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No clear favourite for Indian Derby

The gruelling contest, to be run over a mile-and-a-half (approx 1.4 km) which tests both speed and stamina of top four-year-old horses who wish to lay claim to the title of 'the best  four-year-old thoroughbred', will be run tomorrow at the Mahalaxmi racecourse.


Snowscape. PIC/indiarace.com

The prize of over Rs 3 crore makes it the single richest sporting event in the country, and if you consider the fact the contest lasts barely two-and-a-half minutes, that's too much money to be won for such a short athletic feat. But behind those two-and-a-half minutes lie about four years of painstaking labour — first by the breeder who meticulously matches the bloodlines to produce the best possible offspring, then by the owner who puts his money on the line when he buys a dream along with a horse, later by the trainer who, along with his backyard staff, lives out each good or bad swing in the fortunes of the horse that comes with every victory and defeat, and finally, on the D-day, by the jockey who rides him who has to be fully aware that he 

has to make many split second decisions during the Derby race, and even one of them goes wrong, it can undo four years of planned effort. Exactly how open is this 71st version of the country's greatest race? The fact that as many as 17 horses have jumped into the fray hints at the openness of the contest.

But a more important pointer is the fact that all the first seven finishers in the R R Ruia Gold Cup won by An Acquired Taste, run less than three weeks ago on this same track, have chosen to run the Derby in the hope that the Ruia result can be shuffled with little luck! Then there are four outstation challengers — Wind Stream, Borsalino & Super Storm from Bangalore & Snowscape from Kolkata, and that's not counting the Hyderabad champion Machiavellianism who has been camping here after successfully raiding the Indian 2000 Guineas.

Who has the best chance to win? Because I strongly believe an elaborate handicapping approach will prove useless for such an open contest, I am going to use a rather simplistic method. I believe the first three finishers in that race, who finished within a length-and-a-half of one another, are legitimate contenders for the Derby: An Acquired Taste, Shivalik Hero & Machiavellianism.

Wind Stream, winner of the Mysore Derby and Bangalore 2000 Guineas, has done nothing wrong, and comes here with such an impressive preparation that there is a strong possibility that he may finally end up being the market favourite at post time. At least, it would not be wrong to say that whosoever wants to win this Derby will have to beat Wind Stream.

And who can that be? One of the Ruia Cup trio mentioned above? Or Wind Of Fortune, the joker in the pack who was pitched in by the connections (Big price for big prize, MiD DAY, Jan 30) by paying a hefty final entry fee? I think it would be none of these. My choice for the Derby is Snowscape, the only other horse who also took the 'final entry'  route to get into the Derby fray.

I have been watching Snowscape and his progress for more than a month now. After he lost to Slade Valley, he surely had a setback. But a mock race in December  indicated that he had perhaps struck great form, a fact which he confirmed when first  making mincemeat of an ordinary class II opposition, and later decimating his rivals, including Tintinnabulation (the stylish winner of the Hyderabad Derby this week), when he ran away with the Kolkata Derby. To me, he looks the most appealing — and deserving —  horse to win the Derby on Sunday. 

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