December 19, 2018

Epicharis earns Kentucky Derby invitation; Gold Dream gets BC Classic spot

Epicharis and Adirato take on Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby (Photo copyright Japan Racing Association)

Two days after their successful sire, Gold Allure, died unexpectedly, two of his sons burnished his legacy still more brightly with a significant Sunday double at Tokyo.

His next budding star, unbeaten three-year-old Epicharis, captured the Hyacinth Stakes, in the process securing an invitation to the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1). Later, Gold Dream scored a new career high in the February (G1), the year’s first “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). It remains to be seen whether either takes advantage of the offers.

Even if Epicharis isn’t enticed by the Run for the Roses, U. Carrot Farm’s exciting colorbearer is in the reckoning for the Belmont Stakes (G1). Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara may find the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion” more suitable, since Epicharis is the long-striding type who gets into a relentless rhythm. Before then, however, the UAE Derby (G2) on World Cup night beckons, and plans will firm up thereafter.

Epicharis was the red-hot favorite in the wake of three stunners as a juvenile, capped by his distancing of his rivals in the November 1 Hokkaido Nisai Yushun, a Grade 3 on the local NAR circuit at Monbetsu. Yet the Hyacinth was a step up in class, marking a real test for all of these promising sophomores.

Graham Pavey (@LongBalltoNoOne) gave Epicharis fans momentary cause for pause when tweeting that he was 18 kg heavier for this sophomore debut. And on the live video from Tokyo, it was evident that Epicharis was also sweating freely.

Epicharis shrugged off both of those negatives, while showing more courage than hitherto required in his cakewalks. Confidently handled by Christophe Lemaire, he was perched in a handy spot on the fence, one back of his leading rival Adirato. As Adirato tried to give them the slip in upper stretch, Lemaire sat chilly on Epicharis, still stuck on the fence. There was room to pounce, but would he seize it? Or would the door get slammed in his face?

The answer didn’t take long. Undeterred between the rail and Adirato, Epicharis punched through and won perhaps a little cozily by three-quarters of a length. It was his tightest finish yet, but decisive enough.

The final time of the Hyacinth’s metric mile, 1:37.8, was well off the snappy 1:35.1 posted by the four-year-old Gold Dream in the February. As a strapping colt just getting started, and with bigger targets in view, Epicharis is entitled to progress from this.

“I was a little worried that Epicharis had been off for a long time but his condition was good,” Lemaire told Racing Post. “He has enough speed to race forwardly so I think he could challenge for big races in the US.”

Epicharis topped the first Japan Road to the Derby by virtue of his 50 points scored in the Hyacinth. Mont Saint Legame, the winner of the only other Japanese points race in last November’s Cattleya Sho, trudged home 10th in the Hyacinth. That left Mont Saint Legame stuck on the 40 points he’d won in the Cattleya Sho.

If Epicharis does in fact swerve Churchill Downs, the Derby invitation will be transferred to Mont Saint Legame. If he also politely declines, then Adirato would inherit it as the third on the Japanese leaderboard (thanks to his 20 points from the Hyacinth). All three could turn up in Dubai next month, making for a showdown in the UAE Derby with a total of 170 Kentucky Derby points at stake.

Out of the winning Carnegie mare Stapes Mitsuko, Epicharis is a half-brother to multiple Grade 3 victor Meisho Naruto, from the further family of Japanese champion filly Little Amapola. Epicharis’ pedigree sports the Rasmussen Factor of inbreeding to a superior female, in his case, Special, via Nureyev and Sadler’s Wells. Nureyev factors as Gold Allure’s broodmare sire, and Sadler’s Wells is the sire of Carnegie (Epicharis’ broodmare sire).

Epicharis and Gold Dream have something else in common in addition to their sire: Gold Dream won last year’s Hyacinth, in which Lani, the eventual UAE Derby hero and US Triple Crown competitor, was a disappointing fifth.

Since the 2016 Hyacinth, Gold Dream landed the Unicorn (G3) and placed in the Japan Dirt Derby, Hyogo Championship, and Musashino (G3). An uncharacteristic 12th in the December 4 Champions Cup (G1) at Chukyo, he was back to his best here beneath Mirco Demuro.

Gold Dream, the 4-1 second choice, swept to the fore in the stretch and kept finding to hold frequent bridesmaid Best Warrior by a neck, with favored Kafuji Take coming from the clouds for third.

“In the Champions Cup, he broke poorly and was keen — he didn’t stretch at all,” said Demuro, who was recording his 19th JRA Grade 1 victory. “But today he was relaxed even after entering the track. His start was good, he was positioned well and responded beautifully in the straight. He still had a lot left at the end.”

Owned by Katsumi Yoshida and trained by Osamu Hirata, Gold Dream has compiled a record of 9-5-2-1. He was produced by the stakes-placed Mon Vert, a French Deputy mare descended from noted matron Number (a three-quarter sister to Nureyev). Hence, in another parallel with Epicharis, Gold Dream is himself inbred to the Northern Dancer-Special tribe.