Right after Godolphin made him a late nomination to the Triple Crown, Thunder Snow proved the wisdom of that decision by denying Japan’s Epicharis in a thrilling conclusion to Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby (G2).

Thunder Snow, who was making his first start beyond a mile, appeared to fritter away his chance when jinking right in deep stretch. But jockey Christophe Soumillon coaxed him back into a straight line, and the 5-2 favorite surged at the line to nip longtime leader Epicharis.

“He is a champion with a big, big heart,” Soumillon said. “He gave me everything. He is a champion.” 

Thunder Snow was furthering trainer Saeed bin Suroor’s grip on the UAE Derby record book, giving him his eighth winner of the race.

“This was a new trip for him at 1900 meters (about 1 3/16 miles), but I had confidence,” bin Suroor said of the colt, who clocked a solid final time of 1:57.76 on a rare “muddy” track at Meydan.

“Christophe knows the horse well so I knew he’d be able to sort out anything, even though he did look a bit green there 200 meters out, but the jockey sorted him.”

With 100 Kentucky Derby (G1) points in the bank, Thunder Snow is assured of a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. But the Godolphin brain trust has no shortage of options for the budding star, who’s also a top-level winner on turf. Thunder Snow romped in last October’s Criterium International (G1) at Saint-Cloud before acing his dirt debut in the February 11 UAE 2000 Guineas (G3).

“I talked to Sheikh Mohammed just now,” bin Suroor said, “and we have nominated him for the Kentucky Derby but we are also considering the French, Irish, or even the English Derby (G1). We are keeping our options open and we will make a decision when I talk to Sheikh Mohammed again.”

Epicharis, who fought gamely every step of the way, took home 40 points for his tough beat. That total isn’t germane to his Derby status, since he’d already qualified for Churchill Downs as the winner of the inaugural “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.” Connections had initially sounded more inclined to pursue the Belmont S. (G1), an itinerary firming up in the post-race report. According to Naoya Yoshida on Twitter, Epicharis will pass on the Kentucky Derby.

The Todd Pletcher-trained Master Plan finished third to earn 20 points, and Lancaster Bomber, fourth in his first dirt try for Aidan O’Brien, received 10 points. 

Photo of Thunder Snow (left) and Epicharis courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins