlight went really full throttle and was at one stage was 20 lengths ahead of the third placed Frost Fairy. As Sunlight was given a breather, the field began to close in and Sun Elegance started to back pedal.
Alerted once again, Sunlight entered the straight ahead of the grey Frost Fairy with Richard Hughes cruising up imperceptibly on Moonlight Romance and Siachen tracking the favourite. Hughes took his call early in the straight and set sail for home. Moonlight Romance responded immediately and was soon three to four lengths ahead of Sunlight and Siachen, the latter unable to change gears. With a timely reminder or two, Hughes kept the favourite to her task and prevented her from idling. Moonlight Romance won untroubled and Sunlight plugged on doggedly to deny Siachen the runner-up berth. That meant that the Wadhwan camp, trainer Cooji Katrak, stallion China Visit and Usha Stud had the 1-2 in the race.
For Usha Stud, it was its eleventh Indian Oaks victory; the same number as the Indian Derbys to its credit, placing it right on top of the tree. For the Red Ransom horse China Visit, this was a first Indian Classic success. This former Godolphin runner has been a bit disappointing — by Usha Stud’s high standards — in his first three crops. Though he sired winners aplenty, success at Classic level was desultory. He has struck with a vengeance with his third crop for apart from Moonlight Romance and Sunlight he is also the sire of the filly Xisca who has swept everything before her at Calcutta. China Visit was afflicted with hoof problems in his early days at stud. There may not be a direct connection between a hoof problem and the genes transmitted but several stallions — Nureyev a notable example — have not produced at a vaunted level while they were under a physical handicap.
Moonlight Romance is a half-sister to Bangalore Derby, Gr.1, winner Star of Windsor. Star of Windsor also won the Stayers’ Cup, Gr.1, establishing a new track record and demonstrating the stamina attributes of the line. Their dam Wandering Star (by Razeen) had won the Deccan Derby, Gr.1, in her time and is a full sister to Fond Fantasy (Fillies’ Trial Stakes, Gr,1) and Aristotle (Calcutta Derby, Gr.1). The next dam, the Niarchos-owned Seattle Slew mare Excentrique, was purchased privately after she was withdrawn from Tattersall’s 1992 December Sale and came to India in-foal to Bluebird. That Bluebird colt was average but since then the line has thrived at Usha Stud. It goes back to Qurrat-al-Ain.
When Richard Hughes scored in the Indian 2000 Guineas last December on Ocean and Beyond, he rode his tenth winner of an Indian Classic. That is the highest number any foreign jockey has ridden. At nine, he was tied with W.T. Evans, Sandy Barclay and M.J. Kinane. Ocean and Beyond, also owned by Mr. Rakesh Wadhwan, has subsequently won the R.R. Ruia Gold Trophy, Gr.2, last week with Hughes again in the plate. Moonlight Romance gave Hughes his sixth consecutive Indian Classic win from six rides and with choice that he now has — Ocean and Beyond or Moonlight Romance — he could well extend that winning streak to seven in the Indian Derby. After the Ruia, Hughes was emphatic that the gelding would get the extra 400 m. in the Derby. Yesterday, he said that he wouldn’t decide
till the two of them have their final workouts.
There is one common form link between Ocean and Beyond and Moonlight Romance who have never crossed swords yet. In the Pune Derby last October, Sunlight had finished within half a length of Ocean and Beyond. Yesterday, Moonlight Romance was four lengths plus to the good of Sunlight. To put those verdicts into the proper perspective, Sunlight was coming from behind at Pune while in the Indian Oaks she had been out on a scorching, pace-setting mission. So there may not be much between the two.
Xisca, the winner of a Classic hat-trick — 2000 Guineas, Oaks and Derby — at Calcutta, has already come down to Mumbai. At Calcutta she was never really stretched and although her winning time in the Calcutta Derby was smart, she did not have much to beat. Moonlight Romance has always finished ahead of Xisca in their past encounters. Admittedly, Xisca has improved. Has she improved sufficiently to turn the tables on Moonlight Romance ? We will soon know. In the last forty years, only three Calcutta horses have won the Indian Derby. Two of them, though, have been fillies.
The Derbys at Bangalore and Hyderabad will be run this week. The proximity of those races to the Indian Derby to be run on 6 February means that the winners will probably wait for the Invitation Cup in the first week of March to descend on Mumbai.