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Derma Sotogake struts his stuff in the UAE Derby, topping a Japanese superfecta (Dubai Racing Club)
By Michaela Moricova
It might seem redundant to recap the 2023 parts of the European and Japanese Roads to the Kentucky Derby as the former will not generate a participant, while the latter will. Still, I prefer to keep track of all winners of the races listed as prep races. Why? Well, I sort of maintain an opinion that the European Road doesn’t have much potential for the Kentucky Derby, while the Japanese ones tend to help at least one exciting horse demonstrate its huge potential. And because I like to be right about stuff, as everybody surely does, I remain unconvinced that we actually need that many European prep races. At the same time, I strongly support the idea of Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby. It makes even more sense considering how powerful the Japanese lot has been both on turf and dirt recently.
Derma Sotogake, the Leading Japanese Hope
After the first two legs of the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby, I remember pointing out that Derma Sotogake was the one that actually could be the right horse for the Run for the Roses. The son of Mind Your Biscuits caught my eye in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun over a mile. The chestnut colt scored his second victory while finishing from the midfield, where he relaxed and waited for the cue. His trainer Hidetaka Otonashi quickly asserted his trainee was about to head to the Saudi Derby in Riyadh and then to the UAE Derby. In my opinion, Derma Sotogake ran well in defeat in the Saudi Derby as he displayed a good turn-of-foot in the final stretch, seizing third place.
Under Christophe Lemaire, he then transformed the UAE Derby into a one-horse show, winning from the front by more than five lengths. I still think he’s the best chance the Japanese have ever had in the Kentucky Derby. Derma Sotogake is a fighter, and judging by his running style and overall physics, he will like Churchill Downs. I doubt he’ll secure Japan their first Kentucky Derby victory; however, I expect him to run a decent race and cross the wire somewhere around fifth place. A bold statement, maybe, but I quite liked also Crown Pride last year, even though not exactly for the Kentucky Derby. I maintained his time was about to come a bit later, which proved right as the four-year-old colt had already earned some money in the G1 February Stakes, Saudi Cup, and Dubai World Cup.
Wait, and Who Is Continuar?
You might’ve heard that like in 2022, also in this year’s Kentucky Derby, we will see two Japanese horses. Besides Derma Sotogake, they are about to also send in Continuar, who scored the first leg of the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby. The Yoshito Yahagi-trained colt won the Cattleya Stakes in November, yet he failed to threaten Derma Sotogake both in the Saudi Derby and UAE Derby. Therefore, Continuar will probably belong among the outsiders in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Drefong simply didn’t convince me he has a chance at Churchill Downs.
Hyacinth and Fukuryu Stakes
This Hyacinth Stakes is arguably the most well-known part of the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby. In 2023, Perriere fulfilled the role of a favorite in Tokyo, and thanks to a gradual finish, he scored the race narrowly and to the top of the leaderboard for a month. Still, he had already been bettered by Derma Sotogake in the Zen-Nipon Nisai Yushin, so once he showed up in the UAE, it was no wonder he once again had no chance with him. Perriere crossed the wire in fourth, while the last winner of the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby revealed himself at the end of March.
Mitono O has never aimed at Churchill Downs; still, he prevailed in the Fukuryu Stakes over a mile and a furlong. By that effort, he would’ve earned forty points and would be in play for the Kentucky Derby. However, his team was not interested, leaving thus a clear path to Continuar.
What About the Europeans?
When I was talking about the European Road to the Kentucky Derby in my previous article, I asserted none of the winners of the first four legs would travel to Churchill Downs. All four gained ten points, including G1 winners Belbek and Auguste Rodin, but they will certainly focus on European targets. Although horses who scored the 2023 parts of the European Road won’t come to the US in May, too, let’s look at what kind of colts were successful.
Before I get to that, I would like to stress that in 2023, I’m a bit less skeptical about the European Road, but I reached such a conclusion only after watching Algier’s performance in the Dubai World Cup. If Simon and Ed Crisford lay their hands on a promising dirt colt early enough to recognize its potential, I think they will have the best chance of a good run in Churchill Downs in the foreseeable future. I mean, out of all British and Irish trainers as Aidan O’Brien has hundreds of interesting animals, yet… yet his best in 2023 on dirt seems to be Cairo, who utterly flopped in the UAE Derby. I also trust Charlie Appleby to come up with a name in the next few years.
Brave Emperor’s Trip Cancelled
In the Patton Stakes and Condition Stakes in March, the winners were awarded 20 points. Aidan O’Brien trained Cairo and snatched up the first bunch after triumphing easily from the front. His run was quite promising, so it’s no wonder the team sent him over to the UAE Derby to test whether Cairo could follow Mendelhson’s footsteps, and it showed that he could not. Cairo finished down the field.
In the Conditions Stakes held at Kempton, Brave Emperor demonstrated his name is very fitting because he prevailed after a fierce fight just by a head. His trainer Archie Watson was actually interested in traveling to the US; however, upon looking at the colt’s pedigree, I doubt he’ll stay the mile and a quarter.
The team’s already decided against the trip, nevertheless. Brave Emperor tops the leaderboard also after the final race of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby. On April 1, he headed into the Cardinal Stakes over a mile, where he again put up a great fight. It wasn’t enough this time, though, as Bold Act won by half a length, but with the point from two races combined, Brave Emperor had the chance to participate in the Kentucky Derby. The team realized that the traveling cost was too high and canceled the plans to go to Churchill Downs.
So, once again, the European Road did not generate a runner for the Kentucky Derby. I cannot say I am surprised.