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It's difficult to look beyond Ocean And Beyond - By Tom Krish

Posted on - 06 Feb 2011

 
It’s difficult to look beyond Ocean And Beyond
 
An encore in the cards for Richard Hughes
 
By Tom Krish
 
The winner’s share of the prize money for the 2011 Indian Derby is 1,30,83,000 Rupees. Pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that the first Indian Derby run in 1943 carried a 35,000-Rupee winner’s share. Yes, 35,000 Rupees in those days bought a lot but the 2011 prize is a quantum leap. The United Breweries, the company headed by Dr Vijay Mallya, has been sponsoring the Indian Derby weekend as long as one can remember. In a deal signed days ago, UB has agreed to provide 28 crores of rupees to the RWITC over five years making the Indian Derby the most lucrative sports event in India. The purse this year translates to about $280,000 and it is nowhere near the million-plus dollar-pound-euro deals that Kentucky-Epsom-French Derbies generate. Yet, the fact remains that Indian racing is headed in the right direction. The best stallions in the world are represented in India. The most skilled and the most reputed riders in the world come to India to ply their trade. With a commi
 tted sponsor like Dr Vijay Mallya and an indefatigable chairman like Vivek Jain, the Indian Derby at the RWITC is sure to grow in stature and prestige.
 
There are what I call Derby ‘beliefs.’ In England, in a tavern outside Epsom Downs a mysterious character writes the name of the (possible) winner of the Derby on a blackboard. In 2007, Archipenko was the blackboard pick and ran down the field with Mick Kinane. Authorized, an even money proposition in the morning, went as high as 13/10 at post time.
 
In India, fans tend to think that the Derby is rarely won by the best fancied horse and it is borne out by statistics. Favorites have won now and then. Jacqueline landed the spoils in 2010. The mighty Mystical in 2006, the solid-as-rock Southern Empire in 2007 and  the hard-to-stop Bourbon King in 2008 are recent examples of well-backed favorites failing in the Derby. From the fans’ perspective, the hardest pill to swallow was the defeat of the all-conquering Set Alight in 2009. The Derby was run in the searing April heat and Set Alight, always in the vanguard, had taken what looked like an insurmountable lead in the lane but was unable to sustain and  collared by the late-rushing Antonios who gave the amiable Silvestre de Sousa his most prized success on Indian soil. There was considerable recompense last year when Jacqueline, carrying the public purse, caught Becket in the waning yards. Will the run of the favorite continue in the 2011 Derby?
 
Handicapping is an exercise performed on the basis of known facts. If facts are the criteria, there are three contenders in the 2011 Derby who stand out. Heading that trio is Ocean And Beyond. The son of Kingsalsa has won the Derby in Pune, the Indian 2000 Guineas in December and the 2000-metre Ruia Gold Cup in mid-January. Richard Hughes, second in the English jockey standings in 2010 with 192 winners, will ride the S K Sunderji-trained four year-old gelding. Ocean And Beyond has not been winning by big margins but clearly knows how to do just enough to win races and keep the streak going. Never off the bridle in the Ruia Gold Cup, Ocean And Beyond was on cruise control. After considerable thought, jockey Hughes, has decided to go with Ocean And Beyond.
 
There are those pundits who express reservations about Ocean And Beyond’s staying prowess over the 2400-metre Derby trip. Ocean And Beyond’s decisive win in the Ruia Cup should allay these fears. Kingsalsa,  Ocean And Beyond’s sire, is a son of Kingmambo.  Kingmambo is by Mr Prospector and out of Miesque. On the mother’s side, Sayuri is a daughter of Saddler’s Wells who is by Northern Dancer. I do not think we need more supporting evidence.
 
Moonlight Romance, also from the Wadhwan camp, is a filly of extraordinary ability. She won the Bangalore Derby in the summer of 2010. She was beaten by Siachen in the Indian 1000 Guineas  However, in the Indian Oaks, Moonlight Romance, handled by the unflappable Richard Hughes, outpaced her opposition that included Siachen when it mattered. She clocked a smart time. David Allan, who is a major presence in courses north of England, has the riding assignment. Moonlight Romance is by China Visit who is fast making a name for himself as a stallion in India. Wandering Star is Moonlight Romance’s dam.
 
Xisca richly deserves to be put in the ‘shortlist’ category. The China Visit filly has been in irresistible form. Her string of wins consists of high profile races. Her romp in the Kolkata Derby on January 9, when ridden by the brilliant Stephen Pasquier, should get the Shroff trainee the stamp of approval. If there are boxes to be ticked, Xisca does not miss even one of them. Yes, Xisca has to find a lot to be par on Moonlight Romance. Another thing is that she has a mountain to climb to be placed on the same pedestal as Ocean And Beyond. Trained to the minute, Xisca is undoubtedly on an upward curve and the Derby ought to answer  any or all the questions about her. Stephen Pasquier, winning jockey aboard Rail Link in the 2006 Arc de Triomphe, is no stranger to winning big races. He won the French 1000 and English 1000 Guineas in 2010 (although thru a disqualification in both) with Special Duty. He won the 2007 Prince Of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot with Manduro. It is a coincidence that there is a Manduro in Saturday’s Hyderabad card. There is a Proviso  in the same Malakpet card and that is the name of a filly that Pasquier rode to success in France in 2007.
 
Batista and Camacho seem to lack the class and figure to be longshots and rightly so. Berlusconi has been spoken of in lofty terms and is yet to justify that promise. He is by Ikhtyar, an Unfuwain progeny, and his Ruia run kept the optimism alive.
 
Dear Henry comes from S S Shah’s barn. Trainer Shah, the doyen of the training establishment in Mumbai, saddled the 2008 and 2009 winners of the Indian Derby. Dear Henry seeks his third consecutive win and the Derby is a venture that should test his limits. A point of interest is that Dear Henry and Hotstepper, winner of the 2008 Derby, are full brothers. Owner Rattonsey has expressed confidence tempered by the toughness of the task at hand.
 
Macchupicchu, a son of Emerald Cat, fought a valiant battle in the Ruia Cup. He is coming to hand but by all known considerations, has so much to find that it is difficult to be unduly optimistic. B Prakash rides the Shroff pupil.
 
Ocean Admiral, the less known Ocean, is a stablemate of Ocean And Beyond. It is a question of trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
 
Unleashed won readily in January in handicap competition. Subsequently, the Warrashan colt trained by D Byramji, ran second to Sun Kingdom in the Bangalore Derby on January 26. Though he may be peaking, Unleashed will find himself in a different and tougher league in the Indian Derby.
 
It will not be easy to make a case for Scionic. Sunlight was the bridesmaid to Moonlight Romance in the Indian Oaks and is coming up right but she lacks the credentials to be rated a frontline contender.
 
There are some facts that need to be mentioned. Pesi Shroff has five runners in the 12-horse Derby field. He is an attempting an encore.

S K Sunderji has two horses including Ocean And Beyond, the odds on favorite. Cooji Katrak saddles Moonlight Romance and Sunlight. D Byranji, A Altamash and S S Shan have one runner each.
 
The Wadhwan group, the Dhunjibhoy-Shirke team, the Rattonseys and Deepak Khaitan are represented. Dr Mallya’s colors will be carried by Camacho. Dr Nevill R Deviallwalla is represented by Scionic.
 
Who is conspicuous by his absence? The answer is Dr MAM. The South Indian turf baron does not have a runner in the India Derby. Is it a case of the changing of the guard?

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