MUMBAI–The filly Moonlight Romance (China Visit – Wandering Star by Razeen) gallantly held off all challengers to win the McDowell Signature Indian Derby, Gr.1, at Mahalakshmi today and in doing so provided her owners—Mr. Rakesh Wadhwan and his partners—her trainer Cooji Katrak, jockey David Allan and the stallion China Visit with their first taste of success in the Blue Riband of Indian racing. A gutsy, lionhearted performance saw her beat the favourite Ocean and Beyond by a length and a quarter with another China Visit filly, Xisca, half a length behind in third and just a neck in front of Macchupicchu. It was also the first Indian Derby win for Razeen as a broodmare sire. The veteran Usha Stud stalwart has already sired four Indian Derby winners himself; now a daughter of his has started the ball rolling.
Mr. Rakesh Kumar Wadhwan is a new entrant to the ranks of owners. He owns the Housing Developement & infrastructure Limited, a construction and real estate company, and he has invested heavily in bloodstock over the last five years or so. Perhaps the biggest owner in India now, he did not taste classic success immediately. That has come to him in a flood this year as he has not only won three of the four Indian classics through Moonlight Romance and Ocean and Beyond but had 1-2 here.
Moonlight Romance was beaten a length in the Indian 1000 Guineas by Dr. Vijay Mallya’s Siachen over a mile. The
mile and a half of the Oaks and the Derby have brought her into her own and she becomes the tenth filly to notch the double. The daughter of China Visit was given only light work between her last two races and she was fresh enough to clock a time of 2.28.67, improving on her Oaks time and being just 0.14 of a second outside the record set by Jacqueline. (Jacqueline, incidentally, is now in USA carrying a foal by the Shareef Dancer horse Glory of Dancer who has sired two winners of the Indian Derby).
Moonlight Romance’s brother-in-blood Ocean Admiral went to the front only to be overtaken by Battista. Battista went wide coming into the second last bend so Ocean Admiral once again found himself in the front. He brought the field into the straight and was soon challenged and passed by Sunlight. Sunlight’s moment of glory at the helm of affairs was short lived. Macchupicchu, another Usha-bred, soon put his head ahead and while the two were fighting it out, David Allan moved up on the winner. The tussle was momentary and as Moonlight Romance surged into the lead, Richard Hughes came along on Ocean and Beyond. Try hard as he did, Hughes could never come upsides of the filly. However, he held on tenaciously to the runner-up berth from Xisca who finished on well. Ocean and Beyond and Macchupicchu reproduced their R.R.Ruia Gold Trophy to almost a pound so one has to aver that it was a truly run race and the winner, having got the first run on the runner-up, just stayed on a bit better and doggedly. For the record, Ocean and Beyond was the favourite at 14/10 on. Moonlight Romance had eased from the overnight 5/2 to 17/4 as money came in for Xisca (11/2) from those wanting to oppose the favourite.
Cooji Katrak started training from 1979 Pune season onwards so he has been at it for some time. Twice the champion trainer at Mumbai, he had sent out ten winners of Indian classics before Moonlight Romance and won each of the Indian classics bar the Indian Derby. By rights, he should have trained one before today. The 2006 Indian Derby winner Velvet Rope was in his yard but saddled in the big race by Vinayak because Katrak was suspended.
David Allan, who rides mostly in the north of England for Tim Easterby, was first brought to India by trainer S. Padmanabhan. Of late, he has been seen on some runners from Katrak’s stable. During the presentation ceremony, he was asked what his thoughts were when Richard Hughes picked Ocean and Beyond. “I was hoping fervently that the ride on Moonlight Romance would come to me. She is a brave filly.” The ride did go to him and he rode a flawless race.
After having won its eleventh Indian Derby with Southern Regent in 2005, Usha Stud seemed stuck with that number. The round dozen to its credit now places it three ahead of Manjri Stud and that is a handy lead to take forward. With 1-3-5 (Sunlight) in the race, China Visit has come to the party in style. These are early days but he is well poised to become the champion sire this year. A lacklustre beginning to his stud career meant that he was given only 20 mares to cover over the last two years and there was some talk of his being gifted to the Indian Army. Those thoughts will now be surely put away. Razeen, by far and away the most prolific classic sire ever in India, has been excelling through his daughters having been the champion broodmare sire in three of the last four years. He is now in the twilight of his illustrious career at Usha Stud. Wandering Star, the dam of Moonlight Romance, was put down in 2008 but her full-sister Fond Fantasy is still very much there. No doubt, Moonlight Romance will join her eventually because Usha Stud generally leases fillies for racing only.
The consolation for Richard Hughes is that he is not the first—and certainly won’t be the last—jockey to err in his choice. Pesi Shroff, who had a treble on the day, will find no consolation in having saddled the third and the fourth home. Come the first Sunday in March, the principals will be all there again as Moonlight Romance attempts to succeed where Jaqueline faltered last year in the Invitation Cup.9.There were packed crowds at Mahalakshmi, the usual glam and the glitz and the brouhaha associated with the Derby. What matters most is that there was a thrilling race with no hard luck stories.
The video of the race is below, without audio.
[Scroll down a post to see preview of Indian Derby.]