Two Japanese horses are in for Kentucky Derby; Japan also dominates in Dubai

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Ushba Tesoro wins the $12 million Dubai World Cup. Photo courtesy of Dubai Racing Club
Ushba Tesoro wins the $12 million Dubai World Cup. Photo courtesy of Dubai Racing Club

March 27 (UPI) -- Kingsbarns in Louisiana, Two Phil's in Kentucky and at least two Japanese horses running in Dubai all earned their way into the Kentucky Derby field with weekend victories, while Japan had another stellar night throughout the Dubai World Cup program.

As usual, all the marquee races were well supported by excellent supporting events, so we've got lots to cover. Let's start with the Derby doings, backtrack to the Middle East and return to the States. Hang on.


The Road to the Roses

At least four confirmed candidates for the Run for the Roses emerged from Saturday racing.

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Kingsbarns was making just his third start in Saturday's $1 million Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and, if an uncontested lead was what he needed to overcome the inexperience, well, he got just that.

Leading from the start, the Uncle Mo colt opened a daylight advantage, expanded it to a huge lead and coasted home first by 3 1/2 lengths. Disarm was second, Jace's Road third and the favorite, Instant Coffee, sixth.


Winning trainer Todd Pletcher was happy with the way the race played out while the competition bemoaned the slow pace of the Derby. No matter to Kingsbarns, who earned 100 Kentucky Derby points and is headed for Louisville.

"It was a lot to ask to go to a graded stakes going 1 3/16 (mile) for the first time in his third career start," Pletcher admitted. "We gave up a lot of seasoning and he responded in a big way.

"We'll get him back to Palm Beach Downs and assess but we're planning for him to be one of our ones in the Kentucky Derby."

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Two Phil's trailed much of the field through the first half of Saturday's $700,000 Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks on the Turway Park all-weather course, picked up steam outside rivals through the stretch and drew off to win by 5 1/4 lengths.

The favorite, Major Dude, was second, with Funtastic Again third.

Two Phil's, a Hard Spun colt trained by many-time Arlington Park title winner Larry Rivelli, earned 100 Kentucky Derby points. He already proved his prowess on dirt with a victory last year in the Grade III Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs and was third in the Grade III Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his previous race.


"The original plan probably wasn't to run in this spot," Rivelli said, according to Bloodhorse. "I was just looking for the best route to get Two Phil's to the Kentucky Derby. With this race on the calendar, I thought it was the perfect timing and perfect spot. We're on our way to the Derby."

Noting the Street Sense was run over a wet Churchill Downs track, Rivelli added, "I hope it rains on Derby Day again."

Also at Turfway Park, Rarified Air and Ocean Point, both at boxcar odds, rallied from the rear of the field to finish 1-2 in Saturday's $250,000 Rushaway Stakes. Rarified Air, an Honor Code filly trained by Kenny McPeek, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.45 for jockey Chris Landeros.


The question after Saturday's $1 million Grade II UAE Derby wasn't whether a Japanese contender will move from that race to the Kentucky Derby. The question was, how many? That was answered quickly: At least two.

Japanese connections sent out the first four finishers in the Dubai fixture and the winner, Derma Sotogake, for sure is headed for Louisville thanks to the 100 Kentucky Derby points awarded the winner.

"We will go to the Kentucky Derby," exulted 73-year-old owner Hiroyuki Asanuma. "I have been in this business 30 years and this is my first big horse."


He will be joined, according to current plans, by Continuar, who earned 30 points in the UAE Derby. Those transferred over to, and gave him the win in the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby".

Churchill Downs announced Sunday his connections will use that avenue to enter the Run for the Roses. A third Japan-trained colt, Dura Erede, got 40 points for finishing second in Dubai and currently stands No. 11 on the leaderboard for the 20-stall starting gate.

New Mexico

Wild On Ice, the longest shot in the six-horse field, came on in the stretch run to win Sunday's $600,000 Grade III Sunland Park Derby, earning 50 Kentucky Derby points. Low Expectations was second, and the odds-on favorite, California invader Hard to Figure, got a brief early lead before fading to get home last.

