It was always going to be a duel between the 4 front line contenders and that’s exactly how it turned out.
Looking at them in the paddock, three of the four, Desert God, Myrtlewood and Phoenix Tiger stood out from the rest and due credit must be given to their respective trainers. It takes patience and hard work and months of preparation to get a horse to peak on the first Sunday of February for the biggest race of the year.
I was surprised with the tactics of the Ruia Cup winner, Colombiana who darted off to the front under champion Irish jockey Pat Smullen along with one of the pacemakers. Expectedly, he ran out of gas with a couple of furlongs to go. He will live to fight another day.
What also surprised me was how Costa Del Sol was ridden by James Doyle. Whether those were the instructions or not I do not know. What I do know is that the leading juvenile from last year had won most of his races being switched off for the early part of the race. In fact, on many of his previous runs he was put to sleep so soundly by P Trevor, that he had to be niggled a couple of times to just wake up and get into cruise control. The fact that he was shown so much daylight down the back straight and made his move at the top of the long Mumbai straight surely cost him a place or two. He was badly checked by Phoenix Tiger after which he was eased up.
The Colts Trial and Guineas winner Phoenix Tiger looked the part. He has obviously inherited his toughness and his never say die attitude from his mother. He came into the straight with Colm O’ Donoghue looking confident. Colm cannily tried to keep Desert God hemmed in, and fought hard for a furlong or so before Phoenix Tiger stared tiring. I didn’t think he would stay, and he didn’t, but he did battle hard. A brilliant miler who should have won the Ruia, but this was a step too far.
Gestapo was the surprise package. He seems to be a horse who is improving and will be a very nice horse to follow in Pune where the ground will ride easy. He was swept of his feet in the early part before rallying to beat Colombiana, Costa Del Sol and Phoenix Tiger. A nice enough run and he should pick up a graded race in Pune. He could be a Leger horse, who knows. His sire has already sired a Leger winner in the U.K., Kingston Hill.
Now coming to Myrtlewood. How well she was turned out. After a bit of early jostling round the Hornby Vellard turn, PS Chouhan found himself mid bunch and settled nicely down the back straight, which suited his filly. Myrtlewood swung wide round the turn, as she had done in the Guineas and the Oaks and came to join the front runners hands and heels.However, it seems that she utilized her electrifying turn of foot from the top of the bend to the 1f marker. She hung in violently thereafter having every chance and it’s possible that the effect of a long season including a brilliant Oaks win a couple of weeks ago took its toll on her. She is a champion and Pesi Shroff has once again reinforced the fact that he is a master with Classic fillies. (He has still not won a Classic with a colt at Mahalaxmi despite winning scores of Graded races with them. I am sure that day is round the corner.)
And the victor Desert God. His owner, trainer and breeder, S Padmanabhan is shrewd cookie. Desert God burst on the scene with a late finishing second to Angel Dust in the Bangalore Summer Derby post which he won the Hyderabad Guineas from Colombiana before hacking up in the Hyderabad Derby over 10f. Paddy then got a little greedy and gave Desert God just a two week break before running the Mysore Derby where he finished third in a blanket finish to Mogadishu. That was clearly an under par, tired performance. In between those two races, Paddy himself was enjoying himself at Longchamp watching Golden Horn and Dettori win the Arc.
Desert God was then sent to Kolkata where he made mincemeat of his opposition in both the Guineas and the Derby. The Derby win was significant as he won relatively easily at his first attempt over 1m4f. In the last two years the Kolkata Derby has suddenly become a significant pointer to Graded races in Western India. Quasar won the Kolkata Derby last year before becoming the highest stakes earner in the history of Indian racing.
Post the Kolkata Derby, and I think this is significant, Desert God was taken back home to Bangalore to freshen up. He was then brought to Mumbai two weeks ago for the big one and had worked exceedingly well.
David Allan proved that big race experience at Mahalaxmi is crucial when you are on a fancied Derby mount. He won the Derby on the gutsy Moonlight Romance a few years ago. From the moment the gates opened Allan maneuvered Desert God into a box position. He was double handful turning into the straight and it looked like all he needed was the gaps to open. As soon as he got one, he shot past the front runners before warding off Myrtlewood with a power packed ride. A perfectly ridden race and kudos to the jockey.
Desert God’s dam, Running Flame was herself a prolific group winner at Mahalaxmi but didn’t throw anything of significance when she was sent abroad. Back in India, she has been phenomenal having already thrown Borsalino, Torch Bearer and Sur La Tete before this champion. Due credit must be given to Kunigal Stud farm and their sire, Burden of Proof.
What is pertinent to note is that the timing of the Derby was not very fast even though it looked pretty hot. To put things in perspective, Be Safe won his Derby in a canter and clocked nearly two seconds faster. Even Alaindair’s time the year before was over a second faster.
Will this crop give India’s champion colt Quasar or Be Safe something to think about next month in the Invitation Cup? It’s hard to tell. It all depends on how they train on and more importantly how comfortable their journey to Chennai is. All I know is that it will be a race to savour.