Is This The Year a Foreign Horse Wins the Kentucky Derby?

March 22, 2017

I think it can be pretty safely argued at this point, no one horse on the Kentucky Derby trail has stepped up and proven himself to be a cut above the rest. There is no standout so to speak.

To the contrary, the two early favorites and the ones that originally topped all those premature Kentucky Derby lists, Classic Empire and McCracken, have both suffered at least minor setbacks. While neither looks like their hiccups will force them to miss the race, you really don’t want any miscues heading to the first Saturday in May.

Further complicating the matter is each has yet to rebound in a manner suggesting they are ready to re-take an early leader type of role. Classic Empire overcame the abscess which forced him to miss The Fountain of Youth after a disappointing performance from him in The Holy Bull, but since then he refused to work when asked. He is not the first race horse to refuse to work, Tiznow and Zenyatta are two major stakes winners and champions who come to mind, but I would not take that as an encouraging sign following an abscess.

McCracken has not run since The Sam Davis at Tampa, and while many raved about his winning race in there, I saw a horse who tried to lug in down the stretch. That is another sign I don’t like if looking for a blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May.

American Anthem looked like he could move to the top of many lists heading into The Rebel at Oaklawn. He ran poorly, and had nothing to offer in the stretch when it counted. Later we learned he threw a front shoe in the race, so he has what can be a legitimate excuse. He will have to rebound though, and in a pretty strong manner to make an impact. You have to factor he is in the hands of Bob Baffert, and “nobody does it better” when it comes to getting a horse ready for The Kentucky Derby. I spoke with Bob recently about that and many other things.

While The UAE Derby, a 100 point race on The Kentucky Derby trail has never produced a winner in May, considering the above, you have to ask yourself is this the year that could all change? Could we have a foreign horse in the winner’s circle?

There are some other factors to consider, but I say the answer could very well be yes. We have a wide open affair this year, and if the race was run today the favorite might be 5 or 6-1. All those old cliche things about the Apollo curse, and we will never have another Triple Crown winner if we don’t change the spacing of the races, eventually all go down. American Pharaoh reminded us of that.

Meydan Race Course in Dubai
Meydan Race Course in Dubai

Why can’t The UAE Derby path to Kentucky go down also? It can, and what better year than a wide open one, and one in which The UAE Derby has some intriguing prospects.

Normally heading into The Kentucky Derby, if I told you we have a horse who has already won at a mile and a quarter you’d have to admit it can be an advantage. Never having run, let alone win at the distance is one of the factors that make it difficult to handicap The Kentucky Derby, and knowing how these three-year olds will perform doing something they have never done before. No horse comes to mind that has won at the distance prior, going into The Derby. It is usually the first time they are trying the demanding distance and they are doing it in an over crowded field.


This year things are a tad different. We have an interesting horse coming by way of Japan through Dubai. Epicharis is not on anyone’s radar I have seen  as of yet. Maybe he should be. He is by Gold Allure who is by Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Sunday Silence. Sunday Silence made quite the sire out of himself in Japan. Epicharis is already eligible for The Kentucky Derby by way of a win in The Hyacinth Stakes in Japan, an international qualifying race. He will compete for the 100 UAE Derby points, but he doesn’t need them.

The impressive win in The Hyacinth was his three-year old debut. He went three for three at two, by a combined 25 lengths. While the UAE Derby is not actually The Kentucky Derby distance of a mile and a quarter, it is a mile and three sixteenths, thus the longest of the traditional Derby preps. It is only a sixteenth of a mile less than what these three-year olds will be asked to do under the Twin Spires. Should Epicharis win it, that has to help come May. Kiyoshi Hagiwara trains the colt, and has already said Churchill Downs is in the plans. People always talk about the quality of Japanese racing. While there haven’t been a large number of Japanese horses to compete in the US, none have really made a huge splash. Epicharis has a chance to change that.


Should Epicharis win The Kentucky Derby, it would be a huge statement for both Japanese racing and The UAE path to Kentucky. He is not the only hope for Dubai; however, as this year The UAE Derby has an interesting field with some potential influence come Derby day.

Todd Pletcher, whose Kentucky Derby record does not mirror his record in other major stakes, is trying to show he has a master plan for Master Plan. Master Plan is one of the 16 entered in The UAE Derby this year. That number of runners could give a horse helpful experience when they have to deal with 14 at Churchill Downs. Master Plan is owned by Al Shaqab Racing, Winstar Farm, and the China Horse Club, an interesting partnership from all corners of the world. The son of Twirling Candy already has a second to Tapwrit, his Tampa Bay Derby winning stable mate and a horse who is on a lot of people’s Derby radar as of now, mine included.

Todd is aware of his Derby record, and while he has the challenge of keeping all his prospects apart and in the right spots, he is also noticeably trying different things and approaches to get another win in the big dance. I have to think if Master Plan wins in Dubai under go to rider Johnny Velazquez, it’s off to Louisville.

Godolphin brings in highly regarded Thunder Snow. His last two starts were impressive. He closed out his two-year season with a win in The Group 1 Criterium by 5 lengths. He started his three-year old season with an easy win in The UAE 2000 Guineas by almost 6 lengths. I don’t think you can be surprised when any Godolphin horse wins at Meydan, and Godolphin has been trying to get a Kentucky Derby winner out of Dubai by any means necessary for years.

The always dangerous Aidan O’Brien has the Triple Crown nominated War Front colt, Lancaster Bomber in the race. He’ll be ridden by Ryan Moore, and has to be considered dangerous. He is not Triple Crown nominated for nothing, and again, eventually one of these type horses are going to make a lot of noise on the first Saturday in May. He also has Spirit of Valor in the race. This is another Triple Crown nominated colt, also by War Front and out of a Grindstone mare. We all know what it feels like when the guy’s “other horse” wins.

If the picture isn’t clear enough yet, you have two Southern Hemisphere horses in the race that are considered four-year olds, thus making them ineligible for The Kentucky Derby, but giving the ones who are some experience against older horses at a distance of ground. The experience with older at a distance can only help, not hurt.

By now the picture should be clear. This year’s UAE Derby bears watching, and so do some of the runners in it.

Be With Us. Be A Member. Tracking Trips at Past The Wire:


Meydan Race Course for putting on one of the best Dubai World Cup. cards in it’s history.


Delta Downs Racing Officials. How do you get the wrong ID on two horses? Inexcusable.

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