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Star Indian filly fights odds as Carnival looms

In The Spotlight has to overcome loneliness prior to big Meydan test

  • India’s champion filly In The Spotlight takes partin a morning training session at Meydan.Image Credit: Courtesy: Dubai Racing Club
  • Norway’s Beat Baby is spotted during track work at Meydan racecourseImage Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News
Gulf News

Dubai: As she prepares for the biggest test of her career when she competes at the 2013 Dubai World Cup Carnival, India’s champion filly In The Spotlight must first fend off an unsuspected and conceivably complex adversary — loneliness.

Due to strict quarantine rules for horses coming into the country, In The Spotlight has been consigned to a barn at the high-security Dubai World Cup Quarantine centre in Nad Al Sheba, where she resides in isolation, with only her groom for company.

The setting is a far cry from the hustle-and-bustle nature of the stables that she inhabited at key racing centres in India.

Trainer S. Padmanabhan, who has masterminded her six Indian Classic victories, says while there is cause for concern he is convinced that his star has the temperament to surmount any obstacles she will encounter in Dubai.

“She’s used to stables that are buzzing with activity, and all of a sudden she finds herself all alone. It can be quite a shock to the system, and I admit she’s feeling a bit lonely,” said the handler, who is preparing to unleash his protégé in a 2,400m contest at Meydan on January 17.

“However, she’s travelled well and is getting more comfortable with every passing day. What’s also new to her are the spotlights and the fact that she has been given a 4am training slot at Meydan.

“But I believe that champions are champions because they can adapt to extreme situations. If Sachin Tendulkar can score a century on any ground in the world, I don’t see why In The Spotlight can’t also do the same in horseracing terms. She’s a professional and she’s adapting fast. So we hope that she’ll be spot on when she takes her place at the starting gates in two weeks time.”

The highest stakes earner in Indian racing history, with more than Rs50,000,000 (Dh3.3 million) in winnings, In The Spotlight was the only horse from the sub-continent to receive an invitation to compete at the Carnival, an 11-meeting extravaganza offering prize money of $37.360 million. She is jointly owned by Captain Jamshed J. Appoo and Zavaray Poonawalla.

Not many horses from India have competed at the event since it launched ten years ago, although Mystical did fly the flag for the country when winning back-to-back races in 2007, while Oasis Star ran a creditable second three years later.

However, Padmanabhan, who has forged a reputation of being a very astute trainer with his 150-odd Graded race victories in India, believes that In The Spotlight has earned her shot at some of the big prizes at the Carnival.

“Obviously when you compete on the international stage, you are targeting a bar that is set higher than you are normally accustomed to,” he explained.

“We don’t really know how good she is outside India. The first two races she runs here will give us a pointer as to where she stands at the international level. She was very outstanding in India and absolutely had no competition.

“She was a champion back home, where she won every race worth winning and at different racecourses — Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Calcutta. We know she is the best in India, but we have to find out how she rates on the big stage. It’s time to read the cards.”

Padmanabhan said the $1 million (Dh3.67 million) Dubai Gold Cup (G3- 3,200m) or the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1-2,400m) would be In The Spotlight’s long-term targets should she progress from her opening two races.

“The longer the trip the better she is, anything around a mile and a half or more is perfect,” he says. “We would like to think about both the staying races on Dubai World Cup night. We’ll go for the race where we think we can win and not look at the purse.”

Padmanabhan also described In The Spotlight as the best horse he has ever trained, and perhaps even the best race horse he has seen.

“There is something so special about her. I think she has the X-factor. She wants to win every time she competes, just like [American tennis star] Serena Williams,” he reveals. “The moment she sees a horse in front of her she’s looking for that signal from her jockey. And when she gets the signal, she goes into top gear and produces a strong gallop and takes off. You can’t catch her after that.”

The trainer also highlighted the importance of In The Spotlight performing well at the Carnival.

“This would be a landmark in my career if she wins a race or two here, and hopefully a Group race,” Padmanabhan says. “When you’ve achieved all that you can, you want to achieve something more. Your goalposts keep moving backwards and you have to kick the ball harder in order to score.”

How much of credit can he take for In The Spotlight’s achievements?

“Trainers can’t put ability into a horse, they can only put a saddle on the horse,” he says. “It’s the horse that runs. It’s how well you keep them going that really matters. That’s all you can do.”