Wild On Ice, a Texas-bred Tapizar gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:51.39. Ken Tohill rode for trainer Joel Marr. Wild On Ice is not a Triple Crown nominee.

Next week

The pot continues to boil on April Fools Day with the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby and the $1 million Florida Derby. In the latter, 2022 Juvenile champ Forte will attempt to retain the top spot on the leaderboard.


In England, Saturday's Cardinal Condition Stakes at Chelmsford Park ends the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" which is wide open after the leaderboard top, Cairo, underperformed in Dubai.

Around the world, around the clock


World Cup night was another tour de force for Japan with Ushba Tesoro's electrifying victory in the Cup itself, an awe-inspiring triumph by Equinox in the Sheema Classic and the aforementioned 1-2-3-4 sweep in the UAE Derby.

When defending champion Country Grammer didn't fire and the early pace melted down, it was the local favorite Algiers taking advantage with a sharp move to the lead some 200 meters from home in the $12 million Group 1 World Cup. Not so fast.

Along came unheralded Ushba Tesoro like a flash outside of rivals, running right by Algiers and on to a 2 3/4-length victory.

Algiers held second in the World Cup's 27th running. Emblem Road, winner of the $20 million Saudi Cup in 2022, was third with two more Japanese runners, T O Keynes and 2022 UAE Derby winner Crown Pride, fourth and fifth.

Country Grammer sagged to finish seventh, and another Japanese hero, Panthalassa, who narrowly defeated Country Grammer a month earlier in the Saudi Cup, paid the price for seizing the early lead from the outside gate, tiring to finish 10th.


"This was the first win abroad for our syndicate, said a representative for the winning owner, Ryotokuji Kenji Holdings, "and now we've opened our doors to the global stage we will look again. The owners expressed an interest in going for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe if we won this today."

That would be a stretch since 6-year-old Ushba Tesoro, mediocre at best on turf, blossomed only when switched to dirt last spring. The Arc is run on usually rain-softened turf. But why not? Japanese horsemen have tried just about everything else in their decades-long quest to win the Arc.

Also on World Cup night before the sprawling Meydan grandstand:

Isolate isolated himself from the rest of the big field in the stretch run of the $1 million Group 2 Godolphin Mile, pulling away under Tyler Gaffalione to win by 5 1/2 lengths from Law of Peace. Uruguayan runner Athletico El Culano was third.

Isolate, a 5-year-old by Mark Valeski, worked his way to the lead quickly and kept finding more over the testing Meydan dirt surface. He finished in 1:35.71. Last year's winner, Bathrat Leon, finished fourth.

"He jumped well and got the lead fairly easily," Gaffalione said of his first ride in Dubai. "It's everything I could ever have dreamed of and more."


Nine months ago, Isolate, then trained by Tom Amoss for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, won the Work All Week Stakes at Hawthorne Race Course. He then won a 7-furlong sprint at Saratoga and finished second in the Louisville Thoroughbred Society Stakes at Churchill Downs before being sold to RRR Racing in Dubai.

In the $1 million Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup, it was 7-year old world traveler Broome rallying through the final 100 meters to catch the breakaway favorite, Siskany, and win by a neck. It was another 4 3/4 lengths to Subjectivist in third at the end of 2 miles.

Siskany, a 5-year-old Godolphin homebred trained by Charlie Appleby, seemed to have the race won as he emerged at the top of the stretch to take a clear lead. Then, Ryan Moore got Broome traveling outside the field and he was along in plenty of time for the win.

Broome finished eighth in the 2022 Arc and a closing sixth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland. He started the 2023 campaign finishing fifth in the H H The Amir Trophy in Qatar.

"He's a very brave horse," Moore said. He's done a lot of racing. He always gives his best."


The $1.5 million Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint, a dash down the turf straight, was the expected cavalry charge with an unexpected result.

The favorite, Godolphin runner Al Suhail, had a narrow lead inside the 100-furlong marker, only to falter just enough to enable Shadwell's contender, Danyah, to get home first, a head in front of Australia's entry, The Astrologist.

Danyah, a 6-year-old Invincible Spirit gelding, was coming off a eighth-place finish in the Ras Al Khor Stakes, 9 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Al Suhail.

