MUMBAI—Ten fillies will face the starter on Sunday at the Mahalakshmi Racecourse, Mumbai, for the first of this year’s classics, the 1000 Guineas. At this point of time last year, neither Jacqueline nor Becket had looked like superstars in the making and there doesn’t appear to be one in this year’s crop. However, all that changes very quickly. Two years ago, Set Alight’s halo faded as the summer drew to a close while last year Jacqueline and Becket acquired one.
In all probability, the China Visit filly Moonlght Romance, to be ridden by Suraj Narredu, will go into the race as the favourite. A winner of four of her six starts and twice second, the Rakesh Wadhwan-owned filly, trained by Cooji Katrak, won the Derby Bangalore in the summer. That race is one of the best pointers to the winter classics. Set Alight had won it in her year while Jacqueline had run second. The only filly who has finished ahead of Moonlight Romance is Dr.Vijay Mallya’s homebred Siachen, a daughter of the Fairy King horse Burden of Proof. Siachen had the measure of Moonlight Romance in the Fillies’ Trial Stakes at Bangalore in the summer. The Wadhwan filly did encounter some traffic problems in running that day but Siachen was a worthy winner. Shin problems meant that Siachen missed the Derby Banglore which Moonlight Romance romped away with. Both the fillies were rested during the monsoon, have won their lead-up races recently—the Banglore 1000 Guineas in the case of Siachen—and are moving smartly in the morning trials. On form, there is little to choose between them. Dr. Mallya’s retained jockey Cris Hayes has the ride on Siachen.
The only unbeaten filly in the lineup is Blackjack, trained by Bezan Chenoy. She has had just two outings so far, both in Pune during the monsoon and both ‘Million’ races. She won them impressively and though she has no blacktype against her name, her beating—giving weight—of Ciel Indienne, a consistent performer in graded races, brings her into the picture. She will be making her seasonal appearance on Sunday and if the lack of a prep race doesn’t become a factor, she should be in the showdown. The England-based Brazilian, S.A. De Souza, has the mount on Blackjack.
Three fillies will carry the Jacqueline colours for Mr. Vijay Shirke,who will be represented by Eloise, Elizabeth and Serenity. The first two are by Glory of Dancer and the first named Eloise (B. Prakash up) is likely to be the one on which the hopes are pinned. Eloise had a victory over Ocean and Beyond in Pune but she has always finished behind Moonlight Romance.
The 2000 Guineas
Ocean and Beyond (Kingsalsa – Sayuri by Sadler’s Wells), an imported ‘in-utero’ gelding, should garner the most support on Sunday, 19th December, in the Indian 2000 Guineas. From five starts, he boasts of three wins and two seconds, a record somewhat similar to that of Moonlight Romance. If the filly has the Derby Bangalore to her credit, Ocean and Beyond has one in the Pune Derby to his. He was beaten by Beautiful Stranger in the Poonawalla Breeders’ Million last Mumbai season and on his seasonal debut in Pune in the S.A. Poonawalla Multi-Million by Eloise when he was obviously rusty. For one reason or another, he has not been able to have a race under his belt recently and like Blackjack tomorrow he will go straight into the classic.
If Moonlight Romance has to contend with a Bangalore challenger in Siachen, Ocean and Beyond will also face one in Immense. This Gaswar (by Shadeed) colt ran poorly in Moonlight Romance’s Derby Banglore but has since run up a hat-trick of wins that includes the Colts’ Trial Stakes at Hyderabad, the Mysore 2000 Guineas and a lung-opener during the current Bangalore season. His trainer Arjun Mangalorkar has set his sights high by aiming him at the Indian 2000 Guineas but as he beat Sun Kingdom—runner-up to Moonlight Romance in the Derby Bangalore—at Mysore, the confidence is backed by a respectable form line.
Beautiful Stranger’s two wins have come at Mahalakshmi. One last season when he won the Poonawalla Breeders’ Million—where Ocean and Beyond was second and Macchupicchu ran fourth—and the other this term over a sprint. He failed to give weight to Macchupicchu in the Juvenile Colts’ Championship at Mumbai and then twice ran jaded in Pune. He won his prep well and has been further sharpened with a mock race. A mile—the distance of the Indian 2000 Guineas—may be as far he wants to go but on last year’s form he is right there. Macchupicchu, despite having a mis-spelt name, has been consistent. He is by the Storm Cat horse Emerald Cat but was born at the Usha Stud. Another consistent performer has been Dr. Vijay Mallya’s Ciel Indienne who has had his number up on the board in Breeders’ Produce Stakes, Bangalore Colts’ Trial Stakes, F.D. Wadia Trophy and the S.A. Poonawalla Multi-Million. He actually won the F.D. Wadia Trophy on the track only to lose it in the stewards’ room on an objection. The one who benefitted from that objection was Su Chaliyo, another likely starter in the Indian 2000 Guineas. All three of them—Macchupicchu, Ciel Indienne and Su Chaliyo—go into the race having their last starts this season.
Champion Trainer Pesi Shroff has no outstanding runner for the first two Indian classics. He has depth in his yard and he has already cast his eyes elsewhere. The Razeen filly Alice Springs won the Calcutta Monsoon Derby and the Calcutta 1000 Guineas while China Visit’s daughter Xisca claimed the Deccan Derby at Hyderabad before slamming the field in the Calcutta 2000 Guineas. With further progress, one of them might return in time for the Indian Oaks. That only leaves Sun Kingdom, bred like Ocean and Beyond at the Equus Stud. Sun Kingdom won the Bangalore Colts’ Trial Stakes (beating Immense) and then finished behind Moonlight Romance in the Derby Bangalore. He runs in the Bangalore 2000 Guineas tomorrow as a red hot, half-money favourite.
The Guineas and a couple of other lead-up races will throw more light on the Indian Oaks—mid-January—and the Indian Derby on the first Sunday in February. The Indian Turf Invitation Cup, which comes a month after the Indian Derby, will again be run this year at Mumbai. This race is run in rotation at the five winter centres. It was the turn of the Madras Race Club to stage it in 2011. However, that Turf Authority has expressed its inability to do so.
All that is in the future. For the moment, the question which intrigues Indian racing fans is whether Moonlight Romance will avenge her earlier defeat at the hands of Siachen or will Dr. Mallya’s filly confirm her superiority ?