First, a frank confession. I have been covering the sport of horse racing for mid-day for 21 years now, and have been exceptionally lucky in accurately spotting the winner of the mid-day trophy 11 times in the last 13 years of its running. These past years have featured a variety of handicapping puzzles. There have been fields of as many as 18 runners and there have been as many as seven horses in a field of 15 that were making debut and hence were unknown entities. But never have I found the line up of the mid-day trophy as puzzling as the one that is slated for today at the Mahalaxmi racetrack.
Jockey Yash Narredu with winning horse Speed King during last year's mid-day Trophy at Mahalaxmi
Actually, there are only ten 3y olds in the fray, and only three of them are first-timers, but the better among them are so evenly matched, I feel talent, experience, preparation and rider's skill will have to combine with 'luck of the race' for one of them to emerge as a decisive winner of the 2016 mid-day trophy which will be flagged off by the starter at 4.30 pm from the seven-furlong marker of the Mahalaxmi racetrack.
The experienced trio
My Dynamic Ratings are generally quite dependable for all races involving three-year-olds, but they hint at a very close fight for three of the seven in the fray who have had the benefit of at least one run. They are Star Scholar, Silver Beauty & Covert Action. Interestingly, all three of them are being ridden by top jockeys, so there may not be much to choose on that score.
Star Scholar tops the Dynamic Rating chart, and is the only horse who has taken a massive jump in raw speed figures between its two runs on this track. A chestnut colt by Ace out of Scholastic Giant, Star Scholar is trained by Dallas Todywalla and will be ridden by A Sandesh. Silver Beauty, the more forward of the Malesh Narredu-trained pair, made a rather remarkable debut when she finished fourth to Glorious Eyes over six furlongs, giving indication that she will be a force to reckon with over the extended trip. Covert Action, who may be neglected by the betting market, finished a good seven lengths behind Star Scholar when the latter lost to Germanicus, may improve most dramatically in his second start. And with the B Prakash stable firing with jockey PS Chouhan, Covert Action must be regarded as the proverbial joker in the pack for the mid-day trophy line up.
Gunning for glory
You can be sure in a glamorous race like the mid-day trophy every runner, irrespective of the level of fitness, will attempt to put its best hoof forward (pun intended) to have a shot at glory, and that brings a couple of more horses under the discussion, like trainer Narendra Lagad's Rock In Rio entrusted to Dashrath Singh and Vinesh's Alpine Express to be ridden by Neeraj Rawal. What must be remembered is that both these riders can display some dazzling form when in their element, and can take performance of their mounts a notch or two higher. Another one who will be secretly hoping to recapture the glory he basked in last year is teenager Yash Narredu who will be astride the first timer Volantis.
Danger to all
The big threat to all of them will be Costa Smeralda, a dark bay filly by Uncle Mo out of Karakorum Splendour, whom her trainer, Pesi Shroff, officially describes as "not exactly tuned with this race in view". But you can certainly ignore the Pesi Shroff when it comes to tipping his own horses, because those who know him know it only too well that the champion trainer generally doesn't like to paint a very rosy picture for his first-timers.
As handicapper, I must stress the point that if Costa Smeralda has class--and there is absolutely no reason to believe she does not--then even with 70 percent fitness she can make a winning debut in this set.
First race at 2.00 pm.
Sonny Brar Trophy (Class II; 1800m)
Sweeping Star 1, Starry Brook 2, Daishonin 3.
Design One Million (Class III; 1400m)
Governor General 1, Final Encounter 2, Sentimental 3.
Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Eclipse Stakes of India (Grade 2) (For 4y&o; 2000m)
Quasar 1, Shivalik Showers 2, Remember Me 3.
R N Kanga Gold Trophy (Grade 3) (For 4y&o; 1600m)
Shivalik Storm 1, Booker Jones 2, Congressional 3.
Dr S C Jain Sprinters' Championship (Grade 2) (For 4y&o; 1200m)
Dancing Prances 1, Dancing Phoenix 2, Adam 3.
Mid Day Trophy Powered by Satra Group
(For 3y, maidens; 1400m)
1. Covert Action 55.00 P S Chouhan 4;
2. Mano Na Mano 55.00 R Shelar 9;
3. Mastermarksman 55.00 S J Sunil 5;
4. Rock In Rio 55.00 Dashrath Singh 6;
5. Star Scholar 55.00 A Sandesh 1;
6. Alpine Express 53.50 Neeraj Rawal 8;
7. Costa Smeralda 53.50 S Zervan 3;
8. Pretty Angel 53.50 Bhawani Singh 7;
9. Silver Beauty 53.50 Suraj Narredu 2;
10. Volantis 53.50 Yash Narredu 10.
Selections: Star Scholar 1, Covert Action 2, Silver Beauty 3.
Upset: Costa Smeralda
Kika-Koku Trophy (Class IV; 1600m)
Sawgrass 1, Dancing Pretty 2, Sumaaq 3.
Dr Jagjit Singh Million (Class IV; 1200m)
Paramour 1, Angelic Aria 2, Shining Melody 3.
Best bet: None
Good bet: Quasar (3-1)
Chance bet: Dancing Prances (5-4)
Upset: Costa Smeralda (6-7)
Super jackpot pool: 3,4,5,6,7,8
Jackpot pool: 4,5,6,7,8
Treble pool: I - 5,6,7; II - 6,7,8
Tanala pool: All races.