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Mahalaxmi season kicks off with seven-race card - By Prakash Gosavi

Posted on - 15 Nov 2011

Mahalaxmi season kicks off with seven-race card
A mixed day of hot faves and stunning upsets

By Prakash Gosavi

Bright, sunny afternoon that threatened to get warmer but did not thanks to a pleasant breeze blowing in from the western seaside; white clouds in the clear, blue sky that looked like ships anchored in the middle of a vast, blue ocean; and lush green turf track lined with snow white rails waiting to be pounded by the hooves of glistening horses steered by little men wearing colourful silks--the setting was just perfect for a grand start to the Mumbai racing season 2011-12 at Mahalaxmi. 

Alas....such dream setting was made to play host to a card that featured only 48 runners in 7 races, a situation neither racegoers nor the club management bargained for--the preparation surely deserved a much better card that could have translated the inaugural day's experience into a memorable one. 

What lacked in numbers however was somewhat made up in the spirit with which the special 'inaugural' race framed for the day--the Audelade Inaugural Million--was fought. The five runners who jumped level at the gates finished within a compact 3-length band at the finish, but that doesn't tell the whole story how four of the five shaped like winners at various stages of the running.

Start is the most crucial factor in a sprint, and Lake Superior (Martin Dwyer up), who walked out of the gates while the other four jumped, ruined his chances in an instant. Ishpingo (Dashrath Singh up) jumped with such alacrity you wouldn't believe he was the same horse who had lost two sprints earlier perhaps because he couldn't make a quick dash to the front. Hot on his trail was Out Of My Way (C Rajendra up), followed by Ranthambhore (Srinath up) on the inside who did run straight, but whose gaze was constantly, and awkwardly, focused on the two in front of him. Our Chieftain (B Sreekanth up) raced close behind with Lake Superior about six lengths away.

Turning for home, Ishpingo drifted a bit, and at the 400-m marker faced his first threat when Rajendra on Out Of My Way spiritedly attempted to bridge the gap. Ishpingo just about managed to thwart his bid, but at 300-m Srinath put pressure on Ranthambhore from inside and almost caught up with him. Dashrath had to put all his skill on the line to keep up his narrow advantage, but the pressure told on Ishpingo who could not keep a straight course. 

Sensing his chance B Sreekanth, who had raced 2-3 lengths behind the scene of these short-lived battles, urged Our Chieftain in the last furlong who moved up with swift strides, and pipped the leader within the sniffing distance of the winning post. Sreekanth, 
the new kid on the block who recently won the Mysore championship, thus tasted his first success at the Mahalaxmi track with his only third ride on Day One. More will be heard of this lad who seems to be a quick learner. Young Karthik Ganapathy had trained the winner owned by Dr MAM Ramaswamy.

The other important race on the card was the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy (VI Bart.) Cup in which half a dozen three-year-olds fishing for their first victory went over a five-furlong sprint. After a brief tussle with Aphrodite for the lead, piping-hot public fancy Mountain Treasure (Dashrath Singh up), quoted at 45/100, assumed command just before passing the three-furlong marker and was never headed thereafter. Adams Vision (C S Jodha up) did attempt to accelerate midway in the straight, but failed to make any impression on the winner who kept going and got stronger at the finish to spare 2-1/4 lengths to the runner up, who in turn beat the rest of them by more than six lengths.

Interestingly, just half an hour before, the same Dashrath Singh had ridden Dancing Glances, to victory as public fancy at exactly the same odds of 45/100. Dancing Glances set her own pace on a tight rein all the way, and when Dashrath Singh niggled the Altaf Hussain ward at the furlong marker, she simply bounded away to a 4-3/4-length victory over Oceanic Wisdom who spared three parts of a length to Dovers Hill.

The followers of form were further delighted when Smashing (B Prakash up), albeit quoted at the miserly odds of 3/10, won the Scorpio Plate from Esmeraldo & Capriole. Keen racing fans who closely watch the Classics scene were eager to see how the Pesi Shroff-trained filly would tackle the Mahalaxmi track, and though Smashing won convincingly, the manner and the margin of victory 
perhaps failed to enthuse many of them. Shroff confirmed during an interview that the Vijay Mallya filly would next race in the first Classic of the season, the grade 1, Indian 1000 Guineas.

The day had begun with an upset when jockey Amyn Merchant gave a clever, start-to-finish ride to Smart Hunter making every post along the way a winning one. The Gateway Of India Plate, a mile affair for class IV horses, had five runners, and it looked like the betting public was divided equally into two camps, one supporting Frost Fairy & the other rooting for Rose Heaven. Closer to race time, however, some smart money poured in onto long shot Smart Hunter, a three-year-old saddled by Adil Dajee, whose best was second to Bling at Pune, and his odds flattened to 7-1 as the runners lined up in the gates. Rose Heaven, who quickened too late to pose any threat, finished second ahead of Frost Fairy, and later tried to reverse the verdict in the Stewards' room by citing interference by the winner at the start as the reason. The Stewards, however, rightly, and promptly, overruled the protest.

Amyn Merchant tried to duplicate the success of Smart Hunter when he employed similar tactics astride Lady Genereuse in the penultimate race of the day, the Season's Best Plate for class V horses, interestingly, carrying the same silks and trained by the same trainer. However, Sizzling Love, for whom there was sustained support, moved up from sixth position at the turn to race alongside leader Lady Genereuse at the furlong post. Both then went stride for stride until A Sandesh on Sizzling Love overpowered in the final 20-odd meters to gain a half length verdict.

The last race of the card, My Desire Plate, produced the most sensational upset of the day when two friendless horses--Arabian Champ at 60/1 and Bongani at 100/1--finished one-two. The fancied trio of Rebecca, Rule Forever & Pride Of The Hills, all quoted between 2/1 & 5/2, finished in that order behind the unfancied duo. Zameer Sayyed rode the winner Arabian Champ for trainer Altaf Hussain who thus finished the day with a brace, having already won with Dancing Glances earlier.

For your notebook: 

Frost Fairy: Give her one more chance next time she races. You may be pleasantly surprised by an easy victory.
Adams Vision: Consistent. Has always come across one better. Should soon emerge from the maiden ranks.
Lady Genereuse: A good attempt that would add to her condition, keep an eye.
Pride Of The Hills: On this show, should be a force to reckon with over a five-furlong sprint.

(Special Box)

Contest killer

Meet H S Sachdeva, the man who has won so many contests of skill at the races that he, as well as the club officials, have lost the count. 

On Sunday, the inaugural day of the Mumbai racing season 2011-12, Sachdeva kept his date with the goddess of fortune by winning yet another bumper prize. He picked up a cool Rs 2 lakh by correctly nominating the forecast (winner Our Chieftain & runner up Ishpingo) for the 5th race on the Sunday card--the Audelade Inaugural Million. 

"I have won so many contests here that I think it must be a record," Sachdeva told this writer matter of factly, "washing machine, music systems, gift vouchers--last year I won a Ritz car at the hands of Film star Salman Khan. "

Interstingly Sachdeva has also won nearly 80 bottles of whiskey so far, and the irony is he is a teetotaler. "I gave some of them to friends," he said, "and some I sold to acquaintances here at the racecourse."

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