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The heady saga of Invitation Cup in Mahalaxmi
By Mukundan S Chettiyappa

Invitation Cup is the time for nostalgia. I rummage through my books, newspaper and magazine clippings, jottings and the articles I wrote for the various publications I worked for every time the Indian Turf Invitation Cup comes around. Living in this inscrutable world of Indian racing and breeding, it is a pleasure to pull out a senior journalist's reminiscence or trace a retired champion jockey's comments on the race. Here, then, are the pickings for the Invitation Cup due to be held at Mumbai;

There have been several champions who have left indelibe mark on this race by their brilliant performances. There have been some who failed to sustain their brilliance into the Invitation Cup. The Invitation Cup nevertheless held its own fascination and every year, the ardent enthusiast of the sport makes it a point to be present at the venue hosting the Invitation Cup which is held on rotation among the five turf authorities of India. Mahalaxmi has seen some of the best horses in India win the Invitation Cup. Each of the winners of the Invitation Cup held at Mumbai have their own tale to tell.


1963 Mount Everest
Mount Everest, the deserving champion (1963)

Invitation Cup is the time for nostalgia. I rummage through my books, newspaper and magazine clippings, jottings and the articles I wrote for the various publications I worked for every time the Indian Turf Invitation Cup comes around. Living in this inscrutable world of Indian racing and breeding, it is a pleasure to pull out a senior journalist's reminiscence or trace a retired champion jockey's comments on the race. Here, then, are the pickings for the Invitation Cup due to be held at Mumbai;

There have been several champions who have left indelibe mark on this race by their brilliant performances. There have been some who failed to sustain their brilliance into the Invitation Cup. The Invitation Cup nevertheless held its own fascination and every year, the ardent enthusiast of the sport makes it a point to be present at the venue hosting the Invitation Cup which is held on rotation among the five turf authorities of India. Mahalaxmi has seen some of the best horses in India win the Invitation Cup. Each of the winners of the Invitation Cup held at Mumbai have their own tale to tell.

The photo finish camera failed when Rocklie and Mount Everest thundered past the winning post in the 1963 Indian Derby. Creating an eternal controversy over who really won, the judge awarded the race to Rocklie. For Mount Everest's trainer Mohammed Lahori there was more to this verdict than the failure of his ward to catch the judge's eye.

As the late K. Sundar Rajan of The Hindu wrote in the newspaper's sister publication Sportstar, Lahori, "did not believe that Ted McGaffin had ridden him (Mount Everest) properly. He wouldn't say openly that Ted 'pulled' his horse. But that he didn't ride to win was evident from Lahori's talk. Naturally this exasperated Ted the game's greatest gentleman. He preferred not to ride him any more. But he was later persuaded to ride Mount Everest (in the Invitation Cup).

"How right Ted was came to be realised by everyone in the last 200 metres of the race. Duncan Keith who rode the Calcutta champion, The Leprechaun, slipped into a lead and was trying to keep his best to keep him going. Mount Everest came with a spirited run, but when closing in on the leader began to shorten his strides, a most disconcerting experience for his backers. McGaffin knew the awful stories that would once again start even if he lost the race owing to the colt's fallibility. With a loud prayer he began to push his mount strongly and just managed to pip The Leprechaun..." McGaffin later told Sundar Rajan, "Mount Everest finished that race on three legs."

The bay colt by Decorum* out of Evening Tide* was bred by his owner Al. M. Muthukaruppan Chettiar at the Yeravada Stud. The dhoti-clad Chettiar reportedly had business interests in Malaysia and Singapore. The Foman father and son partnership which owned Red Rufus, winner of the next Invitation Cup held at Mumbai, had more humble interests in fish.


