The remarkable Indian filly Jacqueline, who in unprecedented fashion won the first four Indian classics at Mahalaxmi racecourse in Mumbai—the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, Oaks, and Derby—and was defeated a head in an important Indian Group 1 fixture at the same track Sunday, has exited that race with a joint injury and may be retired. Trained by Pesi Shroff, an ex-champion Indian jockey, Jacqueline is considered to be one of the best racehorses produced in India, along with last season’s champion filly Set Alight, also a Shroff trainee. According to sources in India, there’s talk that both Jacqueline and Set Alight may be sent to the US to be bred in 2011 2010, with Giant’s Causeway rumored to be a candidate for Set Alight.
Oasis Star, shown directly below winning the Indian Group 1 Dr. S.C. Jain Sprinters Championship at Mumbai on March 15, 2009, made her Dubai début at Meydan today a memorable one with a fine second-place finish to 2009 UAE 1000 Guineas winner So Shiny. The latter, an Argentine-bred daughter of Indygo Shiner now representing Saudi Arabia, was Group 1-placed in her native country before taking the Guineas at Nad Al Sheba last season. There were several international stakes winners in the race today, including Group 1 winners, so Oasis Star’s finish confirmed the Indian formbook — and my penchant for featuring the Indian classics in this space. Aside from Oasis Star, there have been several horses — interestingly, fillies — out of India lately that have demonstrated, in my opinion, high-class international form, notably the outstanding Set Alight, last season’s champion filly; and her heir apparent, the equally impressive Jacqueline, who attempts to make history Sunday. Jacqueline has won both Guineas and the Oaks and will go in the McDowell Signature Indian Derby at Mahalaxmi Sunday in an attempt to sweep all four classics for the first time in history.
A come-from-behind sprinter with tremendous acceleration, Oasis Star is a 6-year-old mare by US-raced Grade 1 winner Senure, a son of Nureyev, out of the unraced Lear Fan mare Gumbaru Etsu, and is widely considered the best sprinter seen in India. A winner of 14 races from 18 starts, she’d been scheduled to race in the US last year but quarantine issues scuttled the plans. Click here to read an earlier post about her. Note that she was racing today on a surface other than turf for the first time in her career. She is one of four Indian horses at Meydan for the carnival. The others are Antonios, last season’s conqueror of Set Alight in the Indian Derby; Yana; and Autonomy. (Yana, a mare, ran unplaced in the 6th race today at 1600 meters, a distance well short of the 2400 to 3000 meters that she needs.)
Below is the 1st race from Meydan today. Oasis Star is on the rail in 5th early, fans out on the turn for home, and finishes strong.
The year of 2009 will go down as one of the best for fillies, but not just because of Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and Goldikova. It was also the year of the intriguing Sea the Stars, who did just enough to win his races but nevertheless filled a resume with accomplishments that will be hard to duplicate. It was also a year that saw the rise of exceptional horses from places that aren’t routinely covered in the mainstream trades. The Top 10 here may not be the best 10 in the world, but they are some of the most intriguing. Also, each is an icon in its country.
1. Sea the Stars: First horse to win the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, and Arc in the same year. The latter race, particularly, was impressive because of the gear changes he exhibited to extricate himself from trouble. Never one to win by much, he gave the impression that we never really saw his best. That’s a scary thought. He was undefeated in 6 starts in 2009 — all Group 1 races — and was 8 for 9 overall. The Arc is below.
2. Zenyatta: The first filly or mare to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Like the undefeated Personal Ensign, who ended her 13 for 13 career in dramatic fashion at the Breeders’ Cup, Zenyatta had a fittingly similar cinematic send off. On the turn for home, neither filly appeared to have a chance to win, yet both staged improbable, legend-making finishes. Personal Ensign defeated the Derby heroine Winning Colors in the last stride, in the Distaff; Zenyatta, one better, defeated the winners of both the Derby and Belmont, in the Classic, with a stride or two to spare. The Classic, which ended her career at 14 for 14, is below.
3. Rachel Alexandra: She is the first filly winner of the Preakness since Nellie Morse in 1924. Rachel Alexandra, however, has already accomplished more than modern-day filly classic winners Rags to Riches (2007 Belmont Stakes), Winning Colors (1988 Kentucky Derby), and Genuine Risk (1980 Kentucky Derby), who together combined to win only one Grade 1 race after their classic successes. After the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra defeated 3-year-old males in the Grade 1 Haskell and older males in the Grade 1 Woodward and finished 2009 undefeated in 8 starts. The Preakness is below.
4. Overdose: He is the best horse out of Hungary since Kincsem went undefeated in 54 starts in the 19th century. This iconic Hungarian-based sprinter’s heralded 2009 itinerary included the top sprint stakes in the world, but he only made one start at local Kincsem Park in Budapest before chronic feet problems sidelined him for the rest of the year with a 12 for 12 record. The promise of his intriguing “win” in the 2008 Abbaye was never fulfilled in 2009, but his principal owner, Zoltan Mikoczy, made plenty of news by getting arrested and thrown in jail in Romania. Overdose, meanwhile, toured rehab facilities in France and Britain before returning to Hungary in a shroud of secrecy late in the year — while Mikoczy was still in jail. All’s well that ends well, though, because the owner is free now and the Hungarian hero, now healed, will be prepared for a 2010 campaign. The race from Kincsem this year, with Christophe Soumillon up, is below.
