The Usha Stud bred Moonlight Romance kept her date with destiny in the most coveted event of Indian racing calendar, the Gr 1 McDowell Indian Derby with a remarkable performance in front of a mammoth crowd on Sunday. The Kingfisher Derby heroine went on to win the Indian Derby like many of her illustrious predecessors and in the process provided veteran trainer Cooji Katrak with his first ever Indian Derby success.
For once Richard Hughes` magic touch and his gift for picking the right horse eluded him as Ocean And Beyond which he had chosen ahead of Moonlight Romance was shy by a shade over a length. For David Allan who got a chance ride thanks to Jockeys Association of India`s refusal to permit Ryan More to ride without a work permit, seized the opportunity with both hands to record the biggest success of his racing career.
The Usha Stud Farm which has bred a record number of Indian Derby winners, swelled tits tally to 12, having been stuck on 11 for a few years. Usha Stud Farm`s resident stallion China Visit who has made a big impact on Indian racing this year, was thus recording his first triumph through Moonlight Romance in the mother of all Indian Derbys. Another daughter of China Visit, Xisca who finished third in the Derby, is also a winner of two Derbys, the Deccan Derby and the Calcutta Derby.
Ocean And Beyond who had won the Ruia trophy in impressive fashion was reckoned to be outstanding in the field of 12 runners that were in the fray for the Derby. There were many who believed that Richard Hughes may have erred in his choice but with the jockey being so emphatic about his conviction that he had made the right choice, his word was taken as Gospel truth and the got abroad gelding was backed to the exclusion of his rivals. When asked about his choice on Saturday, Richard said that he considered the relative merits of the two horses on which he had a choice and felt that he had arrived at the right decision. Even for a moment was he willing to concede that he may go wrong.
| ||Moonlight Romance (David Allan up), winner of the McDowell Signature Indian Derby (Gr.1), being led in by winning owners|
When he ran in the Ruia trophy, Ocean And Beyond had just recovered from a small setback and hence I did not push him much. I beat the opposition quite easily and since Moonlight Romance beat a pretty ordinary field which has done nothing, I strongly believe that I will be vindicated, Hughes had said.
Just after he weighed in after his desperate attempt to catch up with Moonlight Romance had failed narrowly, Hughes still felt that he would not have changed his mind even in the paddock. Ocean And Beyond did give me good feel in the race. He did not travel on the bit and I had to goad him to be in touch with the front runners. Even as he measured up Moonlight Romance in the straight, he put his ears back and gave up, he said by way of his reasons why Ocean And Beyond could have possibly failed. I have no doubt about him staying the mile and half trip. He can get even 3000 metres, he opined.
For owners Rakesh Kumar Wadhawan and Prem Tharani who have stormed the Indian racing by their huge string of horses, with their trainers good enough to form a cricket team, they could not have hoped for a better result in what was their first serious year in racing. The 1-2 in the Derby was a feat to be proud of. Dr Vijay Mallya was one better in the first year he had runners in the Derby as he had achieved a rare 1-2-3 in the year Cordon Bleu won the star event in the hands of Mick Kinnane.
Ameeta Mehra whose Usha Stud Barm bred Moonlight Romance was obviously elated at the good results that China Visit has had in the last one year. My belief in the ability of China Visit to produce champions has been vindicated. We were struck at 11 for a few years as Set Alight was unfortunate to lose two years ago but I am immensely pleased we have broken the jinx and continue to maintain our record of maximum number of winners in this prestigious race.
There was a slight delay in the start of the race as the huge roar that precedes the start, got a few horses restless and jockey John had a reverse flip on Scionic. Luckily, jockey John or the filly were not hurt and the filly was reloaded. Though some horses were getting restive because of the massive crowd that was standing close to the starting gates, there was no further hiccups and the horses took off to a level start. Batista and Ocean Admiral took over the assigned job of being pace setters but the former ran out violently after crossing the Hornby Villad corner and drifted to the outer rail and took no practical part in the race except completing the formalities of going through with the motion of running the mile and half trip.
Ocean Admiral set a decent clip followed by Dear Henry, Sunlight, Macchupicchu, Unleashed with Moonlight Romance settled in about the sixth position followed by Berlusconi, Ocean And Beyond and Xisca. Even at the nine furlong marker, Hughes had to urge Ocean And Beyond to stay in touch and passing the five furlong marker, he had to really push the horse to pick up speed and then tried to get the horse to travel on the bit. Sunlight took charge of the proceedings as the field straightened for the run in for home with Macchupicchu in hot pursuit followed by Moonlight Romance who appeared to traveling well within herself with Unleashed fading out from the scene. Ocean And Beyond was being driven by Hughes to cover the leeway and jockey Stephane Pasquier was seen goading Xisca to produce a good burst of speed.
With a furlong out, David Allan was able to get past Macchupicchu with Ocean And Beyond joining the issue while Xisca had some leeway to cover. Ocean And Beyond who shot through the gap between Macchupicchu and Moonlight Romance came into strong contention but just as his supporters were beginning to hail him as the winner, the Oaks winner made a decisive surge. The filly had some reserves in store when she passed the winning post, with David Allan waving his whip in glee and tapping the horse in appreciation of the wonderful effort put in by the gutsy filly. His joy was there for all to see. Xisca caught up with the tiring Macchupicchu and snatched the third spot in the shadow of the post while Ocean And Beyond managed to save his second spot.
David Allan who has been riding with good success for trainer Padmanabhan for the last years, thus got an unexpected gift of an Indian Derby win. The Derby win is the one I covet the most because I know the value of winning the Indian Derby. I have won two Derbys at Bangalore but I treasure this the most as it is sure to lift my profile even back home, he said. This win also should boost his confidence a great deal as he had lost a couple of races due to some forced and unforced errors.
Cooji Katrak was on top of the world as he led in his first Indian Derby winner. I had immense confidence in the horse an jockey David Allan complemented the effort of the horse with a splendid ride, he said.
Dr Vijay Mallya gave away the trophies to the winning connections in front of the Grand Stand. The leading owner of Indian racing and also its biggest sponsor continues to harbour his wish to have night racing in Mumbai and has expressed his willingness to extend all support for this venture.