What started as an interest in horse racing for the Wadhawan family and blossomed into a full-grown operation in the last couple of years, bore fruit on Sunday, when Moonlight Romance and Sun Kingdom took the first two places in The Kingfisher Bangalore Derby (Grade I). There was much jubilation in the winning camp, as these colours had triumphed in their first ever appearance in a Derby event anywhere in the country. It goes to the credit of trainers Cooji Katrak and Irfan Ghatala that they tuned their respective horses to perfection and ensured that the tightly packed stands were treated to a grand spectacle. The two ownermates tore away from the pack and confirmed their superiority over the other runners. At the end of it all, it was the "powerhouse" finish of Richard Hughes which enabled the filly to score today.
Sun Kingdom and Moonlight Romance were the two obvious favourites in the Derby. They came into this race with impeccable credentials. Sun Kingdom had won all his three starts and was running to maintain his blemishless record. His recent victory in The Colts Trial Stakes was authoritative and there were no doubts about his staying capabilities. The horse had been working well and the track reporters were reluctant to look beyond him while selecting their winner in the Derby. Immense had finished second to Sun Kingdom in the Colts, and was running this race as an expensive final entry. His connections were hoping to bridge the verdict with the favourite, as they felt that Immense would be better suited over the longer trip. Moonlight Romance had come to Bangalore with an aura of invincibility around her. Those who had seen her race in Western India felt that she would be able to sweep all the Classics at Bangalore. She had failed as an on-money favourite in the Fillies Trial Stakes. Some felt that she had been under prepared for that race, while the others thought that the winner Siachen was much better than her. Moonlight Romance was subjected to some vigorous workouts thereafter, and the track reporters confirmed that she had made rapid improvement. According to them, the mile and a quarter was well within her compass. Richard Hughes was making a special trip from London to ride this filly, while Suraj Narredu was set to continue his winning partnership with Sun Kingdom. The bookmakers were careful while offering a measly 5/4 against Sun Kingdom, but were happy to lay Moonlight Romance at 3/1.
Mr. Rakesh Kumar Wadhawan Mr. Prem Tharani & trainer C D Katrak leading Moonlight Romance (R Hughes Up), winner of The Kingfisher Bangalore Derby Grade-I 2010
The ten runners were flagged off to an even start. Moon Star got down to lead this pack and showed the way to Vijay Monarch and Xisca as the runners took the first right-handed turn and made their way past the mile marker. Richard Hughes took a smart jump with Moonlight Romance and asked his filly to take a prominent place behind the leaders. Since she was drawn on the wide outside, she saw early daylight and became keen to go to the front. She dragged her jockey into second place, and it took a strong effort from him to restrain her from going any further. She settled down near the six-furlong marker and tracked Moon star till the home turn. Xisca continued to hold third place ahead of Ordained One and Vijay Monarch while Sun Kingdom was content to remain in the rear. Suraj Narredu had decided to ride him for eventual speed, and the horse was travelling comfortably at this stage. The brakes on Moonlight Romance were released near the bend and the response was electric. She sailed past Moon Star and opened up a nice lead into the straight. Richard Hughes gave her a few more taps and the filly established what looked like an "unbeatable" lead. Sun Kingdom devoured ground from the back, but was unable to catch the leader. Moonlight Romance won comfortably from Sun Kingdom, Xisca and Foreign Exchange.
The winner justified the confidence of her trainer, who had always maintained that it will take a very good opponent to beat her in the Derby. Cooji had insisted on getting Richard Hughes to ride her, as he felt that Moonlight Romance had shown a lot of improvement. Richard Hughes did well to give her a fine balanced ride. Speaking to Indiarace at the end of the day, Richard Hughes said that �I am glad that I made this trip to India. Cooji Katrak had insisted that I ride her, as he was confident that she would win today. Frankly, I had never ridden her before. I was taken aback by her reactions in the backstretch and had a tough time in restraining her at that stage. Another couple of seconds and I would have allowed her to go to the front. Luckily, she settled down thereafter and allowed me to keep my hold on her. She travelled nicely, accelerated brilliantly and stayed comfortably. But for her antics in the earlier stages, she would have run a much bigger race today. I have been retained by the Wadhawan family, and am looking forward to riding their horses in the Winter Season."
