A record three dozen Japanese-based horses have been nominated to the 2023 Triple Crown, including the top two on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard at this stage, Derma Sotogake and Continuar.
Continuar won the Japan Road opener, the Nov. 26 Cattleya S. at Tokyo, to earn 10 points in his latest outing. Then Derma Sotogake leapfrogged to the top by capturing the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun on Dec. 14, worth 20 points to the winner. Now they’re both scheduled to hop off the Japan Road in favor of a Mideast swing for the Feb. 25 Saudi Derby (G3).
The two remaining races on the Japan Road, the Feb. 19 Hyacinth S. at Tokyo and the Mar. 25 Fukuryu S. at Nakayama, will remake the leaderboard. The leading points earner after the Fukuryu will be first in line for the Japan Road invitation to the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Let’s whittle down all the aspirants to a top 12 from Japan, beginning with the points leaders as of Feb. 9:
Continuar is trained by Yoshito Yahagi, who made history by sending out the first Japanese winners at the Breeders’ Cup in 2021. The internationally-renowned horseman has also won major races in Australia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong.
Victorious on debut at Hanshin, Continuar was nailed by Derma Sotogake in an allowance over the same track and about 1 1/8-mile trip. He appeared to be doing just enough to pass those to his inside, then was caught off guard when Derma Sotogake burst between. Continuar was coming again at the wire, but it was too late. He successfully shortened up to a metric mile in the Cattleya, where he raced farther off the pace and stayed on under good handling.
Continuar is by the outstanding young sire Drefong, the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champion. There are no stamina concerns, though, since Continuar is out of a mare very closely related to two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Almond Eye.
Derma Sotogake improved over the course of the season, especially after he moved from turf to dirt. The Hidetaka Otonashi trainee has won his past three – a Chukyo maiden by four lengths; the aforementioned Hanshin allowance, mugging Continuar; and the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, rolling from off the pace to get up in time at a metric mile.
Derma Sotogake is from the first crop of $4.2 million-earning sprinter Mind Your Biscuits. His dam, Amour Poesie, scored in the 2013 Kanto Oaks going about 1 5/16 miles on the dirt at Kawasaki.
Could there be two Hopeful (G1) winners on the 2023 Kentucky Derby trail? Eclipse Award champion Forte captured the historic feature at Saratoga, and Dura Erede upset Japan’s very different version, going about 1 1/4 miles on turf at Nakayama, as an 89-1 longshot.
While he spent most of his juvenile campaign on the lawn, Dura Erede did capture his lone start on dirt, an about 1 1/16-mile maiden at Sapporo Aug. 20. He had a three-month break going into the Nov. 19 Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai (G2), where he tracked the fast pace, ground to the front, and got outkicked by a trio with a superior turn of foot. Dura Erede had a similar trip in the Dec. 28 Hopeful, but the added ground played to his stamina. After a protracted duel, he won the photo on the head-bob. It was a brutal beat for pacesetter Top Knife, who was in front just before, and after, the wire.
By blueblood champion Duramente, Dura Erede is out of a mare by Japanese Triple Crown sweeper and Horse of the Year Orfevre, who almost won the 2012 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). His dam is a half-sister to champion Satono Diamond, and his granddam, Malpensa, was a multiple Group 1 winner in Argentina with major tallies on dirt and turf.
From the first crop of Triple Crown champion Justify, Yuttitham could become the newest celebrity for Kaneko Makoto Holdings. Makoto is best remembered for campaigning the great Deep Impact, and most recently the champion white filly Sodashi. She is likewise trained by Naosuke Sugai, whose other standouts include Just a Way and the mercurial Gold Ship.
Yuttitham’s reputation has preceded him to the racetrack; bettors have sent him off as the odds-on favorite in all three starts. Although overturned first time out at Sapporo Aug. 27, he looked like the rangy type who was still the unfinished article. In contrast, the victorious Perriere appeared a sharper, more precocious juvenile as he surged past. Yuttitham resurfaced at Hanshin in December, now filling into his frame and a different proposition entirely. Romping by eight lengths in an about 1 1/8-mile maiden, he followed up in an allowance over the same trip by storming to a three-length victory.
December 28, 2022
Yuttitham was imported in embryo. His dam, Zipessa, was sold to Shadai Farm for $1.25 million as a broodmare at Keeneland November in 2018. A Grade 1 winner on turf by successful sire City Zip, Zipessa visited Justify the following spring before shipping out to Japan.
If Perriere capitalized on being more mature than Yuttitham in their mutual debut, the son of Henny Hughes built upon that effort later in the fall. Next seen in a Nov. 12 allowance at Tokyo, he didn’t appear to be going anywhere until the seventh and final furlong, when he took off to win convincingly. Perriere stepped back up to a mile for the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, where he ranked as the favorite. He looked like the winner with his bold move turning for home, but he couldn’t sustain it and tired to third.
By Henny Hughes, the sire of Hall of Famer Beholder, Perriere descends on his dam’s side from Group 1 heroine Ski Paradise, runner-up in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) and a noted broodmare. Ski Paradise is herself a half to Ski Captain, the first Japanese shipper to try the Kentucky Derby when 14th in 1995.
Update: Perriere rebounded as the favorite in the Feb. 19 Hyacinth S., jumping to the top of the Japan Road leaderboard going into the final leg at Nakayama Mar. 25.
