A Triple Crown nominee conditioned by one of Japan’s most successful trainers? La Perouse isn’t a household name just yet, but racing fans are advised to take note of the exciting bay colt, who produced an eye-catching rally to win Sunday’s Hyacinth S. on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.
A son of the Group 1-placed turf star Pelusa out of a mare by Belmont (G1) winner Empire Maker, La Perouse is bred to relish classic distances, and he entered the 1,600-meter Hyacinth with a burgeoning reputation. Although never a factor in his debut on turf, La Perouse thrived when switching to dirt, going 2-for-3 at Mombetsu before finishing fast to defeat a large field in an 1,800-meter allowance event at Nakayama.
The Hyacinth at Tokyo Racecourse was essentially a repeat, only more impressive. Demonstrating the high regard in which La Perouse is held, trainer Kazuo Fujisawa (who swept the 2017 Japanese Derby and Oaks with Rey de Oro and Soul Stirring) enlisted Japan’s top jockey Christophe Lemaire to ride. Under Lemaire’s guidance, La Perouse employed patient rating tactics, dropping off the pace after a slow start to save ground while longshot Probatio dashed to the front through modest splits of :23.80, :48.30, and 1:12.80.
But entering the long homestretch, La Perouse began to advance. Boldly splitting horses, the bay colt came charging up inside of Probatio, surging past with a swift burst of acceleration. La Perouse continued to pour on speed to the finish line, completing the final 600 meters in a snappy :35 to beat the pacesetter by 1 1/2 lengths.
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Probatio held for second over the late-charging filly Ladybug, while Takeru Pegasus—previously runner-up in the Cattleya S. on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby—got up for fourth after racing wide from midpack. Gempachi Forza, Taisei Slugger, Bakushin, Lord Strom, Zenno Ange, Hokko Karyu, Daishin Pisces, and Kojikun trailed the field.
La Perouse’s final time of 1:36.80 marked the quickest running of the Hyacinth since multiple Group 1 winner Gold Dream clocked 1:35.40 back in 2016. Befitting of such a strong performance, La Perouse earned 30 qualification points on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, rocketing to the top of the local leaderboard.
In recent years, Japanese participants in the U.S. Triple Crown have outperformed expectations. In 2016, Hyacinth fifth-place finisher Lani showed steady improvement throughout the American classics, finishing ninth in the Derby, fifth in the Preakness (G1), and third in the Belmont. Three years later, Master Fencer unleashed late rallies to finish sixth in the Derby and fifth in the Belmont, both times at long odds.
But La Perouse arguably ranks a cut above his predecessors, and if he makes the trip to Louisville, he’ll loom as Japan’s most formidable Kentucky Derby contender to date. In the meantime, he can cement his place in the Derby starting gate with a victory in the Mar. 27 Fukuryu S. at Nakayama Racecourse, the final leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.