The Indian classics, run at Mumbai, follow the English pattern but are run much later so that they straddle the New Year. The two Guineas come in December and are contested by 3-year-olds. That crop turns 4 on 1st January and their focus then turns to the Indian Oaks (mid-January), the Indian Derby (first Sunday in February) and the Indian St. Leger (last week of March).
Last year, the outbreak of EI — and the subsequent restrictions on the movement of horses — had caused havoc with the established racing pattern. Racing commenced in Kolkata and Mumbai more than two months after the normal beginning in November. The Indian St. Leger could hence not be fitted in the truncated season and was pushed forward to Pune. There was talk that the Invitation Cup weekend (it was Mumbai’s turn to host it) would be scrapped all together. Fortunately, wiser counsels prevailed and it was shifted to Hyderabad and run late in October.
Antonios (Glory of Dancer – Twin Star by Portroe, a full-brother to Fappiano) had upset the unbeaten Set Alight in the Indian Derby. He duly won on reappearance in Pune, went down to the older Razeen filly Yana to whom he was giving weight and then ran away with the Indian St. Leger. Set Alight came out in Hyderabad and was surprised by Icebreaker whom she had beaten in the Indian 1000 Guineas and the Indian Derby. Perhaps, she was rusty for in her next start she won the Group 1 President of India Gold Cup in her customary, effortless style. Unfortunately, she broke down and did not line up at the Invitation Cup weekend.
Antonios was thus the clear favourite to win the Invitation Cup and looked like landing the odds when he took over the running. The Indian 2000 Guineas winner Autonomy (by Razeen), given an easy preparation in Pune, came like a train and despite the jockey losing an iron, pipped Antonios on the post. Razeen had a double when his daughter Yana, like Autonomy trained by Bezan Chenoy and running in the colours of Mr. Jaydev Mody, waltzed away with the Stayers Cup. In the Sprinters’ Cup, Oasis Star (by Senure, a Grade 1 United Nations Handicap-winning son of Nureyev) repeated her last year’s victory while Dancing Dynamite provided his sire, Shareef Dancer’s son Glory of Dancer, some compensation for losing out in the Invitation by annexing the Super Mile. Thus, all the four Group 1 events of the day went to sires from the Northern Dancer male line.
Last year, Set Alight went into the Indian Derby without having tasted a defeat. There is a good chance that we could have an unbeaten horse in this year’s renewal, too. There are three colts, all conceived abroad, who are being talked about to win the Indian 2000 Guineas later this month. Two of them — Versaki and Sea Ruler — are trained by Cooji Katrak, the handler of Oasis Star and last year’s Indian Oaks winner Riyasat. Versaki (Verglas – Ghassak) counts victories in the Group 1 Poonawalla Breeders’ Million — richest race in India for juveniles — and Group 1 Pune Derby among his many laurels. Sea Ruler (E Dubai – Cool Ashlee, a daughter of Mister Baileys who was second in the Mazarine Breeders’ Cup Stakes) has started less often than Versaki but has been quite impressive. The third, Becket (Hawk Wing – Boiling River, a Dayjur mare who placed in USA at 3), has faced the starter only twice. He is yet to get black-type but the eye-catching manner of his victories — a verdict of 18 lengths for two wins — has brought him into the contention.
There is also Aboline (by Burden of Proof out of Lear Fan’s Round Table Handicap-winning daughter Super Fan). He just about held on when winning the Group 1 Derby Bangalore in the summer and could find the extra two furlongs of the Indian Derby a wee bit too far. In any case, he starts off in Kolkata and would come down to Mumbai much later. Another very good colt is Cabriolet. Though he has been beaten by both Versaki and Sea Ruler, he has a pedigree to stay a mile and a half. He is by Glory of Dancer, sire of the last two Indian Derby winners, out of Highland Ghillie, an unraced Storm Trooper (Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Handicap winner) full-sister to Artois (Pune Derby) and half-sister to Group 1 Indian Turf Invitation Cup winner Zurbaran.