1966 Red Rufus
Red Rufus, dramatic winner (1966)

The Dark William-Red Belle chestnut who was to excel as a racehorse and as a stallion was bred by the Maharaja of Kolhapur at his stud. The Meherejee protege won nine races from 14 starts and was never off the board. Ridden by Raghunath, he also became the first winner of the Indian Triple crown to claim the Invitation Cup. Major S. Nargolkar described the latter feat in his book on Invitation Cup winners thus;

"After Akbar had ensured a strong pace, the Invitation Cup field closed up around the bend. The pretenders began to fade away as Gurkirpal hit the front and Bakhtawar and Red Rufus moved up to challenge. A furlong out, the result could have gone in anyone's favour, but once again the Triple Crown winner displayed that magic to get home by three parts of a length - the exact St. Leger verdict - from Bakhtawar who held Gurkirpal by a short head. Radhapyari finished on take the remaining berth in the frame. The first four were covered by less than a length and the winner matched his Indian Derby time to the fraction-of-a-second (2 minutes 38 4/5 seconds)."


1970 Loyal Prince
Loyal Prince, justifying his masters faith (1970)

Loyal Prince claimed the Invitation Cup the next time it was run in Mumbai. The chestnut by the Indian Triple Crown winner Loyal Manzar out of Grecian Princess* was born at the Greenacres Stud. He was bred by Mrs. A. L.J. Talib, M.H. Ahmedbhoy and R.N. Kanga and owned by Mrs. Talib and Kanga along with Anita Currim and Hena Rahimtoola. Though Dady Adenwala handled his Invitation Cup formalities in 1970, he had been actually trained by Mrs. Talib's husband.

Abdul Latif J. Talib arrived in India from Iraq when he was 16. M. A. Rahimtoola recalled in The Indian Thoroughbred that the trainer, "may have had little formal education but he had a presence, and was respected equally by the syces and the rulers whom he had to deal with, and his brother professionals over whose association he presided for many years."

Rahimtoola recorded that Talib was summoned early in his career for an inquiry by O'Brien, a stipe who had arrived recently in India from Ireland. Talib refused to answer O'Brien's questions and was reported to a higher-up. The trainer then clarified that he was not used to being addressed by people who had their feet up on a table. Once O'Brien got his due on maintaining decorum, Talib answered all his questions.

Talib died a few days before Loyal Prince clashed with Thunder Storm in the Indian Derby. Rahimtoola reported that Loyal Prince went off his feed and started losing condition. The horse ran third behind Thunder Storm and Look Out. Rahimtoola wrote, "That he had been missing his master's presence in the stable and the visit to his stall every evening to speak a few soothing words and enquire about his health, was soon proved." Loyal Prince returned to form in the Invitation Cup, winning the event from Thunder Storm and Lucky Pair.

Notwithstanding this, it is also believed that Talib had left instructions on how Loyal Prince should be ridden in the Invitation Cup. It is to Eric Eldin's credit that he followed these instructions.


1974 Topmost
Topmost, the champion from Kunigal (1974)

Topmost lived up to his name in 1974. The dark bay's career was handled by Chandrasekharan and Rashid Byramji and he was partnered by Nelson Reuben in his most important victories. By High Commission* out of The Twist, he was bred at the Kunigal Stud by his owner D.K. Das.

Wrote Maj. Nargolkar, "Tall, smartly dressed in light-coloured Belgian linen suits, the bespectacled Mr. D.K. Das was one of the most sporting owner-breeders of his times. Their likes were to soon disappear from the Indian racing scene."

Topmost turned up for the Invitation Cup with wins in the 2000 Guineas and Derby at Kolkata and the Indian Derby at Mumbai. He lined up with other classic winners like Heliantha, Air Hostess, Prince Ardent and Hoysala. Moving up gradually from behind in the 2,400 metre event, Topmost strode out strongly under Reuben to overtake Bangalore Colts Trial Stakes winner Tristar 100 metres from home.


1979 Own Opinion
Own Opinion, Charon proving their mettle (1979, 1984)

It was difficult to visualise any one beating Royal Tern in the 1979 Invitation Cup. He was a local horse who had won the Indian Derby by eight lengths. He was bred and owned by the Goculdasses, a family with a long, sporting reputation. And his regular partner was Karl Umrigar whose dedication and skills were already well-known.

What remained unknown then was a little plot that Christy Roche had conceived for defeating Royal Tern and Umrigar. Roche personally knew how good the stablemates South India Derby winner Red Chieftan and Bangalore Arc de Triomphe winner Own Opinion were. He was also well aware of Royal Tern's form and front-running style. Roche let a few friends know what he had in mind before leaving for his native Ireland.

