Epsom Derby, Oaks and Yasuda Kinen in Japan mark weekend horse racing

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Romantic Warrior, shown with jockey James McDonald winning the QE II Cup in Hong Kong, takes on Tokyo Racecourse in Sunday's Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen. Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club
1 of 2 | Romantic Warrior, shown with jockey James McDonald winning the QE II Cup in Hong Kong, takes on Tokyo Racecourse in Sunday's Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen. Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club

May 31 (UPI) -- With all due respect to Santa Anita, Woodbine, Penn National and Churchill Downs, the hottest action in this weekend's horse racing is on the global scene.

And, since results from as far afield as Japan and England easily could impact racing in North America during the remainder of the year, Americans should be paying attention. Sadly, that doesn't always happen. But we make the most of what we have.


So, let's jump right to Tokyo, Epsom Downs in England and Chantilly in France. We'll return thereafter to New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and California.


Sunday's Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse has a starting gate full of top-class, globetrotting Japanese horses. But the focus is on Romantic Warrior, one of two Hong Kong-based invaders.

The 6-year-old is truly on a roll, boasting four straight Group 1 wins starting with Australia's iconic Group 1 Cox Plate last October. He returned home to win the Longines Hong Kong Cup over Luxembourg, who coincidentally is back in action this weekend at Epsom, and then picked up two more top-level victories in quick succession.


Romantic Warrior already is rated one of the top middle-distance turf horses in the world and it would be interesting to see if his connections, already shown to be globally oriented, would avail themselves of the "Win and You're In" offer for the Breeders' Cup Mile that's accorded the winner.

The same can be said for Namur, the Japanese mare who also has had some notable success on the international scene and seems to be the main threat to Romantic Warrior.

"All the Japanese horses are very good," said Romantic Warrior's trainer, Danny Shum. "They conquer everywhere, in Dubai and in Hong Kong."


Saturday's Betfred Derby at Epsom Downs, is a bit of a strange affair. Several 3-year-olds who would have been clear favorites are out of the race, leaving two Coolmore colts, City of Troy and Los Angeles, as the lukewarm picks in early wagering.

City of Troy, a son of Justify, started the year as the hot Derby favorite but his odds crashed after he trotted home ninth in the Group 1 Qipco 2000 Guineas in his only previous start this year.

Trainer Aidan O'Brien hasn't adequately explained that performance, but has a history of turning around a bad Guineas showing to a Derby triumph. Case in point: Auguste Rodin's 2023 Guineas was worse than City of Troy's this year, yet he rebounded to victory on Epsom Downs.


Los Angeles, by Camelot, is 3-for-3 and won his Derby prep, but jockey Ryan Moore sticks with City of Troy, just as he did last year with Auguste Rodin.

Given the uncertainties, have a good look up and down the 13-horse field with a particular eye toward Godolphin's Ancient Wisdom and Lingfield Derby trial winner Ambiente Friendly.

On Friday, Epsom hosts the Betfred Oaks. Again, the Coolmore lads, Moore and trainer Aidan O'Brien have the favorite in a Frankel filly named Ylang Ylang, who reported fifth in the Group 1 Qipco 1000 Guineas.

Their majesties, the king and queen, send out a mid-priced long shot named Treasure, bred by the late Queen Elizabeth II. That would be nice.

As to an American connection: The Derby provides no automatic Annie Oakley, as does the Yasuda Kinen. But August Rodin did finish his 2023 season with a remarkable victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

Friday's Coronation Cup at Epsom has Luxembourg (again, O'Brien and Moore) and Emily Upjohn, both last seen in the Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic in March and both looking to rebound from subpar performances. If not, see French invader Feed the Flame.



After their engagements at Epsom, Moore and (presumably) O'Brien flit across the channel to handle Diego Velazquez in Sunday's Group 1 Qipco Prix du Jockey Club or French Derby at Chantilly.

It's a big field with lots of prospects, completing a decidedly competitive European weekend.

Meanwhile, back in North America:


Saturday's $275,000 Grade III Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs has a field of 11 set to go 1 1/8 miles and no clear favorite. Get Smokin and Tyson top the morning line for Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Eclipse Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather.


Ten 3-year-old fillies are set to face the starter in Saturday's $275,000 Grade III Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs and nine older fillies and mares tackle 1 1/16 miles on the same turf in Saturday's $275,000 Grade III Shawnee Stakes.

Friday's $150,000 Penn Oaks at Penn National has a dozen fillies going 1 mile.

Saturday's $135,000 (Canadian) Belle Mahoney Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather has 10 fillies and mares.


Skelly, winner of nine of his last 10 starts, is the odds-on pick in Saturday's $275,000 Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs. Most of those wins came at Oaklawn Park, but the 5-year-old Practical Joke gelding also was second in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia in February.


Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita has just four takers. Saturday's $135,000 (Canadian) Grade III Jacques Cartier Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather has a field of seven.


Godolphin's Ottoman Fleet sails back into action as the favorite in Saturday's $275,000 Grade III Arlington Stakes at Churchill Downs. Ten 3-year-old turfers try the $275,000 Audubon Stakes at the same venue. Saturday's $100,000 Jersey Derby at 1 mile on the Monmouth Park greensward has a field of nine.

Filly & Mare Turf

Seven 3-year-old fillies were rounded up for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Honeymoon Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the Santa Anita grass.

Delahaye and Heavenly Sunday stack up over seven rivals on the morning line for Sunday's $225,000 Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep at Churchill Downs.

Turf Mile

A competitive field of 10 3-year-olds assembles for Friday's $400,000 Grade III Penn Mile at Penn National.

Turf Sprint

Play the Music and Secret Money top the morning line for Saturday's $135,000 (Canadian) Grade III Royal North Stakes for fillies and mares at Woodbine.

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