By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
(Ed. note: link to video of race below. Grades of races listed for informational purposes only. All Indian graded races qualify as Listed black type internationally.)
Desert God (Burden of Proof – Running Flame) beat the filly Myrtlewood (Multidimensional – Adamile) by half a length to win the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby, Gr.1 in a thrilling finish Sunday at Mahalaxmi with Gestapo (Mastercraftsman – Dajolie) third a length and a half away and Phoenix Tiger (Phoenix Tower – Togresse Noir) fourth a shade over a length farther behind. The time of 2.29.36 was the fifth fastest for the 2400m race. The winner was bred by S. Padmanabhan’s Radiant Bloodsock. Padmanabhan, who also saddled the dark chestnut colt, and his wife Sharmila also own Desert God in partnership with Col. Swapan Bhadra. Padmanabhan had saddled his first winner of the Blue Riband of the Indian Turf four years ago, after a series of disappointments, through that wonderful filly In The Spotlight. For jockey David Allan, too, it was the second Indian Derby, his first being atop the filly Moonlight Romance trained by C.D. Katrak in 2011. For Kunigal Stud, where Desert God was bred, it was the fourth, the last having come way back in 1974 with Topmost.
Twenty runners including three fillies made it the largest field for this race since 1948. Desert God — winner of the Calcutta Derby on his last start and the Deccan Derby at Hyderabad earlier in the monsoons — and Myrtlewood — the favorite following her scintillating wins in the Indian 1000 Guineas and Oaks — were drawn in adjacent stalls in the middle of the line-up. After they had sorted themselves out, Columbiana, the winner of the Ruia Cup, the principal lead-up race for the Derby, took them along the backstretch. Desert God moved to the rails to take a vantage position while Myrtlewood dropped back after a good start. Columbiana kept up the gallop until well into the straight, only to be challenged by Phoenix Tiger. Desert God looked in trouble with nowhere to go just behind them. P.S. Chouhan produced Myrtlewood on the outside as is his wont and the filly came up with a good run but the sea parted just in time for the colt and he always held the advantage as the two raced for the line. Myrtlewood perhaps lacked her usual dazzling finishing speed and that could be due to the fact that she was tackling a tougher lot here and had won the Oaks over course and distance just a fortnight back. She did, though, clock a faster time today as compared to the Oaks. On the other hand, if Desert God had found the opening earlier, he may have won more comfortably. With the Indian 2000 Guineas, Gr.1 winner Phoenix Tiger only fourth, Padmanabhan’s ward put it across all the earlier Indian Classic winners of the year and was a most deserving winner.
The Fairy King horse Burden of Proof has been a splendid servant for Dr. Vijay Mallya’s Kunigal Stud and Desert God, conceived when the stallion was 19, gave him his first Indian Derby winner. He is now 24, in good nick and raring to go for the coming covering season. Desert God’s dam, the Steinbeck mare Running Flame, was bred at Usha Stud. She was also owned by the Paadmanabhans and was undoubtedly a very talented filly, certainly the best of her crop. She won the Indian Oaks, Gr.1 in 1999 but was beaten in the Indian Derby of that year which, remarkably enough, was also run on Feb. 7. So exactly 17 years on, her son made up for his dam’s failure. Running Flame was sent to the U.S.A. by Padmanabhan, perhaps after she was well past her best, and the mare raced on the West Coast. She never ran a very bad race, running in Graded races, but she failed to place. She was covered by Silver Hawk and moved to England where she remained for a few years before returning to India at the age of 14 in foal to Choisir. (Her foals abroad were not of much account). The Choisir foal was called Borsalino and he won the monsoon Derbies at Bangalore and Hyderabad for the Padmanabhans. Then came a full-sister to Desert God who won the Oaks at Hyderabad, followed by a full-brother, Torch Bearer. Borsalino and Torch Bearer ran in the Indian Derby in their years without excelling. Running Flame’s third dam is Nalee and that name would be well known to racing and breeding enthusiasts in America. Desert God, like so many horses these days, has Northern Dancer in each quadrille of his pedigree.
Click here to see the video.