5. Goldikova: The two-time French-based Breeders’ Cup Mile winner has been called a better filly than two-time BC Mile winner and racing great Miesque, by Freddie Head, once the rider of Miesque and now the trainer of Goldikova. A winner of 10 of 15 starts, including 7 Group 1 races, Goldikova won the 2009 BC Mile in devastating fashion in 1:32.26 and stays in training in 2010 for a tilt at a threepeat and a unique place in history. Once under the shadow of contemporary Zarkava, the undefeated Arc winner who defeated her in the French Guineas, Goldikova has since swept everything in Europe at a mile. The 2009 BC Mile is below.
6. Vodka: She won the Japanese Derby at 3 in 2007 and became the first of her sex to do so in 64 years. In 2009, the 5-year-old mare won the Group 1 Japan Cup by a nose, and she may be kept in training for one last shot at a prize in Dubai in March. A Group 1 winner in Japan at 2,3,4, and 5, Vodka has more than $13 million in earnings and a record of 10 wins from 25 starts. The mare defeated a Japan Cup field that included King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner and dual Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Conduit and covered the 2400 meters in a rapid 2:22.40. The race is below (Vodka is the bay who withstands the late move of the white-faced chestnut, Oken Bruce Lee).
7. Set Alight: She is one of the best horses bred in India, period, with a record of 11 wins from 13 starts. Set Alight showed she was special from the moment she stepped on the racetrack and won her first 10 starts with ease. She entered the McDowell Signature Indian Derby at Mahalaxmi in Mumbai as the overwhelming favorite in April, only to lose the race in a shocker near the wire. Widely considered the victim of an overly confident ride in the 2400-meter race by Malesh Narredu, Set Alight prematurely hit the front with 600 meters to run after racing close to a taxing early pace and was gunned down late in the long Mahalaxmi straight by Antonios, a good colt. She lost her next start, too, which dented her reputation and put in doubt her ability to stay the Derby trip, but in what would be her last start — and too bad, because Dubai was in the plans before she hurt a tendon — she was once again sensational against males in the 2400-meter President of India Gold Cup in September, below.
8. Belle Watling: She won the “quadruple crown” Dec. 27 at Chile’s Club Hipico de Santiago, earned a US$500,000 bonus for the sweep, and is widely considered the best 3-year-old of either sex at the middle distances on turf in South America. A winner of 7 of 10 starts, Belle Watling has won the Chilean 1000 Guineas, the National Ricardo Lyon, and the El Ensayo — all Group 1 races; the latter is the most prestigious race for 3-year-olds in Chile. The filly covered the 2400 meters of the El Ensayo in 2:24.50, which is below.
9. Bambera: She has been hailed as one of the best in the history of the sport in Venezuela. A winner of 16 races from 18 starts, Bambera most recently won the $300,000 Internacional Clasico del Caribe in Puerto Rico from the top-class Mexican filly Vivian Record — both of them far superior to the other top Caribbean colts in a race that’s considered the Caribbean Derby. Before the 1800-meter Caribe, Bambera won the 2400-meter Simon Bolivar at La Rinconada — the most important race in Venezuela — by three lengths in 2:29 on dirt to become the leading money earner of all time in Venezuela. She’s now in Miami preparing for a US campaign in 2010. Below is the Simon Bolivar.
10. Age of Jape: This Polish-bred colt won the triple crown in the Czech Republic in 2009 in Prague at Velka Chuchle — the Guineas, Derby and St Leger — as well as the Derby and St. Leger in Slovakia, at Bratislava, for a tally of 5 classic races and a 10 for 11 record. He has not lost since finishing second on his debut at 2 in Poland. Age of Jape will stay in training in 2010 and will be targeted for international competition in the major centers. Below is the 2800-meter Czech St. Leger (Age of Jape is in the striped colors and breaks on the outside).
The Indian classics, run at Mumbai, follow the English pattern but are run much later so that they straddle the New Year. The two Guineas come in December and are contested by 3-year-olds. That crop turns 4 on 1st January and their focus then turns to the Indian Oaks (mid-January), the Indian Derby (first Sunday in February) and the Indian St. Leger (last week of March).
Last year, the outbreak of EI — and the subsequent restrictions on the movement of horses — had caused havoc with the established racing pattern. Racing commenced in Kolkata and Mumbai more than two months after the normal beginning in November. The Indian St. Leger could hence not be fitted in the truncated season and was pushed forward to Pune. There was talk that the Invitation Cup weekend (it was Mumbai’s turn to host it) would be scrapped all together. Fortunately, wiser counsels prevailed and it was shifted to Hyderabad and run late in October.
