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PAST THE POST - A Review of the HT Palate Fest Indian Oaks (Grade 1) - By Cyrus Naterwalla

Posted on - 22 Jan 2019

PAST THE POST – A Review of the HT Palate Fest Indian Oaks (Grade 1)
- By Cyrus Naterwalla
The 2019 running of the Indian Oaks which was the 76th edition looked to be a competitive affair on paper although the field was the smallest since ironically Moonlight Romance who took on just 5 runners back in 2011. There were 2 out station challengers in the fray – Exception who had finished runner up to Oriana in the Kolkotta Oaks and for whom connections had paid a hefty final entry fee and New Creation, a battling winner of the South India Oaks in a thrilling 3 way finish from Tudor Treasure and Indian 1000 Guineas winner La Rondine. Heading the local challenge were the Vijay Shirke owned duo of Bluebell, a lightly raced and progressive got abroad who had scored a facile victory in the Golconda Oaks and the highly regarded Roberta, who had been many racegoers choice for the Indian Oaks for some time but had dented her reputation when trounced by stable companion Smasher over 2000M last time out. The odds however seemed to indicate that she had bounced back from that performance as she was very well supported in the market, opening joint favourite with Bluebell at 18/10 against, drifting out to 3/1 and again receiving late support to go off at 11/4. The possible reasons for the strong support were her good recent workouts and the fact that of the 4 races which she had run prior, she had gotten left the times that A. Sandesh and Leigh Roche had ridden her but had won both her previous starts with P. Trevor up and it was Trevor who had been declared to ride today. Indeed even in the paddock, it was the 2 market fancies who caught the eye – Bluebell a large rangy filly and Roberta also looking relatively fit and well.
Contrary to how she had behaved in the past, Roberta jumped out beautifully from the gates as the field of 8 were given their orders by the Starter and in fact it was Bluebell who jumped out awkwardly and lost about 3-4 lengths at the start. New Creation darted ahead to set the early pace to Roberta racing much more prominently than normal in 2nd spot with rank outsider Princess Eliza, the only maiden in the field racing in 3rd spot and being tracked on the fence by the Kolkotta challenger Exception racing 4th. Up on the outside came Merlot in the white and blue colours with Bluebell quickly making up that lost ground to move up into 6th. Very close behind came Eyes for You with a 4 length break back to Findlerhof. The pace remained steady through the backstretch with New Creation showing the way to Princess Eliza now in 2nd with Roberta dropping slightly to 3rd and the rest more or less maintaining their positions. Roberta decided the pace was slow passing the 800M and Trevor made an enterprising forward move to take charge from Princess Eliza and Merlot who was making gradual headway with Bluebell being ridden unusually wide by Leigh Roche but also sensing the urgency and improving and Exception and Eyes For You both being asked for an effort to improve with Findlerhof struggling in the rear. Roberta came along first, about 2 lengths ahead of Exception trying to rally along the inside with Merlot making a nice forward move in the centre and Bluebell travelling on the centre of the track and also trying to come into it. Trevor had to go for the stick approaching the furlong pole as Merlot came up with a threatening run on the outside and Eyes For You began to stay on in between horses and also come into contention. Roberta responded gamely to her rider's urging and galloped all the way to the line, doing just enough to hold off the late finishing Eyes For You who put in a strong late surge but was  1 ¼ lengths shy at the wire and unable to deny Roberta her day in the sun. Merlot finished up a very creditable 3rd while Bluebell who was given an uncharacteristically poor ride by Leigh Roche ran on to fill the frame in 4th.
Connections of Roberta were understandably elated by their filly's gutsy performance particularly so Trainer Pesi Shroff for whom this was an emotional moment as it was his 5th consecutive Indian Oaks triumph which took him past the legendary Uttam Singh with a total tally of 8 Oaks winners. The timing was a modest 2.31.96 for the mile and a half trip and considering that the runner up Eyes For You was only a maiden winner rated 52 and the 3rd placed Merlot was also rated only 53, one wonders whether Roberta was just the best of a sub standard lot of 4  year old Fillies and how this form would match up against the top colts Sir Cecil and Star Superior. It will also be interesting to see if Pesi elects to take on the colts in the Indian Derby as Roberta will no doubt improve for this run. Eyes For You ran a gallant race in defeat and upheld the form of the Indian 1000 Guineas. She was closing all the way to the line and may opt to take her chance in the Derby as well. Merlot gave possibly one of her best performances but may just have run out of gas in the final 100M. It will be interesting to see how she performs if reverting to distance handicaps. Bluebell did not give off her best and deserves her chance to make amends although she too may struggle against the Colts. The 2 out station challengers – Exception and New Creation had their limitations exposed and considering the filly who won the South India Oaks finished a poor 6th casts even more doubts on the strength of the form. This was too big an ask for Findlerhof having barely won her maiden over 7 furlongs 10 days ago. She can do much better reverting to handicaps and returning to middle distances. Princess Eliza, the only maiden in the field and the lowest rated at 27, ran a creditable race until the bend and looks a cinch in a mile and a quarter or mile maiden race.
 (Disclaimer : Views are entirely that of the correspondent only and RWITC takes no responsibility for the same) 

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