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UNRAVELLING THE CLASSIC CONUNDRUM - A Preview of the Hindustan Times Palate Fest Indian Oaks (Grade 1) - By Cyrus Naterwalla

Posted on - 19 Jan 2019

UNRAVELLING THE CLASSIC CONUNDRUM – A Preview of the Hindustan Times Palate Fest Indian Oaks (Grade 1)
- By Cyrus Naterwalla
The 76th running of the Indian Oaks or the Ladies Derby is set to take place on Sunday the 20th of January 2019 under the banner of a new Sponsor and will be run for the first time as ‘The Hindustan Times Palate Fest Indian Oaks’. HT Palate Fest is one of the largest and Internationally recognized food festivals in the country and is rapidly gaining popularity with each event. It will be held for the very first time in Mumbai and should attract foodies from all parts of the city. The added attractions along with the tempting array of food stalls will be live musical performances and the presence of Bollywood celebrities Shilpa Shetty Kundra and Tapsee Paanu to add some glitz and glamour to the event.
Coming back to the race itself, just like last year this year’s renewal seems to lack a bit in Terms of quality with most of the runners mainly winners in Class III and the highest rated runner New Creation is rated just 75 while last year’s winner Manifold was rated 88. The field of 8 runners is also the smallest field since Moonlight Romance way back in 2011 with 2 of the 6 runners – Findlerhof and Princess Eliza rated below 40. Only 2 fillies in the field, Bluebell and New Creation have been victorious over the 2400M trip before but both their timings have left plenty to be desired, Bluebell clocking 2.34.49 for the Golconda Oaks win in a 4 horse field and New Creation 2.35.42 for her battling win in the South India Oaks. Both those races were relatively slowly run and while there is no guarantee that Sunday’s pace will be any different, none of the runners can claim to stay a solidly run mile and a half.
Pesi Shroff has dominated this race in recent times, winning it 6 times in the last 9 years and having claimed the last 4 renewals in a row which is a very pertinent statistic. With C.D. Katrak having retired already, two other Trainers have saddled Oaks winners in this decade – S. Padmanabhan who saddles New Creation here and Karthik G. who has a runner Princess Eliza. On the plus side, with no outstanding runner the race promises to be a competitive one and is also conspicuous by the absence of the 1000 Guineas winner, runner up and 3rd places finishers -  LaRondine, Arabia and Oomph.
A summary of the main runners and their chances follows :-
BLUEBELL   (PacoBoy  x Well Hidden)
TRAINER :-Vishal Gaikwad                         
WEIGHT:-   57 kgs.
JOCKEY :-  Leigh Roche                                          
DRAW :-   4
STARTS :-3                                                              
WINS :- 2
Vishal Gaikwad has already enjoyed plenty of Classic success this season and having claimed the 1000 Guineas with La Rondine, will be keen to claim the ‘Fillies Double’ with another progressive sort in the form of Bluebell who is the 2ndhighest rated runner in this field at 74 just 1 point below New Creation. Making her racing debut last Mumbai, she was given an educative run over 1200M, finishing a distant 3rd to Octavius and Hope and Glory but did not race again that term. She reappeared after a gap of almost one year when contesting a Class V handicap over 1800M where she looked a cut above her rivals and romped home by a 6 length margin. She was thrown into the deep end on just her 3rd start when contesting the Golconda Oaks (GR. 2) but had the advantage of facing a small field of 4 runners and won quite stylishly with a bit to spare over the local fancy Nimble Mind. Her rating is mainly due to that Classic victory but for which she would have been rated much lower. She has had 2 weeks to return and recuperate and seems to have travelled well judging from her last couple of workouts. Although largely inexperienced still and open to further improvement, she has the big advantage of having already won over the mile and a half trip which could prove to be the decisive factor, especially if the race is run at a strong gallop. A got abroad on pedigree, she is by Paco Boy who was a brilliant Group race miler in the UK, she derives her stamina from the dam Well Hidden who is a daughter of Sadler’s Wells.  She looks to be progressing down the right path and represents the 1000 Guineas winning combination of Vishal Gaikwad and Leigh Roche. She should be one of the leading players and looks to have a strong chance to gain her first Group 1 success.
NEW CREATION   (Multidimensional  x Tarnished Lady)
TRAINER :-S. Padmanabhan                        
WEIGHT:-   57 kgs.
JOCKEY :-  David Allan                                           
DRAW :-   2
STARTS :-5                                                               
WINS :- 3
One of the more experienced runners in the field, arguably the best performed of the lot and enjoys the highest rating of 75, one point more than Bluebell and runs in the colours of last year’s winner Manifold, also owned by her breeder Ameeta Mehra. She began her racing career also relatively recently during the Bangalore Summer, winning a 6 furlong maiden on debut impressively and went on to finish 2nd to Poseidon in a Class III handicap upped to a mile next time out. She was rested and given time to improve, reappearing 4 months later in Mysore again in a mile handicap and this time she made no mistake, winning comfortably by 2 lengths. Her next assignment was the Bangalore 1000 Guineas (Gr 2) where she just failed to hold off Oomph by three parts of a length and showed good battling qualities upped to a mile and a half last time out, winning a thrilling 3 way duel with Tudor Treasure and La Rondine and coming back with a 2nd run to steal the race by a head. Tudor Treasure has since run poorly in the South India Derby finishing 5th and all 3 fillies appeared to be labouring in the closing stages with the time still a modest 2.35.42 so the form does not look that strong. However, Paddy and David Allan have both enjoyed plenty of Classic success and they won this race with Isn’t She Special back in 2014. She looks the better of the two out station challengers and must be respected.
