The European Road to the Kentucky Derby has never produced a Kentucky Derby (G1) winner. Next in line to break that streak is Plus Que Parfait, an American race horse who won the $2.5 million U.A.E. Derby (G2) on March 30 at Meydan. Plus Que Parfait beat a field of 14 to win the U.A.E. Derby and secure 100 qualifying points for a spot in the May 4 Kentucky Derby.
The victory was also the first U.A.E. Derby win for jockey Jose Ortiz, who passed on riding in the Florida Derby (G1) and was riding in Dubai for the first time. Ortiz won the $1.5 million Godolphin Mile (G2) earlier in the evening. He completed his great evening of riding on Plus Que Parfait, who finished fifth in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) in January and 13th in the Risen Star (G2) in February at Fair Grounds. Plus Que Parfait looked like a different animal shooting past local hopeful Manquzi in the stretch and turning back the closing bid of American rival Gray Magician to win the U.A.E. Derby by three-quarters of a length. His second victory in seven starts increased his earnings to $1.59 million and shot him to the top of the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard.
Plus Que Parfait completed 1900 meters (about 1 3⁄16 miles) in 1:58.41 over a fast track and returned $19.60, $7 and $6.40. Gray Magician paid $8 and $6.80, and longshot Manguzi showed at $16.40. The U.A.E. Derby favorite, a filly named Divine Image, finished 13th and never challenged.
Last year’s U.A.E. Derby winner, Mendelssohn, set the track record in a time of 1:55.18, but went on to finish last in the Kentucky Derby as one of the favorites.
Gray Magician, who finished third in the Sham (G2) and had shown key speed factors to contend, earned 40 Derby points for finishing runner-up in the UAE, which should also qualify him for the Kentucky Derby.
Plus Que Parfait had to overcome the challenge of very long travel, but did very well and was working fine leading up to the race. Trainer Brendan Walsh never lost confidence in his improving colt, and facing a weaker U.A.E. Derby field this year had to weigh into his thinking to ship to Dubai.
"Some horses struggle at Fair Grounds," said Walsh, who early in his career worked in Dubai for Godolphin. "We thought when he (ran well in) the (Kentucky) Jockey Club (G2) that we had a Derby horse. Now I’m trying to keep myself calm and not get too excited. But I’m not surprised he won tonight."
Walsh said he has yet to finalize travel plans for Plus Que Parfait. He’s likely to either ship him directly to Churchill Downs or make a brief stop at Keeneland before moving on to Louisville for the richest-ever Kentucky Derby with a new purse of $3 million in 2019.
The horse to beat in the 2019 UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai is a filly. Divine Image (#6) (2-1) is the favorite after winning three of four career starts, including an impressive 7 1⁄4-length win over the boys at Meydan in the Al Bastakiya. She’ll be challenged in the 1 3⁄16-mile UAE Derby, which offers a massive purse of $2.5 million and 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the respective top four finishers.
Divine Image is owned by Godolphin, and they have dominated the UAE Derby with eight wins since its inception in 2000.
Major travel is always a consideration when handicapping and evaluating the UAE Derby, which has a big field of 14 for the 2019 edition. Note that Southern Hemisphere three-year-olds are six months or so older than Northern Hemisphere sophomores and are considered four-year-olds in North America.
1 – Walking Thunder (5-1)
2 – Jahbath (6-1)
3 – Golden Jaguar (15-1)
4 – Plus Que Parfait (15-1)
5 – Derma Louvre (12-1)
6 – Divine Image (2-1)
7 – Superior (12-1)
8 – Gray Magician (15-1)
9 – Razeena (50-1)
10 – Al Hayette (50-1)
11 – Van Beethoven (10-1)
12 – Stubbins (12-1)
13 – Swift Rose (30-1)
14 – Manguzi (15-1)
Walking Thunder finished second last out in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) after winning his previous race by nine lengths. He’s not worthy at this price. Jahbath ships in from England, where he’s won four of five starts by nice margins, but all on synthetic surface. He’s bred to run long.
Plus Que Parfait is one of three American horses traveling to Dubai. Fifth in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) two back thanks to a troubled trip, the chestnut ridgling had only one horse beat on the wire of the 14-horse field Risen Star (G2) last out. Divine Image is two-for-two at this distance over the track and figures to improve further. She is a daughter of Scat Daddy, who produced last year’s Triple Crown winner, Justify.
Gray Magician is a Southern California-based runner who has key speed factors to contend against this weaker group. The sophomore finished fourth in the Sham Stakes (G3), beaten three lengths, to kick off his 2019 campaign. Van Beethoven has run on nothing but turf and synthetic, so distance and surface questions remain. The son of Scat Daddy is trained by Aidan O’Brien, who saddled Mendelssohn to victory in last year’s UAE Derby.
Stubbins should fine the pace comfortable and will be on or near the lead. Distance is the lone concern for the dark bay colt, but he is still one to include in the money with a shot to win against this field.
2018 UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn set the UAE Derby race record in a time of 1:55.18 while dominating the field to win by 18 1⁄2 lengths. The high-priced colt became the 10th UAE Derby winner to compete in the Kentucky Derby, but wound up last of 20 under the wire. None of them have won the Run for the Roses.
A huge night of racing is scheduled at the Dubai World Cup, and the UAE Derby could provide a rare win by a filly.
2. Gray Magician
4. Derma Louvre
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