April 10, 2021

Japan doubles up: Pink Kamehameha in Saudi Derby, Copano Kicking in Riyadh Dirt Sprint

Pink Kamehameha
Pink Kamehameha takes the Saudi Derby over Cowan (Coady Photography)

Japan celebrated two upsets on Saudi Cup Day. Pink Kamehameha floored Cowan and the Godolphin fancies at odds of 30-1 in the $1.5 million Saudi Derby, and the 14-1 Copano Kicking denied compatriot Matera Sky in the $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint. Dubai World Cup night now beckons for both.

Saudi Derby

Pink Kamehameha was keeping trainer Hideyuki Mori’s perfect record in this race, after sending out Full Flat to take the inaugural. But Full Flat at least had dirt experience, notably finishing fifth in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).

In contrast, Hisako Kimura’s Pink Kamehameha was a pretty exposed turf horse trying dirt for the first time, and unlike a couple of other stablemates in the yard back home, he was not nominated to the Triple Crown. Those proved to be red herrings, however, as he won – indeed, hit the board for the first time – since his career debut at Hakodate last June.

From the first crop of Japanese champion Leontes (a son of King Kamehameha and blue hen Cesario), Pink Kamehameha is a half-brother to champion mare Sweep Tosho. He is also a three-quarter brother to Tosho Freak, a multiple Grade 3-placed stakes winner on dirt, and inherited that aptitude.

As Pink Kamehameha bagged a forward position early with Keita Tosaki, Cowan fluffed the start and found himself last. Up front, Meshakel was attended by even-money favorite Soft Whisper, who readily took over rounding the far turn.

Pink Kamehameha covered her move, and the Godolphin filly suddenly looked vulnerable upon straightening. Fellow Godolphin runner Rebel’s Romance began to enter the fray before flattening, and New Treasure churned on, but Pink Kamehameha was moving best of all to strike the front.

Then Cowan erupted from his apparently hopeless position. Gaining fast, the Steve Asmussen pupil ran out of ground. Pink Kamehameha held on by three-quarters of a length while clocking the metric mile in 1:38.57.

Mori observed that the earlier rain in Riyadh might have helped.

“Everything went perfect today,” the winning trainer said. “He showed a very good response to the jockey at the final turn, which was kind of surprising to me. He ran on dirt for the first time, but today’s surface with a bit of rain affected track must suit him a lot.”

The Mar. 27 UAE Derby (G2) at Meydan, worth a total of 170 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, is now on the radar.

In a plot twist, Joel Rosario was initially slated to ride the winner. He jumped to Cowan as a late substitution for his original pilot, Umberto Rispoli, who could not make it due to travel problems.

“He missed the break,” Rosario said of what was a frustrating result in more ways than one. “Right when they opened the gate, his head was turned, so he lost the break, but he came running. They went very fast up front and he almost got there. It was a good run from him.”

Cowan thus continued his seconditis, a sequence including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), Remington Springboard Mile, and Smarty Jones.

New Treasure was a fine third for John Gosden, an opening act for his star stablemate Mishriff in the Saudi Cup. Rebel’s Romance bested Soft Whisper as the Godolphin pair managed only fourth and fifth, respectively. Next came a trio of locals – Shibl Lat’taam, Hatm, and Magbootah – trailed by Britain’s Albadri, Meshakel, French raider Homeryan, and Round Six. Emblem Road was scratched.

Riyadh Dirt Sprint

Copano Kicking
Copano Kicking beats Matera Sky (inside) in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Douglas De Felice)

For most of the about six-furlong dash, Matera Sky was looking good in his bid to re-litigate last year’s brutal beat on the wire. In the 2020 edition run as the Saudia Sprint, the front runner went gangbusters early, shortened stride late, and got caught by deep-closing New York Central. The old rivals were 3-1 in the rematch here.

Matera Sky again led early, but his manner was more measured. As he saw off early pace companion Raaed, and then repelled Switzerland, his hopes rose that he’d see it out to the wire.

Then, in a scenario that would be the stuff of nightmares, the concluding act played out with agonizing familiarity. Only this time, it was not New York Central, but Copano Kicking who powered down the outside. Swooping in time under William Buick, the Akira Murayama veteran thrust his neck in front in 1:10.66.

Locally based Faz Zae excelled himself to place third, overtaking Switzerland. Maypole; Japan’s other hope, Justin; British shipper Oxted; Raaed; Brad the Brief; Harry’s Bar; New York Central; Roman River; and Raucous rounder out the order of finish. Rajee Allah was withdrawn.

“He is a very talented horse but he’s not easy to train,” Murayama said. “He’s temperamental, very edgy and overexcited, and he didn’t do too much work this week before the race.

“I called the owner (Sachiaki Kobayashi) before the winner’s ceremony. He was very happy, he spoke to William and asked him to ride his horses again in Japan when he comes back.”

A Kentucky-bred son of Spring at Last, Copano Kicking was a U.S. Triple Crown nominee in 2018. That year the gelding scored his first graded win in the Capella (G3) over older horses. His 2019 season was his most productive so far, with a repeat in the Capella, victories in the Negishi (G3) and Tokyo Hai, and a near-miss in the JBC Sprint. Copano Kicking had a relatively quiet 2020 by comparison, including a second to Mozu Ascot in the Negishi and a close third to Justin in the Tokyo Hai. The six-year-old had not raced since his sixth in the Nov. 3 JBC Sprint, but recovered his former zest here.

“He will go to Dubai, hopefully for the Golden Shaheen (G1),” Murayama added regarding his plans for Dubai World Cup night. “I thought it was going to be a tough race and I’m pleased that we beat last year’s winner.”