ROBERTA   (Multidimensional  x Moonlight Romance)
TRAINER :-Pesi Shroff                                 
WEIGHT:-   57 kgs.
JOCKEY :-  P. Trevor                                                           
DRAW :-   1
STARTS :-4                                                               
WINS :- 2
One of the more interesting runners in the field, she has an impeccable pedigree by Champion stallion Multidimensional out of Indian Oaks winner Moonlight Romance and she is looking to emulate her mother in winning this prestigious race. Long touted as many as the future winner of the Indian Oaks, her aspirations suffered a serious blow on her last start where she was routed by stable companion Smasher in a 2000M handicap, jumping lethargically, falling a long way back and after improving into striking position turning for home, finding nothing off the bridle and finishing almost a distance behind. She looks to have practically no chance to win on that running but she has had a month to rest and improve and Pesi is a master at improving fillies dramatically from one run to the next. Having raced 4 times so far, the first of which was as recent as July in a mile Million in Bangalore, she was slowly away and last to turn for home but caught the eye making up good ground from the rear to finish an eye catching 4th. She then returned to her home centre where she was an effortless winner of her maiden over 2000M, winning without barely breaking into a sweat and repeated the feat in Class III on the concluding weekend of Pune, beating Gloriosus decisively. She may just have needed that opening run on the Mahalaxmi track and has been working well of late but clearly has questions to answer after that dismal last run. Another interesting factor to note is that P. Trevor was on board for both of her winning runs while in her 2 losing causes she was ridden by another rider so possibly Trevor knows her quirks better than most so it is significant that he returns to ride her. On the bare form it is difficult to see her winning this but if that last run is taken out of the equation then she must be given a very strong chance and has to be respected with her Trainer having a phenomenal record in this race.
EYES FOR YOU   (Multidimensional  x Margarita Rita)
TRAINER :-Rehanullah Khan                                   
WEIGHT:-   57 kgs.
JOCKEY :-  Robbie Downey                                    
DRAW :-   5
STARTS :-4                                                               
WINS :- 1
The lone representative from the Indian 1000 Guineas frame having made late headway to be 4th in that race. She too began her career during the previous Mumbai season and was clearly held in high regard as she made her debut in the B.K. Rattonsey Multi Million on Derby day finishing in midfield. She was rested and given time to improve after that and reappeared in Pune after a gap of 7 months where she looked vastly improved when romping home in a 6 furlong maiden and looking value for more than the official margin. She was a hot favourite on her handicap debut over 7 furlongs but got going late to finish up a close 3rd to Grand Tenton. She was entered straight into the Guineas for her first run of the season and was moving the fastest at the finish to end up a close 4th to La Rondine, beaten 3 ½ lengths by the winner and only a neck behind Oomph who finished 3rd. The manner in which she finished on in the Guineas suggested that she should relish this longer trip although there are strong doubts on the pedigree side. The dam Margarita Rita has produced plenty of progeny in India and most of the siblings have had success over 1200 – 1400M while only one Heaven Is Here finished runner up in the Bangalore Oaks. The other pertinent factor which is also a deterrent is that Rehanullah Khan seldom has a participant in a Classic race and while he has a vast experience of racing in general, his experience in preparing a horse for an Indian Classic has been limited and could prove to be a crucial factor. On the up side, she has been working extremely well and Robbie Downey gets his first ride in an Indian Oaks. She clearly seems to be a factor on the 1000 Guineas form and should not be ignored.
Of the other runners, Exception is the other outstation challenger and has paid a whopping Final Entry fee to participate but she finished runner up to Oriana in the Kolkotta Oaks which does not appear to be very strong form and she looks up against it. Merlot has been having her limitations exposed in Classic contests although she may improve with more galloping ground while Findlerhof comes into this after having won a 7 furlong maiden race just 10 days ago and this is clearly a big ask.
In the overall scenario, this promises to be an exciting contest and a close finish is anticipated with no clear stand out on form. Eyes For You was a short neck behind Oomph in the Indian 1000 Guineas while Oomph finished ¾ length ahead of New Creation in the Bangalore equivalent which makes the two of them closely matched over a mile and a half. New Creation got the better of La Rondine by a head and a long neck in the South India Oaks which would give her an edge over Eyes For You. Roberta is the dark horse who clearly has the bloodline and the statistical edge with her Trainer having such a great record in this race and if her last run is taken out of the equation then she has an outstanding chance. Bluebell has proven form over the trip and looks to be having the best form coming into this contest. All in all a great race is expected and racegoers should be treated to a thrilling finale.
(Disclaimer : Views are entirely that of the correspondent only and RWITC takes no responsibility for the same) 

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