The winners of the first three races on the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby meet this weekend – in Dubai, rather than at home.
Instead of contesting this Saturday’s final Japanese Derby qualifier, the $260,000 Fukuryu at Nakayama, this trio – Perriere, Derma Sotogake, and Continuar – are taking on opposition from Ireland, the United States, Brazil, and Dubai in the $1 million UAE Derby (G2) at Meydan.
The Japanese runners aren’t out of the running for a Kentucky Derby spot as the UAE Derby is a qualifying race on the main Derby Road. With points available on a 100-40-30-20-10 basis, the winner will be guaranteed a Kentucky Derby start if eligible, and possibly the runner-up as well.
More coverage: Spot plays for Dubai World Cup undercard races on dirt
Perriere leads the Japanese Road series, having finished third to Derma Sotogake in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun prior to winning the Hyacinth S. in February. Derma Sotogake and Cattleya winner Continuar missed the Hyacinth in favor of the Saudi Derby (G3), where they finished third and fifth, respectively.
Also journeying from Japan are Hyacinth fifth-place finisher Goraiko and the Hopeful (G1) winner Dura Erede. The latter won the Hopeful on turf but he does have a dirt victory to his credit in Japan.
Irish supremo Aidan O’Brien seeks a fourth UAE Derby victory with Cairo. Like O’Brien’s third winner in this race, Mendelssohn, Cairo arrives after easily winning the Patton S. on the Dundalk all-weather in Ireland.
The only horses completely ineligible for Derby Road points are fast-finishing Saudi Derby fourth Es-Unico, bred in Brazil to Southern Hemisphere time, and Robert B. Lewis (G3) third-place finisher Worcester, whose trainer Bob Baffert is suspended from racing by Churchill Downs Inc.
Dubai’s trio of entrants – Go Soldier Go, Mr Raj, and Lahresh – are not Triple Crown nominated and would only be given their points if a late entry is submitted. They finished first, second, and sixth, respectively, in the Al Bastakiya March 4 and probably need to improve to be competitive here.
Rounding out the field is the Doug O’Neill pair Ah Jeez and Tall Boy, both winners in Dubai this year.
Dubai Golden Shaheen
Champion U.S. dirt sprinter Elite Power won’t run in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), over six furlongs on dirt. However, the field does include two horses he recently beat: Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) runner-up C Z Rocket and Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) second-place finisher Gunite. They stand out among an American quintet that also includes Palos Verdes (G3) winner Hopkins, Mr. Prospector (G3) hero Sibelius, and Chilean import Super Ocho.
Japanese runners aren’t without a chance here. Their highest-rated runner is February S. (G1) winner Lemon Pop; he is yet to finish outside the top two, but he’s also yet to race at anything less than 6 1/2 furlongs. More suited to the trip perhaps among the Japanese will be Remake and Justin, third and fourth in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint, and last year’s Golden Shaheen runner-up Red Le Zele.
Local Dubai hero Switzerland won this race last year and shaped up for his title defense with an easy victory Jan. 6. He looks the best of the local contingent, which also includes Mouheeb, Road Bloc, Sound Money, and Tuz.
The first Thoroughbred feature on Dubai World Cup night is the Godolphin Mile (G2), in which last year’s winner Bathrat Leon tries to defend his crown. He doesn’t have the star rating of some of his compatriots but he did score a second international victory in the 1351 Sprint (G3) at Riyadh Feb. 25. He looks a strong prospect again.
Fellow Japanese runners Lauda Sion and Win Carnelian add depth to their challenge. Apart from them, the only other international invaders are Godolphin’s French-trained Egot and the Uruguayan Atletico El Culano.
Dubai-based Doug Watson accounts for four runners on his own basis. The best is possibly the former American Isolate, though Prince Eiji, Golden Goal, and 2019 Preakness (G1) placegetter Everfast are not without prospects. Another Dubai conditioner, Bhupat Seemar, starts Discovery Island, Law of Peace, and Royal Mews. Other locals to race here include Raaeb and Desert Wisdom.