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THE INDIAN TURF INVITATION CUP : 1990 - DESERT WARRIOR A GUTSY PERFORMER (APRIL - MAY 2010)
The Classic Indian Turf Invitation Cup (Gr1) 1990
The 1990 Invitation Cup winner Desert Warrior would not have got a ribbon in
any horse show. A June foal, he was distinctly turned in, sparse,
angular and had a very common, but honest head
In fact, he was one of the few horses still rolling in the Poonawalla ring, just outside Gallops restaurant, at the 1988 RWITC Ltd Auction Sale in Mumbai, long after most of his companions had been sold off. Eventually he was purchased by Mr and Mrs R B Jain. An affluent scrap dealer, Mr Jain gave his newly purchased colt to trainer S K Sunderji. And in time, Desert Warrior was to show that he was a gutsy performer with a motor powerful enough to compensate for the deficiencies in his conformation.
Desert Warrior came to hand early enough to have his first start at the beginning of December. He acquitted himself fairly well, finishing a length second to the odds-on favourite, National Craze, trained by Raghunath. On Christmas day, he left the maiden ranks in the hands of Lazarus, with a stylish four-and-a-quarter length win to give his owners the Muffin Cup. Shroff had the ride on Desert Warrior when the colt came out for the N M Irani Trophy. With a strong stretch run, Shroff collared Way To Glory opposite the
Members’ Stand and went on to win by a length. Aslam Kader’s objection for bumping and boring was upheld and the race went to Way To Glory. Once again, a Raghunath-trained horse had proved to be a thorn in Desert Warrior’s side.
On Exhilaration’s Invitation Cup day, Shroff opted to ride the Riyahi filly Belle Epoque, in preference to Desert Warrior in the Mysore Trophy. So, Sunderji put Aslam Kader on his colt. Belle Epoque, the odds-on favourite, took the lead passing the First Enclosure, and was being hailed a winner when Aslam Kader’s powerful driving saw Desert Warrior come with raking strides to win by three-parts of a length. With two wins and two seconds from his first four starts, Desert Warrior had recovered a substantial part of his purchase price.
In Mumbai, Desert Warrior had looked a good, genuine horse in the making, someone certain to give his owners something to cheer about every time he ran. In Pune, he went well beyond that. He first ran in the F D Wadia Trophy on a day when the going was like a quagmire. There were seven
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runners in the race, and Desert Warrior, Shroff up, was the favourite at a point over even money. Shroff gave Desert Warrior is head well before the bend, and though Air Wolf and Shah-Zaar eventually finished close up, the jockey had plenty in the saddle. The time of 1 min 35.5 secs for 1400m was clear indication of how heavy the going had been. Sunderji resisted the temptation to give his colt another race and brought him out straight in the Pune Derby. In the meantime, Shah-Zaar had won the General Rajendrasinhji Trophy with Air Wolf a close fourth, despite being interfered by the winner.
Rather surprisingly, it was the Khatau-owned Sea Jade, who was the best backed of the dozen runners at 7 to 4. Sea Jade had been beaten in his only previous start at Pune over a mile. At 3 to 1, Desert Warrior came next in the betting, while Shah-Zaar and Air Wolf were at 8s.
Treasure Boy was slowly out, but was soon brushed up to lead the field, with Air Wolf in close attendance. Just before the bend, Air Wolf took over the running and the favourite made a forward move, while Shroff and Desert Warrior still held their mid-field spot. It was only as he rounded the bend that Shroff began to improve Desert Warrior’s position. In the meantime, Shinde had sent Sea Jade on past Air Wolf and when Shroff straightened Desert Warrior, they only had the Khatau red jacket in front of them. With 200m to go, Shroff challenged the favourite who refused to give in tamely. And as the two were fighting it out, Scorpio, who had received a bad check earlier, came full of running. It was a three-way finish, but Shroff always had the call over the favourite, who lost the runner-up berth a few strides before the winning post. The colt nobody wanted had won the Pune Derby and picked up half-a-million in stakes.
At the end of that Pune season, trainer Sunderji voluntarily surrendered his licence and Desert Warrior moved to Altaf Hussain. Shroff had been much impressed by Desert Warrior, but he reckoned that the colt lacked the early speed and the turn of foot necessary to win the Indian 2000 Guineas. So, though Desert Warrior ran in that Classic, it was only to give him a race gallop. Starting at 10 to 1, he ran a forward race under Parnell and retired gracefully, even as Shroff won on Vesuvius in the Poonawalla colours. Parnell again had the ride in the Ramniwas Ramnarain Ruia Trophy, where Desert Warrior had just one opponent in his old rival, Shah-Zaar. Waiting behind Shah-Zaar till 400m from home, Parnell let his mount go as Desert Warrior toyed
with Shah-Zaar to come in eight-and-a-half lengths ahead.
