June 29, 2022

Turf-to-dirt Ruggero prevails in Cattleya Sho on Japan Road to Kentucky Derby

Ruggero (center) got the jump on Mic Ben Hur and Meiner Yukitsubaki (rail) to earn 10 points on the Japan Road (Screenshot from YouTube)

The Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby has produced a plot twist right on page one, with surface switcher Ruggero beating the dirt performers in Saturday’s eventful Cattleya Sho at Tokyo. Trained by Yuichi Shikato and piloted by Keita Tosaki, the nearly 4-1 third choice banked 10 Derby points to lead the early Japanese standings.

Weltall, the 4-5 favorite, gave his supporters cause for concern straightaway, as he failed to display the dash he’d shown in his rousing debut. Instead, Morito Yubu dictated the pace on the rail, attended by Bronze Kay. Ruggero was perched in the next flight on the outside, flanking 5-2 second choice Meiner Yukitsubaki. Weltall just never got into the game farther back.

Turning into the stretch, Morito Yubu continued to lead with gusto, and Bronze Kay was unable to maintain his forward position. Ruggero, steadily working his way into contention, had the greater momentum as he drew alongside Morito Yubu and put his head in front.

Just as Ruggero was passing him, Morito Yubu jinked to his inside and collided with the rail. Jockey Hiroshi Kitamura was pitched out of the saddle, but both he and Morito Yubu apparently escaped serious injury, according to Blood-Horse’s Bob Kieckhefer.

Although Meiner Yukitsubaki was beginning his rally toward the inside at the time of the incident, his chances arguably weren’t compromised. The son of 2012 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) hero I’ll Have Another didn’t have to alter course, and he appeared to maintain his action without interruption. Meiner Yukitsubaki took time to reach top gear, while the closer on the outside, Mic Ben Hur, ground his way into second. Too late did Meiner Yukitsubaki spear through in eye-catching fashion.

Ruggero prevailed by a half-length over Mic Ben Hur, who salvaged the runner-up spot (and its 4 Derby points) by a whisker from Meiner Yukitsubaki (who earned 2 points). Bronze Kay retreated to fourth, another 3 1/2 lengths back, and took home 1 point. Weltall wound up fifth, beating only the longshots Apostle and Lady of the Lake.

After completing the metric mile on a “good” track in 1:38.20, Ruggero advanced his record to 4-2-0-1. The dark bay competed on turf in his first three starts, taking a newcomers’ race at Niigata on July 29 before finishing third at Nakayama and eighth last time out in Tokyo’s October 7 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup (G3).

Ruggero worked out a perfect trip here and may have been idling late. Still, his narrow margin at the end of the metric mile raises the question of distance limitations going forward. His sire, Japanese champion sprinter Kinshasa No Kiseki, won at up to a mile, but didn’t try to go any farther. His dam, the Almutawakel mare Silver Cup, excelled from a mile to nine furlongs, capturing the 2005 Premio Regina Helena (Italian 1000 Guineas) (G2) and a trio of Grade 2s at Santa Anita. She has produced six winners, but the two who have won over 1 1/4 miles were by the stamina-laden Manhattan Café and Stay Gold. Off that evidence, Silver Cup needs help from the stallion to bring forth the stouter elements in her own pedigree, and Kinshasa No Kiseki is unlikely to provide it.

Moreover, the excellent finish by Meiner Yukitsubaki not only makes him the classic prospect to take out of this race, but reflects glowingly upon the horse who drubbed him last time – Le Vent Se Leve, who dominated the October 14 Platanus Sho in a juvenile track-record 1:36.20 over the Cattleya Sho course and distance. Unbeaten from two starts, Le Vent Se Leve bears close watching should he try an ensuing race on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Two Japanese scoring races remain on the schedule, the December 13 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki (worth the same 10-4-2-1 points to the top four) and the Hyacinth at Tokyo in February, offering a points windfall of 30-12-6-3. According to reports in both Blood-Horse and Japanese media, Ruggero will skip the middle leg and point toward the Hyacinth.