Road to the Kentucky Derby Horse Profile: Sumahama (JPN)

If his connections want it, Sumahama has a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

The son of Neo Universe won a place in the starting gate for the First Saturday in May at Churchill Downs courtesy of his victory in the Hyacinth Stakes in Tokyo, thereby winning the three-race Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

He didn’t have to contend with the impressive Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun winner Le Vent Se Leve, who has had a setback, but he looked very good in winning his third race on end. He was just off the speed in the running and took command down the stretch, winning comfortably.

Sumahama isn’t nominated as yet for the U.S. Triple Crown races, and his trainer Ryo Takahashi was non-committal about whether he would seek overseas targets such as the Derby or the UAE Derby, in which last year’s Japanese series winner Epicharis was runner-up.

However, he does have several attributes of a Derby horse: early speed, determination, and a pedigree which suggests he has enough stamina for 1 ¼ miles at Churchill Downs.

Sumahama is a grandson of Sunday Silence, the 1989 Kentucky Derby winner who became the greatest sire in Japanese history, siring more than 170 stakes winners. One of those stakes winners was Neo Universe, who was Japan’s champion 3-year-old in 2003 after winning the 1 ¼-mile Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2,000 Guineas, now a grade one race after Japan opened all its black type races up to international competition), and the 1 ½-mile Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, also now officially a grade one).

Neo Universe hasn’t had quite the same success as other good sire sons of Sunday Silence, such as Deep Impact, Fuji Kiseki, Manhattan Café, and Stay Gold. But has sired more than 25 stakes winners, two of which were international grade one winners: Neorealism, winner of the 1 ¼-mile Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong, and Victoire Pisa, whose victories include the 1 ¼-mile Dubai World Cup (when it was on a synthetic surface) and the prestigious 1 9/16-mile Arima Kinen (G1).

Sumahama’s dam Sound the Beach was a stakes winner over nine furlongs on dirt in Japan. She is by 1987 Canadian Horse of the Year Afleet out of Nagisa (Markofdistinction), who finished fourth in the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup for fillies and mares (now an international grade one race).

If Sumahama does make it to Churchill Downs, stamina should not be a problem. Whether he handles a long journey and a better class of dirt horse is another matter. He’d be a risky Kentucky Derby bet while there’s doubt about him arriving, but he’s worth a thought if he does.

(Sumahama race photo by Horsephotos.com)