MUMBAI—A dozen starters, including four fillies, will vie for the winner’s prize of Rs. 13 million (just under US $ 280,000) in the McDowell Signature Indian Derby, Gr.1, on Sunday at the Mahalakshmi Race Course, Mumbai. Hoping to make it a neat round dozen of Indian Derby victories will be Ameeta Mehra’s Usha Stud, which has exactly half the runners representing it. The dampener for that nursery is that Richard Hughes has chosen the Equus Stud-bred Ocean and Beyond as his ride and not the Indian Oaks winner Moonlight Romance.
Irishman Richard Hughes is certainly on a high, his last six rides in Indian classics having been winning ones. A victory in the Indian Derby will mean a Magnificent Seven sequence and it will send the statisticians and trivia collectors into a tizzy trying to unravel whether such a feat has been achieved before. Hughes has not been beaten either on Ocean and Beyond (Indian 2000 Guineas and the R.R. Ruia Gold Trophy) or Moonlight Romance (Derby Bangalore last July and Indian Oaks a fortnight ago). It would have been a difficult choice and it presumed that Hughes would have weighed up the pros and the cons before coming to a decision.
If Usha Stud has six in the fray, trainer Pesi Shroff has five to saddle while the all-conquering Wadhwan camp has a quartet of runners. Just last week, Mr. Rakesh Kumar Wadhwan and his partner Mr. Prem Tharani won the Bangalore Derby with Sun Kingdom (Hughes up). Such is the strength of their holdings that they have not thought it necessary, contrary to earlier reports, for Sun Kingdom to take his place in the line-up. After all, with Ocean and Beyond and Moonlight Romance carrying their colours that would have amounted to over-egging the pudding. Siraj Sunderji, who trains Ocean and Beyond, has left-in Ocean Admiral, a brother-in-blood to Moonlight Romance, as the pacemaker. The other two Wadhwan runners—Moonlight Romance and Sunlight, both China Visit fillies—are trained by Cooji Katrak.The question vexing the Wadhwan camp would undoubtedly be whether to once again sacrifice Sunlight as the second pacemaker or to let her run on merits.
Indeed, there is already a talk of Wadhwan 1-2-3 in the race. If it does happen, it won’t be the first such instance in an Indian Derby for Dr. Vijay Mallya had Cordon Bleu, Enrico and Kir Royale finishing in that order in 1988. Mr. Wadhwan, however, could still be the first owner to see his colours atop the first three home because when Cordon Bleu won, her jockey Mick Kinane was in “all-black.” Kinane could not find the correct cap and the Clerk of the Scales made him wear the emergency colours.
It is, of course, premature and perhaps fanciful to talk of a 1-2-3 when the winner, despite the choice of Hughes, is not a foregone conclusion. Moonlight Romance (David Allan has the ride) did win the Indian Oaks in great style. If Jacqueline could pull off the Oaks-Derby double last year, why not Moonlight Romance ? It wouldn’t be the first time that a jockey has erred in his choice. Well, Jacqueline did achieve it and eight others have also done it before in the previous 68 runnings of the race. It is pertinent to point out that Jacqueline broke a sequence of thirteen other fillies—some of them as good, if not better—who had failed. Trainer Bezan Chenoy—he saddled the ‘double’ winner Revelation but failed with Golden Treasure—once said that you never know what an Oaks has taken out of a filly till she runs the Derby.
The supporters of Ocean and Beyond are delighted that Hughes will ride the gelding. They reckon that Hughes is a jockey vastly superior to others and worth at least three lengths. There are others who say that Ocean and Beyond has yet to race over a mile and a half so his ability to get the distance has to be taken on trust. Maybe; but let’s not forget that horses like Workforce, Campanologist and others, bred on the same Kingmambo-Sadler’s Wells cross have excelled at the highest level over the classic distance. As chefs-de-race, both Kingmambo and Sadler’s Wells—grandsires of Ocean and Beyond—are in the Classic/Stout category.
The best of Pesi Shroff’s five runners is the filly Xisca—mount of the French rider Sephane Pasquier—who has won the Deccan Derby, Calcutta 2000 Guineas, Calcutta Oaks and Calcutta Derby in her last four starts. She has never beaten Moonlight Romance in the three Group races they faced each other in prior to that. Batista and Berlusconi will carry the Jacqueline colours of the Shirkes. Hotstepper, who won the Indian Derby a couple of years ago, has his full-brother Dear Henry running. It was the jockey S.A. DeSouza/trainer S.S. Shahthe/Rattonseys as the owners combination which upset Set Alight’s apple cart in 2009 and they are once again teamed up with Dear Henry. Unleashed, a Warrshan filly who finished a length second to Sun Kingdom in the Bangalore Derby, will sport Deepak Khaitan’s silks while Camacho, not on board in the Golconda Derby at Hyderabad but within a couple of lengths of the winner, represents Dr. Vijay Mallya, whose U.B. Group sponsors the entire weekend’s racing. Macchupicch, a gallant second to Ocean and Beyond in the Ruia after making most of the running, has the Jacqueline connections in that the owners are the same—but colours of Mr. Berjis Desai—and is trained by Shroff. What is surprising is that for the first time in an eternity there is no runner belonging to Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy. As the Poet Laureate said, “The old order changeth yielding place to the new …….”
What is certain at this stage is that Ocean and Beyond will attract the most support in the betting; a race worthy of the occasion will ensue; high fashion will rule the roost as everybody who is a somebody in Mumbai will be at Mahalakshmi and there will be excellent entertainment over the weekend.