Antonios (Glory of Dancer – Twin Star by Portroe, a full-brother to Fappiano) had upset the unbeaten Set Alight in the Indian Derby. He duly won on reappearance in Pune, went down to the older Razeen filly Yana to whom he was giving weight and then ran away with the Indian St. Leger. Set Alight came out in Hyderabad and was surprised by Icebreaker whom she had beaten in the Indian 1000 Guineas and the Indian Derby. Perhaps, she was rusty for in her next start she won the Group 1 President of India Gold Cup in her customary, effortless style. Unfortunately, she broke down and did not line up at the Invitation Cup weekend.
Antonios was thus the clear favourite to win the Invitation Cup and looked like landing the odds when he took over the running. The Indian 2000 Guineas winner Autonomy (by Razeen), given an easy preparation in Pune, came like a train and despite the jockey losing an iron, pipped Antonios on the post. Razeen had a double when his daughter Yana, like Autonomy trained by Bezan Chenoy and running in the colours of Mr. Jaydev Mody, waltzed away with the Stayers Cup. In the Sprinters’ Cup, Oasis Star (by Senure, a Grade 1 United Nations Handicap-winning son of Nureyev) repeated her last year’s victory while Dancing Dynamite provided his sire, Shareef Dancer’s son Glory of Dancer, some compensation for losing out in the Invitation by annexing the Super Mile. Thus, all the four Group 1 events of the day went to sires from the Northern Dancer male line.
Last year, Set Alight went into the Indian Derby without having tasted a defeat. There is a good chance that we could have an unbeaten horse in this year’s renewal, too. There are three colts, all conceived abroad, who are being talked about to win the Indian 2000 Guineas later this month. Two of them — Versaki and Sea Ruler — are trained by Cooji Katrak, the handler of Oasis Star and last year’s Indian Oaks winner Riyasat. Versaki (Verglas – Ghassak) counts victories in the Group 1 Poonawalla Breeders’ Million — richest race in India for juveniles — and Group 1 Pune Derby among his many laurels. Sea Ruler (E Dubai – Cool Ashlee, a daughter of Mister Baileys who was second in the Mazarine Breeders’ Cup Stakes) has started less often than Versaki but has been quite impressive. The third, Becket (Hawk Wing – Boiling River, a Dayjur mare who placed in USA at 3), has faced the starter only twice. He is yet to get black-type but the eye-catching manner of his victories — a verdict of 18 lengths for two wins — has brought him into the contention.
There is also Aboline (by Burden of Proof out of Lear Fan’s Round Table Handicap-winning daughter Super Fan). He just about held on when winning the Group 1 Derby Bangalore in the summer and could find the extra two furlongs of the Indian Derby a wee bit too far. In any case, he starts off in Kolkata and would come down to Mumbai much later. Another very good colt is Cabriolet. Though he has been beaten by both Versaki and Sea Ruler, he has a pedigree to stay a mile and a half. He is by Glory of Dancer, sire of the last two Indian Derby winners, out of Highland Ghillie, an unraced Storm Trooper (Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Handicap winner) full-sister to Artois (Pune Derby) and half-sister to Group 1 Indian Turf Invitation Cup winner Zurbaran.
The star of the 2009 Indian racing season was Dr. Vijay Mallya’s outstanding filly Set Alight, who took an unbeaten record into the Indian Derby at Mumbai and was shockingly defeated. A filly with international stakes form, Set Alight was retired recently after a tendon injury scuttled plans for an international campaign that would have begun in Dubai this winter. Major Srinivas Nargolkar, the former keeper of the Indian Stud Book and a contributor to this blog on the Indian racing scene, will preview in this space tomorrow the Indian classics at Mumbai — the country’s primary classics — which begin this month.
Major Nargolkar reports that there are three unbeaten and foreign-conceived colts by Verglas, E Dubai, and Hawk Wing that appear to tower over the competition for the Guineas. Read about it tomorrow.
Note: Major Nargolkar has this to say about matings plans for Set Alight: “Set Alight is being retired to stud and for a while Kunigal Stud [owned by Dr. Mallya] entertained thoughts of sending her abroad to be covered by a top stallion. I put Mr. Mallya’s racing Manager, Zeyn Mirza, onto eMatings, and he did consult Jack Werk, Dr. [Steven] Roman and [Rommy] Faversham. However, in the end, it was considered too ambitious a project so Set Alight stays in India and will be covered by [Kunigal resident] Burden of Proof who is going from strength to strength.”
One of the best racehorses seen in India in recent times, Dr. Vijay Mallya’s Set Alight, has been scratched from a major event Sunday with a nagging tendon injury and may be retired to stud, Indiarace.com reported. The daughter of Razeen from Set Aside, by Steinbeck, won 11 of 13 starts, including her first 10 in a row. She lost her first race in the Indian Derby after looking a winner a long ways out, and after a freshening lost again. She ended her career on a winning note by taking the President of India Gold Cup by 7 lengths on Sept. 13.