"I'd be lying if I said we were confident beforehand," winning rider Dane O'Neill said. "We thought possibly prize money and that would be great as he has a good cruising speed. It was worth a chance."

The Astrologist now is headed to trainer Marco Botti in England for an engagement at Royal Ascot.

The $2 million Grade I Dubai Golden Shaheen is the dirt sprint feature on the card and it, too, provided some late fireworks and Sibelius just barely touched off defending champion Switzerland in a head bob.

Sibelius, a 5-year-old Not This Time gelding, came to Dubai off back-to-back victories at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs for trainer Jeremiah O'Dwyer.


American runner Gunite led in the final 100 meters, but was relegated to third, 1/2 length farther back. Another U.S. sprinter, Hopkins, finished fourth as the race produced the best showing of an otherwise disappointing night for the Americans.

The $5 million Group 1 Dubai Turf at 1,800 meters provided the feel-good highlight for the evening as Lord North defied his 7 years and the odds to win the race for the third straight year. Jockey Frankie Dettori, who plans to retire at year's end, got a win on his final World Cup night.

The Dubai Turf had a full and competitive field but Dettori and Lord North put them all to the sword in the stretch run, blazing by front-runners en route to a 3/4-length win over Japan's Danon Beluga. Nation's Pride, a two-time New York winner for Godolphin last year, finished third.

"It's amazing to win once. Three times, it's unreal," said Dettori, who had the mount in each of the three historic wins.

If the Dubai Turf was an emotional highlight of the Middle Eastern evening, the $6 million Group I Dubai Sheema Classic, at 1 1/2 miles on the turf, was the venue for the most impressive single performance.


More than a few mouths were left agape as Equinox seized the race by main force from the start and simply kicked away from nine talented rivals to win by 3 1/2 lengths in course-record time of 2:25.65.

The 4-year-old by Kitisan Black made it three straight Group 1 wins since finishing second in the 2022 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). He went to the post as the favorite and the performance more than justified the support.

Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby, who saddled reigning Breeders' Cup Turf winner Rebel's Romance to finish seventh, said of Equinox, "I wouldn't mind having one of those."

There was a bit of sentiment here, too, from winning jockey Christophe Lemaire.

"I knew he was the best horse and so I was happy to make the pace," Lemaire said. "I'm really happy for all of the connections.

"It's been a long time since I won the Sheema. The last time was with Heart's Cry [in 2006 at the old Nad Al Sheeba track], and he passed away two weeks ago. So I am very grateful for this horse and he has allowed me to pay tribute to Heart's Cry."

Perhaps Equinox is a better bet than Ushba Tesoro to end Japan's quest for the Arc.



With most of Japan's top-class horses in Dubai, Sunday's Grade I Takamatsunomiya Kinen at Chukyo Racecourse looked ripe for an upset and that appearance translated into reality, thanks to 12-1 winner First Force.

The 7-year-old son of Lord Kanaloa drafted behind the leaders through the first half of the 1,200 meters, then gamely survived a multihorse scramble to the finish, winning by 1 length from Namura Clair. Travesura was third and the favorite, Meikei Yell, finished 12th.

The race was contested in heavy rain over soft turf. It was the first win for First Force since July of 2021 and first in a graded stakes of any kind. Pixie Knight, making his first start since suffering a serious injury in the 2021 Longines Hong Kong Sprint, got home 13th.


Cascadian racked up another one in Saturday's Group 1 TAB Australian Cup at Flemington. The Godolphin homebred came with a late run from well back, was battling for the advantage in the final 100 meters and prevailed by 1 length from Numerian. Pounding was third in the 2,000-meters test.

Ben Melham rode the winner for trainer James Cummings just a week after Cascadian finished second in the All-Star Mile.


"He's a great horse, Cascadian. He's now a Doncaster winner, an All Aged Stakes winner, and he pops the Australian Cup on his mantle," Cummings said.

On Saturday at Rosehill Gardens, 13-1 chance Arapahoe upset favorite Montefilia in the Group 1 Kia Tancred Stakes and heavy favorite Prowess was an easy winner in the Group 1 Vinery Stud Stakes for 3-year-old fillies with a lightning raid from New Zealand.

