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Winner Desert God takes Mahalaxmi by storm

S Padmanabhan-trained Derby champ asserts position as India’s best four-year-old

Dsesrt God, the Kolkata Derby winner who ran friendless at 12-1 as a record Mumbai crowd that turned up at the Mahalaxmi racecourse rooted for the Pesi Shroff-trained duo of Costa Del Sol and Myrtlewood, was given a peach of a ride by English jockey David Allan to win the 2016 Indian Derby, sponsored by Kingfisher Ultra and partnered by Signature.


Jockey David Allan guides Desert God (left) to victory during the Kingfisher Ultra Indian Derby 2016 at Mahalaxmi yesterday. Pic/Shadab Khan

The S Padmanabhan-trained Derby winner thus asserted his position as the best four-year-old in the country, and pocketed a cool Rs 1.80 crore, the richest in Derby history, and also the greatest sum given for any single sporting event in India.

Blazing away
As starter flagged off the 20-horse field, the biggest in Derby’s 75-year old history, Be Fifty Two flattered briefly before Columbiana (Pat Smullen up) quickly assumed command and started dictating pace to Airco (A Alam up), and both of them pulled away to a ten-lengths lead over the rest. The first 1000 metres of the mile-and-a-half trip was cut in a blazing 58 seconds and change, but the next couple of furlongs were suddenly run slower.

David Allan
David Allan

Jockey Allan later told
mid-day that he wasn’t aware of these strangely run early fractions. “Once the gates opened, I focused on my job, and he (Desert God) settled very well. The only time I was a little apprehensive was when I saw Costa Del Sol and Phoenix Tiger making their move on the outside, and I was on the inside, behind the front runners who were starting to fall back.”

But just then, Allan saw an opening in front and went for it with such alacrity, both Costa and Phoenix could not keep up the paces and feel back. However, Pradeep Chouhan astride Myrtlewood had started gaining her trademark momentum by then, and by the time Desert God and Allan nosed out the leader, Myrtlewood drew alongside, and a fierce duel ensued which lasted all the way up to the winning post where Desert God managed to spare half a length to Myrtlewood.

“I was never in doubt about the verdict. I knew my horse would keep going,” said Allan. True words these, as the Englishman has partnered Desert God during three of his important victories, the Hyderabad monsoon Derby, and the Kolkata 2000 Guineas and Derby.

“Actually, I found him (Desert God) a little stale after winning the Kolkata Derby,” trainer Padmanabhan told mid-day, “so I decided to take him back to Bangalore for a small spell of rest.” This move by the astute trainer did wonders for the horse as after coming to Mumbai he started logging some excellent work on the trial track.

This was the second Indian Derby victory for both the jockey and the trainer. Padmanabhan had won his first Derby with In The Spotlight in 2012, while Allan had rated his first Derby success astride Moonlight Romance two years earlier.

Mumbai wrote us off: sharmila

Desert God raced in the "Light green, pink sash, sleeves and cap" silks of Mrs Sharmila Padmanabhan, who owns the Derby winner in partnership with her husband, trainer S Padmanabhan, and Col Swapan Bhadra. Life came full circle for the Padmanabhan couple as Desert God managed to accomplish what his mother, Running Flame, had failed to do as a Derby favourite in 1992. Referring indirectly to the fascination of the Mumbai racing crowd with trainer Pesi Shroff and his two favourites Costa Del Sol & Myrtlewood, Sharmila, in an interview, said she was very confident her horse would win, but no one cared to listen. "Mumbai just ignored us and downplayed our chances," she said, but without any bitterness.

Derby winner bred in mallya's farm
Derby winner Desert God was bred at Kunigal stud farm, owned by none other than sponsor Vijay Mallya himself. The flamboyant Mallya who was the first to spot the potential of Indian Derby as a lifestyle event was personally present to present the trophy to the winning team.Interestingly, Desert God brought to end a long, 43-year drought for Kunigal farm as the last Derby winner bred by the farm was Topmost way back in 1973. This fact was mentioned by trainer Padmanabhan who, in an emotional speech, thanked Zeyn Mirza and his team at Kunigal, for "taking care of Desert God for the first two years of his life," before sending it to Padmanabhan's training yard in Bangalore.

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