If a Japanese horse is to win the 2018 Kentucky Derby, then it’s maybe appropriate if it has two past Kentucky Derby winners in its first three generations.
Fitting that bill is Ruggero, who won the first of the three races which form the Japanese Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby, the one-mile Cattleya Sho Nov. 25, which carries a 10-4-2-1 points split for the first four.
Ruggero is, like so many other horses in Japan, from the sire line formed by the 1989 Derby winner Sunday Silence. His sire Kinshasa no Kiseki is a son of Sunday Silence’s grade one-winning son Fuji Kiseki.
Derby winners make up both grandsires of Kinshasa no Kiseki, as his dam Keltshaan is by 1981 victor Pleasant Colony. Ruggero also has 1964 Derby winner Northern Dancer in his fourth generation.
Bred by Shadai Farm, Ruggero was a 39 million yen weanling (about $315,000) purchase for Takashi Muraki at the JRHA Select Sale. He began his career on turf, winning his debut, finishing second at his next start, and then running eighth of 18 after drawing the extreme outside barrier in the Saudi Arabia Royal Cup (G3).
His efforts were enough to make him third favorite for the Cattleya Sho, and he produced a professional performance. Settling fourth, he was getting the better of pacemaking Morito Yubu when the latter crashed into the rail with about 1/16 of a mile to run. Ruggero looked to lose some momentum when that happened but kept his mind on the job enough to win by half a length from Mic Ben Hur and Meiner Yukitsubaki.
Trainer Yuichiro Shikato is reportedly planning to next target the 1 1/8-mile Hyacinth Stakes in March, for which the split is 30-12-6-3. If he wins that, the Kentucky Derby is a possibility.
Despite the Derby winners in his pedigree, however, there will be some questions about Ruggero’s ability to stay 1 ¼ miles on the First Saturday in May.
Kinshasa no Kiseki, an Australian-bred, was very much a sprinter. He found his best form at the ages of six and seven, when he won the six-furlong Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) twice and the seven-furlong Hanshin Cup (G2) twice. He was not as effective at a mile, winning two from nine.
Kinshasa no Kiseki’s oldest crop is five, and he has four stakes winners to date, all of which scored in the six-furlong to one mile range.
There is a bit more race stamina on Ruggero’s distaff side. His dam Silver Cup won the one-mile Italian 1,000 Guineas (G2) before heading to the United States, where she won all three of her 4-year-old starts, each a grade two race on the Santa Anita turf between a mile and 1 1/8 miles: the San Gorgonio Handicap, Buena Vista Handicap, and Santa Ana Handicap.
Her career was on turf, but her sire was the 1999 Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Almutawakel.
Basically, the pedigree does raise questions about stamina. The best clues about his Derby stamina will be provided by how he runs in the Hyacinth Stakes. If he goes well there, it’s then all about class.