Sundar Rajan wrote in The Hindu that Roche, "had suggested that both Red Chieftan and Own Opinion should be entrusted to top jockeys. Red Chieftan should try to run away from the 1,800m marker. Royal Tern's jockey, who was comparatively inexperienced, would be in two minds whether to chase Red Chieftan or allow him to take a long lead which he could ill afford as Red Chieftan is also a good colt having won the South India Derby. If he did chase Red Chieftan he would have used a lot of Royal Tern's reserve giving Own Opinion a fighting chance from behind."

Terry McKeown on Red Chieftan and Mangilal Jagdish on Own Opinion translated Roche's idea into action almost to the word with Sinclaire Marshall providing additional support on another stablemate, Philanderer. As a result Royal Tern and Umrigar could do little as Jagdish sent Own Opinion into the lead with about 100 metres to go.

Own Opinion was owned by Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy and trained by A.B. David. The chestnut son of Simead* and Purita was bred at the Bhopal Stud by the Dagas.

 

1984 Charon

Charon claimed the Indian 2000 Guineas and the Ramniwas Ramnarain Ruia Gold Cup but finished an inexplicable fourth in the Indian Derby en route to the 1984 Invitation Cup. Entrusted to Sandy Barclay in the Invitation Cup, he improved his position from behind to grab an opportunity along the rails in the last 100 metres and storm home. Enterprising, that year's Indian Derby winner, tried hard to hold him off but succumbed by a length.

By Knight of Medina* out of Hard Haven, Charon was bred by Vikram Greenlands and Reena Singh. The bay was owned by the Goyals and was trained by Imtiaz Sait. The trainer was back in the winners' enclosure twice when the Invitation Cup was held in 1989 and 1994 at Mumbai.


1989 Exhilaration
Exhilaration, the unbeaten champion (1989)

Sait's 1989 return was courtesy the bay Exhilaration. I cornered Sait for an interview in the small, wooded area set aside for trainers near the saddling boxes as he was having a bite after the race. Even then he spoke about getting Exhilaration after Byramji had made his choices among the youngsters bred by the Poonawallas.

The winner of the Indian 2000 Guineas and Indian Derby had shown Sait from the beginning that he had a killer instinct and an inability to tolerate another horse galloping in the front. The trainer felt that Pesi Shroff had ridden impeccably in the Invitation Cup without letting rival pacemakers ruin the race for him.

Shroff kept Exhilaration in the middle of the field for a good bit of the way before positioning the horse neatly along the rails at the 200 metre marker for holding off a determined bid by Mick Kinane on Northern Star. While veteran Shammu Chavan felt that this kind of positioning was ideal for the track another ace jockey of old, the late Pandu Khade, held a different view.

Khade felt that a jockey must always be within one or two lengths of the fancied horse while racing in the long straights that mark the Mahalaxmi course. He asserted that if the yet-to-become-world-famous Kinane had kept Northern Star close to Exhilaration at the beginning of the 550 metre-long home stretch instead of being a little away, he might have pulled it off. What Khade - and for that matter, everyone - did not anticipate then was the discovery of a banned substance in Northern Star's post-race sample and his subsequent disqualification.

Exhilaration was shared by the Poonawalla brothers with Dr. Ramaswamy and Solomon F. Sopher. By Malvado(CAN) out of Preparation(IRE), he did well as a stallion and was shown off to visitors at his breeders' stud after retirement. Super Brave, Sait's third Invitation Cup winner at Mumbai, was not so lucky.

He was by Riyahi(IRE) out of Baroque Pearl(FR) and was bred, for record's sake, by Talegaon Stud at the Poonawalla Farms. The bay Khaitan-owned horse's potential was apparent early but he really shot to prominence in the Indian 2000 Guineas. The way he won by eight lengths had Maj. Nargolkar writing, "It was a performance fit to rank with the vintage Indian 2000 Guineas victories of Alijah, Enrico and Exhilaration."