Ski Captain’s pioneering trainer, Hideyuki Mori, is responsible for a dozen nominees led by From Dusk, who is expected to try dirt in the Saudi Derby. The Kentucky-bred son of champion freshman sire Bolt d’Oro has been feast-or-famine on turf, with his fortunes totally dependent upon the break.
After showing good speed to win as the favorite on debut at Kokura, From Dusk broke poorly at Nakayama, tried to rush up on the inside, got checked, and never recovered. A much better start in the Nov. 5 Keio Hai Nisai (G2) led to a much better result. He got a flyer out of the gate and led nearly all the way, gamely fending off his nearest pursuer, only to be outkicked by a wide-rallying rival.
Unfortunately, From Dusk whiffed the start again in the Asahi Hai Futurity (G1). Once he was last in the opening strides, his race was over, and he beat only one home in 16th. The pattern continued last out in the Jan. 28 Crocus S. back at Tokyo, where he broke well enough to set the pace and held third.
From Dusk’s free-wheeling style is reminiscent of his “uncle,” multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Get Stormy. From Dusk is out of Get Stormy’s half-sister, the Giant’s Causeway mare Foolish Cause, who is also responsible for turf sprint stakes victress Foolish Humor.
Trainer Koichi Shintani, who made it to the 2022 Kentucky Derby with UAE Derby (G2) winner Crown Pride, has two intriguing nominees for 2023. Curren Alcantara has yet to try stakes company like his stablemate Goraiko did, but his form might turn out to be stronger.
After a grinding fourth on debut at Tokyo, Curren Alcantara won his ensuing starts on the stretch-out to about 1 1/8 miles. He swept to the fore from a stalking spot in his Oct. 23 Hanshin maiden, and leveraged an inside tracking trip in his Jan. 9 Chukyo allowance, beating fellow nominees Vendaval y Rabiar and Plavi. The consistent Plavi was favored off his fourth in the Cattleya.
By dirt star Espoir City, Curren Alcantara is a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Ask Wild More, who was unplaced in two jewels of Japan’s Triple Crown last season. This is the immediate family of Argentine champion and multiple U.S. Grade 1 heroine Different.
If we keep using beaten favorite Plavi as a yardstick, then his most recent third in a Jan. 22 allowance could be read as a pointer to the winner Eclogite.
Trained by Takayuki Yasuda, known for his past work with the great Lord Kanaloa, Eclogite was an eye-catching third from a seemingly hopeless position in his premiere at Hanshin. He next won at Chukyo, as much the best, despite taking time to lumber into gear on his wrong (left) lead. Then British ace Ryan Moore took the ride in his Nov. 12 Tokyo allowance, but Eclogite was a no-show 14th behind Perriere.
Back at Chukyo last time, Eclogite added blinkers and ran like a brand new horse. The Henny Hughes colt vied for the lead and withstood a gauntlet of challengers, ultimately digging in to stave off a closer. He defeated two other Triple Crown nominees, with Plavi in third and Medjed fifth.
Update: Eclogite finished third in the Hyacinth.
Goraiko was last seen landing the Nov. 3 JBC Nisai Yushun at Mombetsu, where he gradually improved down the backstretch, struck the front entering the stretch, and drove clear with a long, leveling stride.
【#JBC2歳優駿 結果】— 地方競馬全国協会(NAR)公式 (@nar_keiba) November 3, 2022
1着 6ゴライコウ 9人気
2着 11ベルピット 1人気
3着 3リアルミー 5人気
The son of Japanese dirt champion Hokko Tarumae had taken three tries to break his maiden. A pole behind record-setting Yamanin Ours when second in his Sapporo unveiling, he flopped behind fellow nominee God Blue Bee next out. But Goraiko responded to the addition of blinkers at Chukyo, stalking the leader and asserting in deep stretch.
Update: Goraiko finished fifth in the Hyacinth.
Trained by Mikio Matsunaga, who was on the 2016 Triple Crown trail with fan favorite Lani, Lux Frontier has run two fine races since switching to dirt. The son of high-class stallion Epiphaneia posted a good-looking maiden win Jan. 14 at Chukyo, off a layoff, and nearly wired a Sunday allowance at the same track and about 1 1/8-mile trip. Lux Frontier was just worn down late by odds-on favorite Hrungnir, with God Blue Bee back in fifth.
Favored in his first two starts at Hanshin, Cours Mirabeau was relegated to second on debut by the smashing Justify filly Awesome Result. But he promptly prevailed next out at odds of 1-10 on Christmas Eve. Cours Mirabeau was slowly away, and raced with a high head carriage maybe feeling the kickback, but leveled off well in the clear to win by three lengths. This past Sunday, the Drefong colt tried turf in the Kisaragi Sho (G3) at Chukyo and finished third. Cours Mirabeau quickened, but not as much as the top two, the promising Hrimfaxi and Open Fire.
Mokku Mokku has yet to face winners, or race beyond about seven furlongs, so he’ll have to pass stiffer tests to advance on the trail. Still, he could hardly have looked any better in a Hanshin newcomers’ race on Christmas Eve. The 6-5 favorite was part of the pace scrum from post 12, then simply buried them to draw off by nine lengths. Mokku Mokku is by Danon Legend (himself a son of U.S. champion Macho Uno, by Hall of Famer Holy Bull) and out of an Australian-bred mare by globetrotting champion Singspiel.