Meanwhile, back in the States:

The Path to the Oaks

Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks looked like a three-filly race until 7-1 shot Southlawn came barreling down the long stretch, passed them all and won by 3 1/4 lengths. In her wake were Pretty Mischievous, the Alys Look and the favorite, Hoosier Philly, all Kentucky Oaks contenders.

The fifth starter and early leader, Christian d'Oro, was eased and walked off. Southlawn, a Pioneerof the Nile filly trained by Norm Casse, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.38 with Reylu Guttierez in the irons.

"We've been really excited to run her," said Casse, former assistant to his father, Mark Casse. "She's been breezing extremely well. This is a filly that we liked last year. We thought she was a Breeders' Cup type filly and it just didn't pan out. But she's good now."


Botanical led all the way to a 2 1/2-lengths lead over Flashy Gem in Saturday's $300,000 Bourbonette Oaks on the Turfway Park all-weather. Brad Cox trains both.

Botanical, a Medaglia d'Oro filly out of the Blame mare Daisy, got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.47 with Chris Landeros in the irons.

Flying Connection had the lead early in Sunday's $300,000 Sunland Park Oaks and ran on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Love Tank. The favorite, California import Doinitthehardway, weakened to finish fifth.

Flying Connection, a Nyquist filly trained by Todd Pletcher, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.90 for jockey Alfredo Juarez Jr.


West Will Power stalked the pace in Saturday's $500,000 Grade II New Orleans Classic at Fair Grounds, took the lead easily when prompted by jockey Flavien Prat and rolled home first by 4 3/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Pegasus World Cup winner Art Collector. Mr. Wireless was third.

West Will Power, a 6-year-old Gary and Mary West homebred son of Bernardini, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:47.95.

At Turfway Park, Wolfie's Dynaghost pressed the early pace, too over handily and got on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Verstappen. Wolfie's Dynaghost, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather course in 1:50.09 with John Velazquez riding.



Idiomatic dueled to the lead late in Saturday's $250,000 Latonia Stakes at Turfway Park, then edged away to win by 2 lengths from Kate's Kingdom. Bellamore was third.

Idiomatic, a 4-year-old Juddmonte homebred filly by Curlin, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.50 with Chris Landeros up for trainer Brad Cox.


Spooky Channel rallied six-wide to challenge in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Muniz Memorial Classic at Fair Grounds and got by pacesetting Rising Empire at the sixteenth pole to win by 2/2 length from that rival. Gentle Soul and Another Mystery filled out the exotics.

Spooky Channel, an 8-year-old English Channel gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:54.11 with Joel Rosario up.

Filly & Mare Turf

Didia rallied three-wide to get the lead in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Tom Benson Memorial at Fair Grounds and finished first, 1 1/4 lengths better than the favorite, Adventuring.

Didia, a 5-year-old, Argentine-bred mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:46.37 with Vincent Cheminaud up for trainer Ignacio Correas IV.

Turf Sprint

Fast and Shiny led from the early going in Sunday's $100,000 Angels Flight Stakes for 3-year-old fillies down the Santa Anita hillside course and held on at the end to win by 1/2 length from Teena Ella.


Fast and Shiny, a Bernardini filly trained by Bob Baffert, finished in 1:13.19 with Abel Cedillo up.

Crispy Cat dueled for the early lead in Saturday's $100,000 Texas Glitter Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park, then drew off to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Golden Nugget. Dr Oseran was third.

Crispy Cat, a British-bred colt by Ardad, ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 55.71 seconds with Paco Lopez riding for trainer Jorge Delgado.

Sassy Nature went quickly to the lead in the companion $100,000 Melody of Colors Stakes and got home first by 2 1/2 lengths. Just a Care and Vai Bella filled out the trifecta.

Sassy Nature, a California-bred filly by Straight Fire, finished in 55.50 for Julien Leparoux.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Key of Life shot right to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Oaklawn Park, shook off a challenge midway through the 6 furlongs and won by 3 1/2 lengths over Socially Selective. The favorite, Klassy Bridgette, settled for third.

