By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Laying last at the half-way stage of the Indian 1000 Guineas, Gr.1, Sunday, jockey B. Prakash on Alma Mater (Royal Kingdom – La Pieta) improved spectacularly — travelling widest of all — to be in the hailing distance of the leaders at the 400-meter marker and then rode a power-packed finish to steer the filly to a thrilling victory over Botswana (running in the Jacqueline colours of the Shirkes), Black Magic Woman and the Nanoli Stud Pune Derby, Gr.1, winner Hills and Stars. The verdict was three-parts of a length, a neck and a short-head. The mile chute at Mumbai’s Mahalakshmi Racecourse was used for the first time since the racing returned to India’s commercial and entertainment capital last month after the monsoon break. The time of 1.37.62 was fair considering the freshness of the first 600 metres.
Alma Mater was one of the four fillies saddled by trainer Pesi Shroff, and they included the second-placed Botswana and the favourite Smashing (a daughter of Holy Roman Emperor imported ‘in-utero’) owned by Dr. Vijay Mallya. There were three unbeaten fillies in the fifteen-strong field — Alma Mater, Smashing and the China Visit’s daughter Vittoria — none of whom had raced in black-type company before today while several other fillies were yet to show that they could tackle the mile of the race. That made it an open and intriguing contest and provided an exciting finish.
B. Prakash was winning his tenth Indian classic while for Shroff it was his eighth. Alma Mater is owned Mr. Shyam Ruia, his son Amay Ruia, Pradeep Kumar Singhania and Suhrud Jhaveri. Mr. Shyam Ruia is a long-serving committee member and steward of Royal Western India Turf Club, Ltd., and has previously owned three other winners of this race. He was a part-owner in Venus de Milo (1968) who ran in the colours of his mentor Mr. R.J. Sigtia, owner of the Irish Derby and St. Leger winner Sodium, while Vox Populi (1978), a daughter of Venus de Milo, and Au Panache (1987) ran in his all-blue silks. He bred Vox Populi at the Yeravada Stud. Better fancied than Alma Mater in today’s race was Mr. Ruia’s other Royal Kingdom filly St. Catz. He must have wondered whether the fates were conspiring against him when Alma Mater was drawn 14 and St. Catz 15 !
La Pieta, the dam of Alma Mater, was purchased by Mr. Ruia at Goff’s Sale in November 2006 for 28,000 euros. This was the sale at which he bought Sayuri in-foal to Kingsalsa. That foal — Ocean and Beyond — won last year’s Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1, but had the mortification of being disqualified when his post-race samples were returned positive for a banned substance. To return to La Pieta, though she had been marked for him as “best in the catalogue”, Mr. Ruia had some reservations when he inspected her, for the daughter of Spectrum was slightly dip-backed. However, keeping faith in the advice he had been given, he did buy her but in partnership with Mr. Padmanabh Ruia, who owns the Southern Paradise Stud & Develeopers Farms, on a foal-sharing arrangement.
That “best in the catalogue” had a proviso — best in the catalogue for Royal Kingdom, the resident stallion at Equus Stud. La Pieta came in foal to Namid and that foal — now a 4YO — has shown some useful form over shorter distances for Mr. Padmanabh Ruia. Alma Mater is the first foal by Royal Kingdom, who is beset with fertitlity problems. The year Alma Mater was born, La Pieta was covered by the Deposit Ticket horse Black Cash. A colt resulted who has been named Hawk of the Wind and he was promising third on his debut as 2YO earlier today. Last year, La Pieta was barren after coverings by both Royal Kingdom and Black Cash and was moved out for a covering by the Epsom Derby winner Oath, like Royal Kingdom a son of Fairy King. She died shortly afterwards.
Those who have faith in “kinbreeding” or “cluster breeding” can readily see why La Pieta was an ideal mate for Royal Kingdom. The mating brings together full-sisters Special and Lisadell, Blushing Groom and his half-sister Allicance as well as Bold Reason and his half-brother Never Bend, all within the first six generations.