MUMBAI–A field of ten runners will face the Starter on Sunday for the 49th running of Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Gr.1, at the Mahalakshmi race course, Mumbai. The inaugural running in 1963 was also contested on this track. The race is this year being sponsored by Mr. Rakesh Kumar Wadhwan’s Housing Developement & Infrastructure Ltd. and the Wadhwan camp has four of the runners to try and ensure that the spoils remain in-house.
Less than two lengths covered the first four home—Moonlight Romance, Ocean and Beyond, Xisca and Macchupicchu, in that order—in the Indian Derby a month ago and all four will cross swords again on Sunday. The first two come from the Wadhwan camp, which has been boosted this time around by the Bangalore Derby winner Sun Kingdom while the pace-setting task has been allotted to Moon Star.
Apart from Sun Kingdom, the other outstation challengers are Business Tycoon, Balmoral Castle, Sunny’s Secret and Vijay Monarch. Sunny’s Secret was third, a length and a half behind Sun Kingdom, in the Bangalore Derby and the pair was split by Unleashed, whose undistinguished run in the Indian Derby tarnishes the form of the Bangalore race. Business Tycoon won the Golconda Derby at Hyderabad by a head from Balmoral Castle with Vijay Monarch fourth, less than two lengths behind the winner. Balmoral Castle had earlier won the Bangalore Oaks and she opted to miss the local Derby in favour of a tilt at the one in Hyderabad.
Business Tycoon, a son of Placerville, made his debut as a 4 year-old just three weeks before the Golconda Derby. Unbeaten in two starts, he obviously has plenty of scope to improve. Against that is the fact that no Hyderabad-based runner has won the Invitation Cup, so he has a mountain to climb to make history. He is the lone representative of Poonawalla Farms, who had the table of Invitation Cup winners and lead Usha Stud 12-9. Usha Stud, of course, tops the Indian Derby honours, leading Poonawalla Farms with a 12-8 score-line. With Moonlight Romance, Xisca and Macchupicchu, Usha Stud has a stronger hand and numbers on its side.
Balmoral Castle is a filly by Spartacus out of High Five, imported ‘in utero’ and is trained by S. Padmanabhan, the only trainer with a runner in this year’s renewal who has previous taste of success in the race. He sent out Running Flame to win the race in 1999 and followed up with Zurbaran four years later. Last year his Becket upset Pesi Shroff’s Jacqueline. Shroff, who rode seven Invitation Cup winners as a jockey and trained Jacqueline as well as Set Alight, is looking for his first as a trainer and will be hoping for Xisca or Macchupicchu to come good. Among the jockeys, B. Prakash, who rides Macchupicchu, has ridden three winners earlier and Richard Hughes has two to his credit.
Hughes chose to ride Ocean and Beyond in the Indian Derby in preference to Moonlight Romance and could only finish second. He has now switched his affection back to Moonlight Romance. The ride on Ocean and Beyond goes to Niall McCullagh, another Irishman. David Allan, who did everything right in steering Moonlight Romance to a victory in the Indian Derby, partners Balmoral Castle. Moonlight Romance beat Ocean and Beyond in the Indian Derby and Sun Kingdom earlier in the Derby Bangalore in last July by the identical margin of a length and a quarter. On both the occasions, she was less fancied than the runners-up. With Hughes back in the saddle, the China Visit filly is certain to start the favourite this time. Jilted by her jockey, Moonlight Romance will need to be in a forgiving mood on Sunday to justify the favouritism.
A section of opinion tends to run down the Invitation Cup, labelling it as a re-run of the Indian Derby. Indeed, it is. However, more often than not, the Indian Derby result does not hold good in the Invitation Cup. Of the 48 previous winners of the Indian Derby, eight did not run in the Invitation Cup. Only 17 of the 40 that did went on to register the double. The double has been harder to accomplish at Mahalakshmi with only three to count in the previous 11 runnings on the track, the last coming in 1989 with Exhilaration.
There are three other important races at Mahalakshmi over the week-end. On Saturday, Eloise, Forest Flair and Celestial Way head the betting market for the Sprinters’ Cup while Sunlight, Cabriolet, Arabian Prince and Autonomy dominate the exchanges for the Stayers’ Cup. The Super Mile on Sunday will see Siachen, Becket and Sprint Star among the fancied runners. All three races have drawn good fields and appear extremely competitive and it would be no surprise if one of them produces an upset.