Key of Life, a Mo Town filly trained by Brad Cox, finished in 1:09.90 with Isaac Castillo riding. She now has four wins and three thirds from seven starts.



Eye Witness stalked the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Animal Kingdom Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Turfway Park all-weather track, exploded to the lead in the lane and drew off to win by 5 lengths. Pacesetter Olazabal held second, 5 1/2 lengths better than Brazen Boy.

Eye Witness, a New York-bred City of Light colt, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.76 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up for trainer Wesley Ward.

Around the ovals

Fair Grounds

Allright Moonlight stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Crescent City Derby for state-breds, moved when asked and won off by 2 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. The Ransom the Moon colt ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.82 with Florent Geroux aboard.

Star Moment had just that in Saturday's $100,000 Crescent City Oaks. The 17-1 long shot led virtually all the way and won by 4 1/2 lengths over Alpine Mist with the odds-on favorite, Free Drop Maddy, tiring to finish fourth.

Star Moment, a Star Guitar filly, ran 1 mile, 70 yards in 1:44.19 with Corey Lanerie up.

Big Chopper outfinished Brian's Iron Mike by a nose at the end of the $100,000 Costa Rising Stakes for Louisiana-breds. Big Chopper, a 4-year-old Shackelford colt, ran about 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:05.70 with Lanerie up.


Sunday's $75,000 stakes were for state-breds. Touchuponastar won the Star Guitar Stakes at 1 1/16 miles; First I've Seen took the Page Cortez Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass; and Nosilverspoonshere was along late to win the Shantel Lanerie Memorial for fillies and mares.


Maple Leaf Mel, the odds-on favorite, poured it on through the stretch in Friday's $100,000 East View Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies, winning by 7 3/4 lengths from Security Code.

Maple Leaf Mel, a Cross Traffic miss trained by Jeremiah Englehart, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.75 for jockey Joel Rosario and remains undefeated after three starts.

The filly is owned by former New York Giants' head coach Bill Parcells' August Dawn Farm and Englehart said, "My goal is to win a Grade I with her for him."

Mahoning Valley

Near Perfect rallied up the rail in the stretch run of Thursday's $75,000 Southern Park Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-old fillies and was up in the final strides to defeat the favorite, Larry's Angel, by a neck.

Near Perfect, a Mobil filly, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:13.22 with Angel Diaz up.

Sunland Park


Sunday's Derby and Oaks were well supported by races for state-bred horses.

Valentino Who was last at the start of the $250,000 Breeders' Derby, then passed them all to win by 1/2 length. Crafty Money pressed the pace in the $250,000 Breeders' Oaks, and then got by to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

In open races: Dean's List won a three-way photo in the $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial at 6 1/2 furlongs; Cityonthenile led most of the way to score by 1/2 length in the $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 mile.

Tampa Bay Downs

Saturday's program had five $110,000 stakes for Florida-breds.

Zydeceaux won the Ocala Breeders' Sales Sophomore Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths as the favorite after contesting graded stakes earlier in the year.

The Stonehedge South Sophomore Fillies turned into a blowout for Munnys Gold, who drew away to win by 17 1/4 lengths.

Drama Chorus led all the way to a 1 1/4-length score in the Grey Goose Turf Classic despite stumbling out of the gate. Sweet Dani Girl led, turned back a challenge and won the Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf by 4 lengths.

The Equistaff Sophomore Turf went to Otago by a neck over the favorite, Boppy O. And Magical Warrior used a late run to win the NYRAbets Sprint Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths.


Sam Houston Race Park

Saturday found six $100,000 stakes for Texas-breds.

Release McCracken took charge in the stretch run in the TTA Derby, winning off by 3 lengths. Santa Fe Gold led virtually all the way to an 8 1/4-lengths score in the TTA Oaks.

Gold Pilot held on through the final strides to win the Star of Texas Stakes by a neck. Ima Discreet Lady made up a lot of ground late to win the 6-furlongs Yellow Rose Stakes for fillies and mares.

Sunlit Song stalked the pace in the Richard King Turf Stakes, then pounced for the neck win. Imaluckycharm was out front most of the way in winning the San Jacinto Turf Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 length.

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