Saturday’s $750,000 UAE Derby (G2) is a contentious affair on paper. A local division awash in up-and-comers but no clear leader, Japanese hopes with mixed messages, and a couple of Americans whose connections warrant respect – all add up to a fascinating contest with Kentucky Derby (G1) points on the line, according to the 100-40-20-10 scale to the top four.
UAE Derby – Race 5 (10:05 a.m. ET)
Japan’s Pink Kamehameha upset the Feb. 20 Saudi Derby in his dirt debut, beating the unlucky Cowan (who runs in Saturday’s Al Quoz Sprint [G1]) and Irish Group 3 scorer New Treasure who was making his first start for John Gosden. But that form might not translate here, and post 14 doesn’t help Pink Kamehameha’s prospects of turning the double.
Moreover, his compatriots bring even better resumes than he had. Indeed, Pink Kamehameha appeared to be the understudy for his Hideyuki Mori stablemate, Triple Crown nominee France Go de Ina, who was penciled in for Saudi before a fever ruled him out. By champion Will Take Charge, the flashy France Go de Ina looked like one to follow when romping in a maiden and allowance late last fall at Hanshin. The question is whether missing his intended prep could affect his chances, as he now tackles this assignment off a three-month layoff. But his tactical speed, in the hands of Joel Rosario, is a plus.
Takeru Pegasus, a veteran of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, nearly wired the Cattleya S. but didn’t use his speed when fourth in his Hyacinth S. reappearance. That smacks of a tune-up for this target, and he picks up Ryan Moore.
The title of top Dubai-based sophomore is up for grabs partly because two of the key claimants, the Godolphin pair of Rebel’s Romance and Soft Whisper, swerved their next obvious races at Meydan to pursue the Saudi Derby. Neither performed their best in Riyadh, winding up fourth and fifth, respectively, but both saw their form franked at home.
UAE 1000 Guineas romper Soft Whisper would have been the prohibitive favorite in the UAE Oaks (G3). Instead, trainer Saeed bin Suroor tried her against the boys in Saudi. Although the daughter of Dubawi ran well in the early stages, she labored on the deeper, more tiring surface. The venue change back to Meydan could be all Soft Whisper needs to restore her luster and become the second filly to win this race, after Khawlah (2011) – one of bin Suroor’s record eight UAE Derby wins.
But Mnasek, a smashing winner of the UAE Oaks in Soft Whisper’s absence, could have something to say about that too. The Doug Watson pupil had flubbed the start when a belated second in the Guineas, and her rematch with Soft Whisper promises to be more competitive.
The Charlie Appleby-trained Rebel’s Romance had won the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, preserving his then-unbeaten record narrowly from Mouheeb. Careful handling by William Buick, and a two-month break, could explain the head margin for Rebel’s Romance. Yet Mouheeb clearly took a step forward in the absence of Rebel’s Romance to capture the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). Trainer Nicholas Bachalard deliberately skipped Saudi to have Mouheeb fresh for the UAE Derby. The one caveat is that the full brother to Grade 2-winning sprinter Favorable Outcome isn’t guaranteed to be as effective at about 1 3/16 miles.
Rebel’s Romance has a staying pedigree, as a Dubawi gelding, and his nomination to the Triple Crown underscores his reputation. On the other hand, Appleby has stressed that he won’t reach his prime until next season, so it’s unclear whether he’s far enough along to win this.
The other Dubai-based contenders are the respective top four from the Al Bastakiya at this track and trip on the March 6 Super Saturday card. Panadol, a 7 3/4-length debut winner for Salem bin Ghadayer, passed his first stakes test with another front-running coup. Speight’spercomete, a Triple Crown-nominated maiden, stayed on well for a close second, and the Charles Fipke homebred is eligible to keep improving for Watson. Uruguayan Derby (G1) hero El Patriota, previously successful in the Al Bastakiya Trial over Speight’spercomete, finished third, and another maiden, Fire Group, was fourth.
Ambivalent’s best talking point is his two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill, whose runners can fire in Dubai in general if not so much in this race. The Reddam Racing runner was highly tried as a maiden in graded stakes last season. Although he shed his maiden status in a Santa Anita turf sprint last out, Ambivalent still has to find his class level.
Lugamo faces a tall task in his first start since joining Antonio Sano. Based in Maryland as a juvenile, the son of Chitu was a distant second to Jaxon Traveler on debut before romping twice himself. But Lugamo hasn’t raced since his third in the Nov. 14 James F. Lewis III, and now stretches out dramatically in his two-turn premiere.
With El Patriota toting top weight of 131 pounds as a Southern Hemisphere-bred, the Northern Hemisphere-bred males carry 121 pounds, and fillies Soft Whisper and Mnasek get in at a light 117 pounds.