Kentucky Derby: A Brief Look at the European and Japanese Roads

January 28, 2023

Last year’s Kentucky Derby attracted the likes of UAE invader Summer Is Tomorrow (inside) and Japanese runner Crown Pride (outside) (Coady Photography)

By Michaela Moricova

While the classic Road to the Kentucky Derby is watched carefully and not a single piece of information has a chance to slip unnoticed, the other Roads are overlooked. And I do not blame anybody who doesn’t care much about the European and Japanese Roads as they do not tend to generate vital rivals for the local three-year-old stars. However, I believe that had Crown Pride (the UAE Derby winner) had a better trip; he would’ve finished better than 13th. 

In Japan, he was a runner-up in the G1 Champions Cup (Post No. 10) in December, one of the most prestigious dirt races there. He is a solid horse, and it may prove useful to watch the less prominent Roads from afar to gauge whether another Crown Pride could be lurking in the Japanese or European ranks. It certainly doesn’t look to be the case right now, but let’s see what trainees of Yoshito Yahagi, Aidan O’Brien, or Andre Fabre are up to.

From Japan to Saudi Arabia and Dubai

Two out of four parts of the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby already know their winners. In November, Continuar bagged the Cattleya Stakes over a mile. In Tokyo, the son of Drefong showed a good turn of foot and achieved his second career victory on the dirt surface. The chestnut hasn’t hit the track since; however, his trainer Yoshito Yahagi doesn’t shy from traveling to the US, so if he thinks Continuar has a chance in the Kentucky Derby, he might send him to the UAE Derby to earn some points. 

He has 10 of them right now and sits in second place behind another chestnut, Derma Sotogake. The Mind Your Biscuits colt moved to the top of the leaderboard in December. Thanks to a powerful turn of foot, he took the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki, covering the distance of a mile. Derma Sotogake was held up in the field until the final stretch, where he successfully diminished the lead of Perriere and Omatsuri Otoko and won the race narrowly and completed a victorious hattrick. 

In the driving finish, the chestnut left a slightly better impression than Continuar, whom he bettered in their previous matchup, and based on his build and style of running, he looks like a Kentucky Derby horse. Together with Continuar, he should aim at the Saudi Derby in February and maybe head to Dubai.

Equal Points, Equal Prospects of… Staying at Home

More than half of the races belonging to the European Road to the Kentucky Derby were held in 2022, while winners of all four parts collected ten points. In September, spectators at Newmarket witnessed a fierce fight in the G2 Royal Lodge Stakes over a mile where a quartet of two-year-olds battled for the win until the final inches. 

The Foxes caused an upset as the Andrew Balding trainee dug deep to score the mile-long race by half a length. The son of Churchill is a typical turf horse, though, expected to shine in the UK and Ireland. Therefore, I doubt the team ponders sending The Foxes traveling to Churchill Downs.

On the same day, Crypto Forces delivered an eye-catching performance in the G2 Beresford Stakes over a mile at Curragh. The John & Thady Gosden-trained bay galloped at the rear of the field, but his finish was so powerful that none of his rivals could react, and Crypto Forces scored the race easily by more than two lengths. 

Still, judging by his looks and style of running, Crypto Forces is another colt suited by the British and Irish tracks, which also applies to the remaining duo of European horses who claimed ten points towards the Kentucky Derby.

Fabre’s mudlark and O’Brien’s gem

Both are G1 winners and they deserve mention. At the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe meeting in October, Belbek shocked his rivals in the Prix Jean-Luc Legardere over seven furlongs as on the very soft ground, he defied the odds and triumphed by a neck. As he’s with Andre Fabre in France, his trip to the US to compete on the dirt surface resembles a story from sci-fi. It just won’t happen. 

Auguste Rodin was awarded his 10 points after scoring the G1 Vertem Futurity in November. The Aidan O’Brien trained is a brilliantly bred specimen – a son of Deep Impact out of G1 winner Rhododendron. Therefore, he will probably aim at the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. 

If there is a three-year-old from Europe who looks ready to go to the Kentucky Derby, we might realize it in the remaining parts of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby. Still, the most likely path to Churchill Downs leads from Europe to the UAE Derby, in other words, in Mendelssohn’s footsteps. 

Contributing Authors

Michaela Moricova, Past The Wire

Michaela Moricova

Michaela Moricová has been writing about horse racing since high school. At first, only via Facebook, where a group of enthusiasts noticed her and offered...

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