There were no hard luck stories in this race. Sun Kingdom was beaten by a good filly and this horse will await his turn to take revenge. In all probability, the two of them will clash again in The Indian Derby. Irfan is yet to chalk out his final plans for Sun Kingdom. This big-made horse looks destined to sweep all the Winter Classics in this part of the country. Immense was feeling edgy and was sweating profusely at the gates. He had worked himself up so badly that it reflected in his performance on the race track. He ran a pathetic race to finish in the ruck. Foreign Exchange did well to end a close fourth.
Richard Hughes completed a fine treble for the afternoon, as he had already won a couple for earlier races for Irfan Ghatala and Arjun Mangalorkar. One must acknowledge the fact that the wins astride Sun Control and Sky Train were achieved solely because of this rider. He refused to give up and kept persisting with his mounts. Sun Control looked beaten near the distance post. She was finding it difficult to go near Amber Star and Royal Surprise. Richard put away his stick and nudged her to move forward. She responded by lengthening her strides and managed to nail Amber Star near the winning post. The win astride Sky Train was even more exciting. This lethargic beginner was seen trailing the twelve-horse field, as the runners came close to the home turn. Richard allowed Sky train to move up along the rails. He realized that his only hope lay in finding the shortest way towards the final post. He seized a narrow gap in the final furlong and asked his horse to move forward. Sky Train responded bravely and motored his way to a superb victory. He managed to scamper away from Bala's Glory and Skyliner. The one to catch the eye in this race was Arya Veer. The Hyderabad challenger was unlucky to meet with interference at a crucial juncture in this race, but for which, he may have finished much closer to the winner.
The only other professional to score more than once today was apprentice Zervan. This boy has been improving with time and his short stint during Bangalore Summer has done him a world of good. Most jockeys grow in confidence as they ride more and more winners. It has been no different with Zervan, and the change in him is quite noticeable. He is alert at the gates, doesn't get easily ruffled by his early unfavourable positions, gives a nice balanced ride to his mounts and, most importantly, rides a strong finish. Riding for a top stable like Pesi Shroff's, Zervan is bound to make a mark during the ensuing Pune Season. He rode a pair of winners in the colours of Dr Vijay Mallya on Derby day. Attaolahi-trained Supremacy had flopped as an on-money favourite in her previous start. She had gone to the front and gotten tired in the straight. Zervan rode her in check behind a runaway Foswell and Sky Diver today. He made his move at the bend and seized the initiative. The filly wasn't hard pressed to contain a belated challenge from Vernostonus.
The victory astride Dhariwal's Aprillia looked more impressive. The three year-old was making her debut in open company, and the handicapper had rated her in Class II. While some felt that this was a steep penalty, there were others who thought that the seven-furlong trip was a trifle long for her. With money flowing in the direction of Eagle Claws and Polish Patriot, the odds against Aprillia drifted to 6's and over. Zervan allowed his filly to track Tanzanite, Polish Patriot and Eagle Claws till the bend, before he asked her to make an effort. Aprillia bounded forward like a seasoned campaigner and sailed past a helpless Polish Patriot. The boy gave her a couple of taps and guided her across the wire.
Padmanabhan-trained Topkapi cantered away to an easy victory in a Class I race over nine furlongs. Classic winner Youre So Beautiful was a hot favourite in this race. Suraj had sharpened her in a mock race sometime back and it was felt that she would win on sheer class. However, it was not to be. Topkapi tracked Blink till the bend before assuming command of the situation. Youre So Beautiful was always third, and racegoers were waiting for Suraj Narredu to release his grip on the filly. Ashhad Asbar and Topkapi were the first to make their move. The pair of them went clear in the straight, and it became apparent that they were not going to be caught today. Youre So Beautiful struggled to get the better of Blink near the winning post. The first two are likely to clash in The Bangalore St Leger next Sunday.
The only other races of interest on Derby day were the two maiden events conducted during the afternoon. The first was won by Darius Byramji's Born To Fly. This horse had run some nice races during winter and was gelded subsequently. He was reappearing after a longish gap in this event. Christopher Alford allowed Senor Speedy to show the way to his mount and the two front-runners began to tear away from their pursuers. Born To Fly led in the final furlong and managed to retain his grip till the very end. In the other race, Ganapathy-trained Magisterail was backed to the exclusion of his rivals. The on-money favourite showed a clean pair of heels to his rivals and ran away for an impressive victory. Dance To The Tune, Spark Of Desire and Con Artiste finished in a heap while taking the minor placings. Magisterial is definitely the best three year-old that has emerged this year from the Ganapathy stable. He is likely to carry the hopes of this yard in the Winter Classics.