Kentucky Derby candidates on parade from Japan to California, Oklahoma to N.Y.

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Derma Sotogake (4) wins the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun on Wednesday -- the second leg of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby." Photo courtesy of Katsumi Saito
1 of 2 | Derma Sotogake (4) wins the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun on Wednesday -- the second leg of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby." Photo courtesy of Katsumi Saito

Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Candidates for next year's Kentucky Derby take center stage again in a weekend horse racing schedule that also includes the first "Win and You're In" race for the 2023 Breeders' Cup World Championships.

The feature race for the youngsters is the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity, dominated as usual by trainer Bob Baffert, with the $400,000 Remington Springboard Mile in Oklahoma and a $500,000 division of the New York Stallion Stakes also on tap.


The "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby", meanwhile, is halfway done with the outcome still up in the air.

Oaklawn Park, as is its wont, has drawn some nice horses with its well-endowed purses. Gulfstream Park has a turf marathon at 2 miles with an overflowing entry box.

On the world stage, Japanese racing also features 2-year-olds chasing that country's 2023 Classics with the Asahi Hai Futurity set for Sunday at Hanshin Racecourse. And there's that Breeders' Cup race in Argentina.


This slate is a sprint rather than a marathon so let's just get things going with:

The Road to the Roses

Here's a surprise: Bob Baffert trains three of the five entrants for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity. The 2-year-old race at Los Al might as well be part of the Baffert training schedule for potential Kentucky Derby contenders. He's won it 13 times, including seven straight from 2014 through 2020.

It's early innings yet, but none of Baffert's three has made enough of a splash to be considered a really top prospect for the first Saturday in May, although Arabian Lion, a Justify colt, easily could rise to that level with a good showing.

He won at first asking at Santa Anita in October, then was second as the heavy favorite in an allowance event at Keeneland on Breeders' Cup weekend. The winner of that, Giant Mischief, is 2-for-2 and among the favorites for Saturday's $400,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park.

Fort Bragg, a Tapit colt, needed three starts to find the winner's circle for the silver-haired trainer, which he did Nov. 4 at Santa Anita.

Carmel Road, by Quality Road, got the job done in his second start but then finished 13th in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in his last outing after drawing the No. 14 gate. The two non-Bafferts (sorry!) look like nice colts but will have to show something here.


The 11 entries for Saturday's $500,000 Great White Way Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-breds at Aqueduct include some promising sorts and a few first-time starters.

Among the latter is Laurel Valley, a Laoban colt trained by Todd Pletcher. More likely are Vacation Dance, third in the Grade III Futurity in October and a winner on the turf in his last, the Atlantic Beach Stakes on Nov. 5, and General Banker, still a maiden after seven starts but looking ready.

Saturday's $400,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park features the aforementioned Giant Mischief, who truly was impressive at Keeneland. But he's not the favorite on the morning line.

That's Echo Again, a Gun Runner colt trained by Steve Asmussen. He gets the 9-5 nod despite finishing seventh in the Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs in his second start after winning his debut at Saratoga.

Already in the books: Antonios Mark rallied three-wide to score a late-running victory in Monday's $125,000 Hobbs Fall Classic for New Mexico-breds at Zia Park.

The Marking gelding, out of the Lawyer Ron mare Bekat Bekat, scooted away in the stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths from the pacesetter, Ol' McClintock. He now is 3-for-3.


Meanwhile, the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" took its second lap Wednesday at Kawasaki Racecourse with the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun. Derma Sotogake, a Japanese-bred colt by Mind Your Biscuits, rallied outside rivals to nip Omatsuri Otoko. Perriere was third.

Derma Sotogake earned 20 points, moving to the top of the leaderboard with 20 points.

None of the runners from the first leg of the series participated in the Zen-Nippon and the winner of that first race, Continuar, was shuffled to second spot in the standings with 10. The points on offer continue to increase in the final two races so the outcome remains in doubt.

The series so far looks more like a prep for the Saudi Derby in Riyadh in February or the UAE Derby in Dubai in March than for the Run for the Roses.

Connections of both Continuar and Derma Sotogake indicated the Middle Eastern races currently are primary in their planning although both also mentioned the Kentucky Derby as an eventual option.

The Road to the Oaks

Saturday's $500,000 Fifth Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes for state-breds at Aqueduct has a field of 11 set to tackle 7 furlongs. It's worth a look despite the restriction.


Doudoudowanadance will try to extend her perfect record to four while facing seven rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park. She drew the outside gate and the race could be a scramble.


Who says American horsemen don't like turf marathons? Saturday's $100,000 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes attracted a field of 12, with two more on the waiting list, to go 2 miles on the Gulfstream Park greensward.

There are some nice horses in the bunch, too, including refugees from jumps races. Don't overlook Another Mystery, an Illinois-bred racing for Team Block, which seems to spring a big upset every other weekend recently.

The Breeders' Cup Challenge Series kicks off Saturday at Hipodromo de San Isidro in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the Group 1 Gran Premio Internacional Carlos Pellegrini.

The winner gets an automatic starting position and fees paid, into the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf on Nov. 4 at Santa Anita.

Filly & Mare Turf

Saturday's $100,000 Via Borghese Stakes at Gulfstream Park has several runners who get class relief after struggling in graded stakes and several others trying to work their way up the class ladded. The 1 3/8-mile test is further complicated by Good American, who, despite the name, makes her first start outside England.


Filly & Mare Sprint

Saturday's $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes at Oaklawn Park has a well-matched field of eight with the oddsmaker spreading the love around among Carribean Caper, Pretty Birdie, Novel Squall and Ari Oakley.


Run Classic is the morning-line favorite in Saturday's $200,000 Tinsel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The 4-year-old Runhappy colt has missed a top-two finish only once in six starts -- that an eighth-place showing in last year's Louisiana Derby.

That turned out to be quite the key race with the winner, Hot Rod Charlie, followed by the likes of Midnight Bourbon, Proxy and Mandaloun.

Saturday's $125,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes on the Turfway Park all-weather track drew 12 plus two also-eligibles. The lukewarm morning-line favorite is In Love at 4-1 but it's a program-stabber.

Around the world, around the clock


Sunday's Asahi Hai Futurity at Hanshin Racecourse is the first of two Grade 1 races this month that will set the stage for next year's Classics. The Futurity is run at 1,600 meters with the Hopeful Stakes Dec. 28 at Nakayama Racecourse at 2,000 meters.

Danon Touchdown sold for 24 million yen (about US$2.16 million) at the 2020 select yearling sale and the Lord Kanaloa colt delivered in his first race, winning at 1,600 meters at Chukyo Racecourse on Oct. 1.


He could only muster a second in the Grade 2 Daily Hai Nisai Stakes at Hanshin in his next start, behind Al Parfait. That rival, by Real Steel, is back for more.

Others to consider: Obamburumai, a Discrete Cat colt who is 2-for-2 with a win in the Grade 2 Keio Hai Nisai Stakes at Tokyo in his most recent, going 1,400 meters in both wins; Dolce More, undefeated winner of the Grade 3 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup; and Labeling, a British-bred colt by Frankel who has only one previous start, a victory at 1,600 meters at Tokyo.

Do Deuce won this last year over the likes of Serifos and Geoglyph and went on to victory in the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby.

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