UAE Derby (GII)

Meydan Racecourse • Dubai, UAE 100-50-25-15-10
March 30, 2024

UAE Derby Race History 

The UAE Derby (G2) stands alone as a unique stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Held at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, the race ranks as the lone leg of the primary Road to the Kentucky Derby series held outside of North America. 

The UAE Derby was first contested in 2000, and during its first two decades the race underwent several changes in distance, surface, and location. Between 2000 and 2009, the UAE Derby was conducted over the dirt track at Nad Al Sheba and ranged in distance from 1,800 meters (about 1 18 miles) to 2,000 meters (about 1 14 miles)—configurations that produced seven Kentucky Derby starters. 

The opening of Meydan in 2010 saw the UAE Derby undergo a couple of major changes. The race shifted to a synthetic racing surface and settled at a distance of 1,900 meters (about 1 316 miles)—slightly shorter than the Kentucky Derby, but longer than most Derby prep races in North America. The synthetic era lasted through 2014 and produced three Kentucky Derby starters led by Master of Hounds, who picked up a piece of the purse when finishing fifth under the Twin Spires in 2011. 

In 2015, the synthetic track at Meydan was replaced with a traditional dirt surface, strengthening the UAE Derby’s credentials as a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier. Between 2015 and 2019, every UAE Derby winner contested the “Run for the Roses,” including future two-time Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Thunder Snow and the flashy Mendelssohn. The latter won the 2018 UAE Derby by 18 12 lengths while recording a stakes-record time of 1:55.18.

Saeed bin Suroor, Mike de Kock, and Aidan O’Brien have been the most dominant trainers in the UAE Derby, saddling 16 of the first 20 winners. Godolphin has led the way from an ownership standpoint, with eight winners carrying the Godolphin blue colors between 2000 and 2019.

The UAE Derby was not run in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but its prominence on the Road to the Kentucky Derby remains secure. The race awards qualification points on a 100-50-25-15-10 basis to the top four finishers, sufficient to annually attract a bevy of promising 3-year-olds from around the world. With past winners representing the U.S., Dubai, Great Britain, Ireland, and Japan, the UAE Derby is truly a global Kentucky Derby prep race.

By J. Keeler Johnson

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