Just before the Indian Derby, Dr Cyrus Poonawalla bought half-a-share in Desert Warrior. Pesi Shroff was to ride him in that race, and the colt was working most diligently. Two fillies dominated the betting for the Indian Derby, with Dr M A M Ramaswamy’s Ministrella slightly better backed than the Mr Vijay Mallya-owned Golden Treasure. On her previous start, Golden Treasure had won the Indian Oaks, whereas Ministrella had picked up the Bangalore Oaks. The other southern challenger was Dr Ramaswamy’s South India Derby winner Oxford Blue.
Cartier Million was left in the stalls, while Dagino stopped galloping passing the mile marker, leaving eight runners in the fray. Scorpio, the Mallya camp’s pace-maker led till coming into the straight, at which point it was obvious that the raiders from the south were out of it. Scorpio was passed by Golden Treasure, but the filly failed to produce her Oaks sparkle. As Shroff brought Desert Warrior with a sustained run through the centre, the filly fizzled out and Desert Warrior strode ahead to score comfortably from the late finishers, Sea Jade and Pierce Arrow. Yet again, Shroff had ridden a perfect race and the horse had responded magnificently.
The Bangalore Derby winner Classic Story’s absence from the Invitation Cup line-up was compensated by the presence of the Calcutta Triple Crown winner, Aspirant, and the Golconda Derby winner, Sikander-E-Azam. From the Indian Derby field, Desert Warrior, Pierce Arrow, Ministrella and Oxford Blue made the journey to Kolkata, and a field of 11 runners paraded in the paddock. For a brief while, Desert Warrior could be backed at evens, but by the time the starter lowered the flag, he was an odds-on chance. Sikander- E-Azam went to the front and led the field with no great urgency. Coming into the straight, Pierce Arrow challenged the front runner, who kicked on. There was a bit of chopping and changing of the order behind, but one runner who was moving up all the way was Desert Warrior. It was a re-run of the Indian Derby. Shroff went past Sikander-E-Azam mid-way up the straight and won untroubled by Bizzarini’s late dash.
The time of the race remains the slowest
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in 41 runnings. The fact, however, is that Pesi Shroff was always in full control of the race.
Desert Warrior was beaten by short-heads in both his races later that year at Pune. First, in the Idar Cup, and then in the Indian St Leger, when he was the victim of a peach of a front-running ride by Vasant Shinde on Classic Story. It was almost one whole year before Desert Warrior raced again. It had been difficult to keep him racing fit, and he came in trailing in the Eve Champion Cup at Pune. It was a sad end to a career that had been a model of consistency in the first two years. His conformational defects finally took their toll. The motor was still very much there, but the wheels had become wobbly.
Desert Warrior was retired to the Arabesque Stud in Punjab, where he died in July 1996. He had only five named foals during his stud career, and the four that faced the starter were all winners, claiming 11 races between them.
Lt-Gen M S Wadalia established the Qutab Stud, on the outskirts of Delhi, in the early 1960s, with an all-imported band of broodmares. One of them was a grey mare called Stumped, in foal to Torbido, who, as the years have gone by, established a notable family of Classic winners in India. Stumped produced 11 foals in India of which nine were fillies, and that ensured the proliferation of lines. Five of those fillies were by Qutab’s resident stallion Asopo, a winner of the Italian 2000 Guineas, who was to become the Champion Broodmare Sire in India on five occasions. Ironically, Stumped’s Classic winning daughter, Lovely Smitha, was by Young Lochinvar. Desert Warrior is, without a doubt, the best of eight Classic winners descending from Stumped, who had over 50 broodmares representing her at stud today in India.
Maandavi, the dam of Desert Warrior, was a daughter
of Red Rufus, who, incidentally is the only Invitation Cup winner to figure in the immediate pedigree of another winner of the same race. Red Rufus shone as a stallion and also as a broodmare sire, his own performance coming through more than his pedigree. The sequence of Red Rufus-Asopo-Dejbe- Umidwar in Maandavi’s pedigree suggested that she would be a good broodmare, and so she proved to be. Djebe is rather an uncommon name in pedigrees. The ill-starred son of Djebel spent much of his early life with a leg in plaster and did not see a race course till he was four. A promising stud career was terminated when he was fatally injured by a car while out on his morning exercise. Still, he did sire Midget and Pederoba and is the maternal grandsire of Mige, Glaneuse and Standford Lad. Two other daughters of Djebe, Affected and Casbah, also produced Classic winners in India. Desert Warrior’s dam Maandavi, who placed second in the Bangalore 1000 Guineas, produced no less than 13 winners. Desert Warrior’s full-sister La Bonne Vie came within inches of emulating her elder brother, failing by the narrowest of margins to beat Astonish in the Indian Derby. With Malvado also proving to be an excellent broodmare sire, much more was expected of La Bonne Vie after she retired to stud. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if she came up with a ‘cracker’.
Stumped’s grandam was a half-sister to the Ascot Gold Vase winner Covenden, and the dam of Irish Derby winner Chamour. While this is not an elite family, it is an excellent running one. In the last decade, it has thrown up some useful horses - Spadoun, Tot Ou Tard, Execute and others – in France.
An extract from the book
‘A Legacy of Champions’
The Indian Turf Invitation Cup
— by Srinivas Nargolkar
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