The 71st running of the McDowell Signature Premier Indian Derby (Grade 1), to be run on Sunday (Feb 3) at the Mahalaxmi racecourse, has attracted as many as 21 four-year-old horses, with two of them — Cooji Katrak-trained Winds Of Fortune and Kolkata Derby winner Snowscape — jumping into the fray at the last minute by paying a whopping million rupees each as final entry fee.
And why not? In what will be the richest racing event in the country with a total prize money of over Rs 3 crore, the winner alone will take home a cool Rs 1.8 crore, so in effect the connections of these two late entrants are getting the odds of 18 to 1 for their gamble.
“No, it’s not a gamble,” Cooji Katrak, who trains Winds Of Fortune, insisted while speaking to MiD DAY.
“It’s a calculated move. My filly has won her last race impressively, and even if she figures in the first four, she can recover that money,” he said.
Katrak, who had won this race with Moonlight Romance two years ago, minced no words when he added, “This is the weakest Derby field in many years. The only half-decent horse in the field is Wind Stream trained by Irfan Ghatala, so I think any horse with good current form can hope to cause an upset.”
Winds Of Fortune, owned by Rakesh Kumar Wadhawan, the real estate baron for whom Katrak had saddled Moonlight Romance, has definitely struck good form, but her overall performance is nothing to write home about. She has won only three races from ten starts, but interestingly, has lost only one race out of the four she ran on the Mahalaxmi track this season.
“Oh, even that race she should have won. The boy (A Sandesh) made his move too early or there was no way Colossus would have beaten her. And in any case, we are now better placed than Colossus at the weights, aren’t we?” the trainer said.
Colossus is trained by Pesi Shroff, the man who won this race with Jacqueline in 2010. Ironically, Shroff has three runners in the Derby fray at the handicaps stage, but his main hope could be Colossus, winner of a class IV race on debut, who will be running only the second race of his life!
And that’s a reflection of how open this year’s Derby really is, because it’s not often that a champion trainer dreams of pulling off a Derby upset with an inexperienced horse, and another veteran trainer persuades his horse owner to cough up a million rupees for a late-blooming filly whose best show so far has been a win in a class III handicap race.
This surely is going to be the most exciting Derby in terms of suspense.