1994 Super Brave
Super Brave, the undisputed champion (1994)

Super Brave had to contend with Bangalore summer Derby winner Littleover in the Indian Derby. An attempt was made to get at her before the Indian Oaks and private security guards were employed to protect her. She ran fourth in the Oaks but beat Super Brave by one and a half lengths in the Indian Derby.

The filly's appearance before the Invitation Cup hardly justified the support she got in the ring for the race. She was listless, thin and perspiring while being paraded in the paddock. Super Brave had earlier given a more violent impression of detesting such formalities. He was therefore deliberately brought late into the paddock much to the consternation of former trainer Dady Adenwalla who had become a stipe by then.

There was little to worry about Super Brave in the race as he hit the front soon after the entering the home stretch and sped away. Aslam Kader, who was then at his peak, did duty in the saddle.

Super Brave added the Indian St. Leger to his tally with equal ease and was later sent to race in Macao. He broke down in his only start there and was euthanised.

The Invitation Cup is a social event as much as it is a racing one. With everyone in Indian racing converging on the host centre during the weekend, the race provides ample opportunities to renew acquaintances, swap old stories, go shopping or attend parties. But in 1999 the atmosphere was bitter.

This was because of the differences that arose between the Bangalore Turf Club and the Royal Western India Turf Club over the suspension of jockey C. Ruzzan. I had to report in the Asian Thoroughbred News that , "Despite rapprochements, the damage to the 111-year-old reciprocal agreements between Indian clubs on punishments rankled many."


1999 Running Flame
Running Flame, a tactical winner (1999)

There were some tense moments too before the final announcement of the Invitation Cup's result. Running Flame and Supervite took up the running when the field entered the homestretch. Soon Saddle Up, who was set to lose the Indian Derby in the analytical laboratory, joined issue with these two fillies. With 200 metres to go, Saddle Up was on the rails, Running Flame was on the outside and Supervite was in the middle.

Running Flame charged on triumphantly but Supervite veered towards the rails. As Supervite prevented Saddle Up from moving ahead, he tried to go right around the fillies to make his bid. The winning post came too soon for that and Saddle Up finished third.

His jockey Pesi Shroff objected against Supervite's jockey Ruzzan for going across and boring into him. Ruzzan in turn objected against Running Flame's jockey R. Hughes for, "continuously leaning and boring" against his mount, preventing her from having a clear run. Shroff's objection was upheld while Ruzzan's was dismissed and the runners were officially placed as Running Flame first, Saddle Up second and Supervite third.

Running Flame was bred at the Usha stud and was by Steinbeck(USA) out of Stomata(USA). The temperamental bay filly was spurned by leading owners as she had an "asudhar," an unlucky whorl. Since he was not superstitious, trainer S. Padmanabhan bought her for S.P. Khetan and then took her on lease with his wife Sharmila.

The filly later left for the U.S.A to run in graded races. She then settled down to a career as a broodmare, being covered by the likes of Dubai Destination and Choisir.


2004 Simply Supreme
Simply Supreme, justifying the name (2004)

Psychic Flame and Estonia, the winner and runner up respectively in the Indian Derby, and Bangalore winter Derby winner Star Of Windsor seemed to have the best credentials in the 2004 Invitation Cup field. Simply Supreme, a winner over 2,000 metres, appeared to be a pacemaker for a more fancied stablemate. The Cole race card described his prospects of making it to the record books as, "A minor berth chance."

But the Razeen(USA)-Allesca bay gelding led all the way with S. Fargeat up to beat another outsider in Red Orchid by half a length. The Usha Stud product was owned by Dr. Ramaswamy, Dr. Cyrus S. Poonawalla and Villoo C. Poonawalla. Sorab F. Jilla stood in for his original trainer.

A helicopter was engaged to shower flowers during the presentation ceremonies in the paddock. But the pilot flew so low that the winds churned up at the ground level knocked down sponsors' hoardings and gave everyone new hair styles!

I wonder what is in store for us at Mumbai this year. Will we see another Mount Everest or an Exhilaration to rave about in the years to come? Or will we look in askance as another Simply Supreme romps home? Or the emergence of a new super star in Becket ? Will Jacqueline retain her supremacy or will she skip the Invitation Cup and go for St Leger to win an unprecedented fifth Indian classic?

 
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