(The following report was filed from India by Major Srinivas Nargolkar, former Keeper of the Indian Stud Book. See the post below this one for a chart of the race and the video.)
After four consecutive classic victories, Jacqueline, the Darling of Mahalakshmi, finally met her match and was nailed a head on the post by Becket in the Vandrevala Foundation Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1. The two had fought out the finish of the McDowell Indian Derby, Gr.1, exactly a month ago and once again they dominated the closing stages of the race. In the Derby, it was Becket who was hunted down; today, the colt let the filly have the first run and reeled her in. When nine runners were despatched, Becket (in retrospect one would have to say on purpose) started about four lengths behind the field and remained there till they approached the final bend. Jacqueline on the other hand was this time, in a smaller field, ridden midfield as Native Knight set only a moderate gallop. As Richard Hughes sent her to the front just before the final furlong, Suraj Narredu alerted Becket who had moved up nicely to be poised to strike. In a trice, Becket was hot in pursuit; Hughes gave Jacqueline a couple of cracks to keep his advantage but the colt was full of running and Narredu had timed his challenge perfectly. Change of Luck finished third four and a half lengths behind with Native Knight fourth. The time of 2.32.09 was appreciably slower than in the Derby (2.28.54) although the track generally rides faster in March than a month earlier.
On the day, Becket was a worthy winner and the hat has to be doffed for trainer Padmanabhan’s astute tactical planning and for Suraj Narredu’s faultless execution of the plans. Padmanabhan is of course a shrewd old hand. The pressure on young Narredu would have been immense. Not only did he get the mount on the owner’s insistence but he had gone the weekend with no wins from seven rides, two of them on well backed favourites. Then, to ride so precise a race in the biggest race of the weekend speaks eloquently of his nerve, maturity and skill. His father Satish Narredu, who rode the 1998 Invitation Cup winner Forest Fantasy, can be justifiably proud of his son’s achievement. For the owners Mr. and Mrs. Haresh Mehta this was their first Invitation Cup. Holding Court, also owned by them, was taken to Arlington Park some years ago by Padmanabhan.
Becket and Jacqueline divided the entire assemblage at Mahalakshmi today except for one man — Mr. Sultan Singh of Sohna Stud. To him it mattered not who won for both were bred at his farm. Becket (Hawk Wing – Boiling River) is a handsome dark bay colt with a small star on his forehead and when he gets on the scale, the needle just crosses 500 kg. etching. His dam, the non-winning Dayjur mare inbred 3×3 to Mr. Prospector, was bought through Hugo Merry Bloodstock for 26,000 euros at Goff’s 2005 November Sale. Her own dam was a full-sister to Dowsing and half-sister to Fire The Groom. Becket, who is balanced inbred 3x4x4 to Mr Prospector, traces to Straitlace. Like Dorina, the ancestress of Stayers’ Cup winner Maseeha yesterday, Straitlace gained her blue-hen status at M. Edward Esmond’s Haras de Mortefontaine near Chantilly.
Jacqueline was gallant in defeat and this result in no way diminishes her standing. Only one filly — Revelation in 1985 — has recorded the Indian Derby-Invitation Cup double. In the ten Invitation Cups run at Mahalakshmi, only three colts — Red Rufus, Topmost and Exhilaration — can boast of the vaunted double while four fillies — Rocklie, Littleover, Supervite and Psychic Flame — have come to grief. Questions will inevitably asked as to why Richard Hughes abandoned the tried and tested recipe of coming from well off the pace or why Jacqueline’s bracket-mate, the Calcutta Derby winner Bruckner, did not go to the front — as he had in the Indian Derby — when the pace was so sedate. Postmortems don’t change the results. Still, Jacqueline has much to look forward to. She is certain to line up for the Indian St. Leger later this month in a bid to complete an unprecedented sweep of the Indian Classics.
The last time Jacqueline lost a race was when she failed by a short-head to catch Aboline in the Derby Bangalore way back in July. At that time, Aboline was clearly the best of the 2006 crop. The Mr. Deepak Khaitan-owned Aboline rested during the monsoons and his two runs at Kolkata this winter failed to enhance his standing. His win in the Calcutta 2000 Guineas was far from impressive and then he ran a stinker in the Calcutta Derby early in January. In the two months since then his young trainer Arjun Mangalorkar has obviously restored him to something like his best for he won a very competitive Maj P.K. Mehra Super Mile, Gr.1, in a resolute manner.
The Hyderabad runner Iapetus hit the front and made the running with the Dr. Vijay Mallya’s Aristos in the slipstream and Aboline third. The front runner did not cave in till well into the straight where Aboline on his inside and Aristos on his outside went ahead. Aboline wore Aristos down and seemed assured of a win when the Padmanabhan-trained favourite Dancing Dynamite — drawn 12 of 12 and having had to come wide round the field — unleashed his run. Christopher Alford kept Aboline — he went to the post at 12/1 — to his task to hold off Dancing Dynamite by a short-head with Aristos keeping on for third three-quarters of a length behind. It was a capital finish and the last horse was only about five lengths off the winner.
Aboline (Burden of Proof – Super Fan) was bred at Dr.Vijay Mallya’s Kunigal Stud near Bangalore. The Fairy King horse Burden of Proof is recognised as a frontline Classic sire in India but the nit-pickers contended that he had not produced a horse that had excelled at Gr.1 level at Mahalakshmi. That diatribe was effectively answered today. The Lear Fan mare Super Fan had won the Round Table Handicap, Gr.3, and placed 3rd in Secretariat Stakes, Gr.1., and her foals had just started racing — subsequently three of them earned the black-type — when Dr. Mallya purchased her at Keeneland in the late ’90s. He also raced with her earlier foals in India but they all tended to be bleeders which is why Aboline was not retained. The super miler is balanced inbred 5x5x6 to Hail To Reason but the most interesting part of his pedigree is the presence of two clusters– Thong and her full-brother Lt. Stevens as well as Princessnesian and her half-brother Boldnesian. Aboline is from the Aga Khan’s celebrated Mumtaz Mahal family.
The racing over the week-end was competitive and there were several close finishes. The week-end’s honours definitely go trainer S. Padmanabhan for having sent out the winners of the Invitation and Sprinters’ Cups and failing by just a short-head to complete a hat-trick with Dancing Dynamite in the Super Mile.