(The following report was filed from India by Major Srinivas Nargolkar, former Keeper of the Indian Stud Book. The Major has covered each of Jacqueline’s classic triumphs in this space, and a link to her Derby win is available at the end of this post.)
Vandrevala Foundation and Hirco sponsor all the races — except the Maj P.K. Mehra Memorial Super Mile — over the Invitation Cup weekend which will be run this year at Mumbai’s Mahalakshmi race course.
The two Gr.1 races on Saturday, March 6, are the Sprinters’ Cup, Gr.1, and the Stayers’ Cup, Gr.1, both sponsored by Vandrevala Foundation. Fourteen runners will go to the post for the Sprint and Forest Flair (Placerville – Tide of Fortune), the heir apparent to Oasis Star’s crown, the obvious pick on form. In the Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1, run last December, Sea Ruler (E Dubai – Cool Ashlee) was second to Jacqueline with Forest Flair a well beaten fourth. Since then, both Forest Flair and Sea Ruler have reverted to sprinting with the former winning both his starts over 1200 m. in style, clocking on both occasions a time just a micro-second off Oasis Star’s track record. First he beat Portrush — a rare Razeen sprinter — by half a length and then spared an identical distance to Sea Ruler with Portrush less than a length away in third with Dartagnan (by Placerville) not far away. That’s solid, consistent form and the bookmakers seem to think so, too, for Forest Flair is the favourite at 16/10 with Sea Ruler next in demand at 5/2 and Dartagnan at 5s. (Portrush, a seven year-old, is at much longer odds). Sprint Star (5/1) hasn’t essayed a sprint distance since his maiden win almost a year ago while Palazzio’s Son (5/1), second to Oasis Star by a length and a half in last year’s Sprinters’ Cup, returns to action after that race late in October.
The Stayers’ Cup has exactly half the field — 7 runners — and is noticeably short on quality. Maseeha (by Demons Begone horse Flitch) has won both his previous starts, the last one — over 2800 m. — on objection. Classerville is winless for over a year but has some decent efforts in Classics including a second to Arabian Prince in the Golconda Derby while Conceptual is a winner of the Bangalore St. Leger as well the Golconda St. Leger. The bookmakers have Masseha as the 2/1 favourite with the other two named at 4s.
Dancing Dynamite (by Glory of Dancer) defends his title in the Maj. P.K. Mehra Memorial Super Mile on Sunday. He won this race last October in Hyderabad by half a length beating his paternal half-brother Juventus who is among the dozen runners declared to start. Dancing Dynamite won his lead-up race — also over a mile — stylishly last month from Diego Rivera, another participants here. Diego Rivera, to be ridden by Kieran Fallon, was a star miler in his time; at 7, his prowess is on the wane. Sea Ruler and Sprint Star, both better milers than sprinters, will take their chance here after having run the Sprinters’ Cup on Saturday. If none the worse for their previous day’s exertions, they compete with a fair chance. Aboline is not the horse he was during the Bangalore Summer season while Mr. Greedy is not quite classy enough even if he is very consistent. This is a very open race.
The nine runners for the Invitation Cup include four Derby winners — Jacqueline (Indian Derby), Becket (Bangalore Derby), Bruckner (Calcutta Derby) and Arabian Prince (Golconda Derby). Of the remaining five, three are classic winners — Sparks (Deccan Derby), Fleet Indian (Mysore Derby), Systematic (Bangalore Oaks). Native Knight is still a maiden though he has placed in the Pune Derby, Indian 2000 Guineas and the Indian Derby while Change of Luck, rather lucky to be running in so exalted a company, essays the distance for the first time.
The betting is certain to be confined to Jacqueline and Becket. For some time after the Indian Derby, it was being bruted that the filly would opt out here and be fresh for the Indian St. Leger so as to complete an unprecedented clean sweep of the Indian classics. Her narrow margin of victory in the Indian Derby gives the connections of Becket a reason to hope. However, a good many knowledgeable observers felt that had Richard Hughes not attempted to make his run on the inside of Becket, he would have won far more convincingly. In the four classics so far, Jacqueline has always come from off the pace and neither Astral Flash in the Indian 1000 Guineas and Indian Oaks, Sea Ruler in Indian 2000 Guineas nor Becket in the Indian Derby had an answer to that late surge. Becket’s trainer Padmanabhan is an astute tactician. He is still to win the Indian Derby but both his Invitation Cup winners — Running Flame in 1999 and Zurbaran in 2003 — had turned the tables on horses which had finished ahead of them in the Indian Derby. What new stratagem can he adopt ? Suraj Narredu, probably the best Indian jockey at the moment, replaces Martin Dwyer on Becket. The change of riders, it is learnt, is at the behest of the owner. Jacqueline, of course, will have Richard Hughes — previous Invitation Cups with Running Flame (1999) and Smart Chieftan (2000) — aboard. He and Jacqueline, trained by Pesi Shroff, appear to be in perfect sync and unless the filly has gone off the boil, I expect her to confirm her superiority over the colt with a longer margin of victory.
Trainer Padmanabhan has likely runners in all the four big races while Richard Hughes has several fancied mounts over the week-end. They will have their moments but Pesi Shroff will probably steal the thunder!