The Gr 1 Indian Derby will be run on Sunday, February 5 with all the attendant glamour and glitz. Trainer Pesi Shroff will be there to extract his Kings Ransom by attempting to win the most coveted event in Indian racing for the third time in a row. He is taking no chances and he is also coming with supernatural powers to extract a King`s Ransom!
The Indian Derby has an aura of its own which has not diminished with the passage of time. Sponsor or no sponsor, the Managing Committee of Royal Western India Turf Club is leaving no stone unturned to make the event as spectacular as possible promising an evening of ``drinks, food, music`` and exciting action on the race track. The day`s racing will start in the afternoon with a couple of races being scheduled to be run under lights, with the party continuing for the guests late into the night.
The Indian Derby is a social event as much as a racing event which is why Derby Day will see many who would be coming for the first time to a race course. The Derby is the most talked about event of racing and one hopes that the build-up that the RWITC has been giving to the event will result in overflowing attendance. The presence of large gatherings inspires the gladiators to bring out their best.
The Indian Derby has a knack for giving a body blow to well-planned strategies. Since the Indian Derby comes after a host of regional Derbys run all over the country, the form of the horses is crystal clear. It is the best-performed horse which generally wins but since the difference in performance ability of the contestants is not significantly big, surprises are par for this race. Just as we have seen spectacular performances of horses like In The Spotlight, War Hammer and Jacqueline, equally dramatic have been the defeats of horses like Southern Empire and Mystical who otherwise were without argument the best of their age. It is a question of the horses being right on D-Day apart from perfect execution by the jockeys. Of course, the best will almost always find its way to glory notwithstanding the presence of disruptors and spoilers.
This year will see a big field of 19 runners contesting for the spoils. The owners deem it a privilege to have a runner in this race even if the horse has very little chance of winning. They take pride in having an entry in the Derby which is why one can always see a higher number of entries for the Indian Derby. The form is clear cut and there is no scope for a horse which has not established its credentials to make a mark in this race but that is not something that doesn`t always influence those owners who want to be seen in the paddock on the big day.
It is also possible that many of the trainers who have entered their horses feel that Kings Ransom is vulnerable and Supernatural, the other Derby winner in the fray has issues. As such, they reckon that it is an open Derby. Usha Stud Farm bred horses dominate the line-up with as many as 11 runners in the fray. Some sort of a record indeed. Barring Imperial Power who could be having an exaggerated rating of 100, the others are almost identically rated, with Supernatural rated at 88 and King`s Ransom, the possible Derby favourite, at 76.
Pesi Shroff trained King`s Ransom has ticked all the boxes to go into the race as the most fancied runner. One does not know why the owners named the filly as King`s Ransom. Possibly they paid a ransom to buy the horse but the filly has definitely returned the ransom besides the satisfaction of winning the major races. The daughter of Multidimensional who came into her own by the Pune racing season has matured as a top-class performer. She won the Pune Derby despite running after a long layoff and followed it up by winning the Indian 1000 Guineas and the Indian Oaks. The three-week gap between the Oaks and the Derby should aid her cause. For a long time, it was felt that the two-week gap went against the fillies but with the three-week gap being a settled issue, there should be no complaint forthcoming on that score. King`s Ransom has no issue in staying the gruelling trip and has given every satisfaction in her progress towards reaching the summit.
Jockey Pradeep Chouhan who missed a possible winning ride in the last two years gets an excellent chance of adding the Indian Derby to his illustrious list of achievements. The veteran has come very close to winning the Indian Derby but has been frustrated in the end. People who covet glory and work towards it are ultimately bound to succeed. It could well be Chouhan`s chance to win the big race that has eluded him all these years.
Pesi Shroff also has a formidable runner in Supernatural who won the Bangalore Derby. He has had a tiebreak operation and hasn`t won a race since July but has been consistently hitting the board. Stamina is his forte and it is possible that the Derby trip of a mile and the half trip could help him produce the best. He is not short on ability. He can emulate his full sister Immortality who won this event two years ago. The only question mark is whether the operation has blunted his effectiveness.
James McKeown trained Once You Go Black is a formidable challenger. The progeny of Win Legend hasn`t had things his way. He played up at the gates and was withdrawn from the fray by the veterinarian without following due diligence in the Bangalore Derby. Since then, he has gone on to win the Mysore Derby in a thrilling fashion. He had to miss the Indian 2000 Guineas as he was running a fever. He ran a fair race in the 2000 metres Ramniwas Ruia Trophy. He has been working well and if he is at his best, he could even extract his ransom.
Adhiraj Jodha trained Dangerous has been running consistently but has been unable to put it across Kings Ransom after her success against the champion on two occasions. However, there is no denying her class and ability to tackle the longer distance given her credentials. On her day, Dangerous could very well live up to her name.
Arjun Mangalorkar trained Mirra won the Bangalore Oaks beating La Reina in a close finish. The latter went on to win the Bangalore Winter Derby in tremendous fashion, flanking the form of Mirra. The trainer has great hopes for the filly and it is possible that she is peaking at the right time. Arjun has had a glorious season, winning four classics through Salento at Hyderabad and he could well get the biggest of them all through Mirra.
South India Derby winner Dyf and runner-up Shamrock are both in the fray. Dyf failed to get the better of Salento in the Golconda Derby last week and will be back in action in this high-profile race within a short span. It is difficult to expect him to show dramatic improvement and emerge on top of the heap. Suraj Narredu believes that Shamrock can get the gruelling trip and though the form of the South India Derby fell flat with the tame defeat of Dyf, the connections believe that one could expect a bigger performance from the colt from Satish Narredu`s yard who has reportedly improved after his run at Chennai.
A M Jadhav trained Mojito has not lived up to the high expectations after his exploits in Bangalore during the summer season where he won the Gr 1 Colts Championship Stakes and was an impressive third in the Bangalore Derby. He has ability but it is difficult to understand why he has not been able to hit sublime form.
Padmanabhan has brought Philosophy to race in the Derby. Philosophy won the Gr 1 Fillies Championship Stakes during the summer but since then has found the going tough due to a setback. She ran several lengths behind the battling duo of Mirra and La Reina in the Bangalore Oaks.
Winner of Mysore 2000 Guineas, Parvati Byramji trained Ravishing Form is also an interesting contender. He was thrown at the deep end in a terms race where seasoned older horses were in the fray and lost over a mile. He has been given a long rest and entered to have a go against the best horses of India.
Neil Devaney trained Last Wish who ran a game second in the Bangalore Derby behind La Reina is also a final entry.
One has to wait and see whether the race will live up to the adage, the bigger the field, the bigger the certainty of the favourite. Punters surely would not want the Derby to turn out into an animated roulette!