April 25, 2018

Thunder Snow edges Epicharis in UAE Derby

Thunder Snow (left) nips Epicharis to win the UAE Derby and 100 points toward the Kentucky Derby (Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins)

In a showdown between historic UAE Derby (G2) powerhouse Godolphin and rising power Japan, Thunder Snow just got the better of Eastern visitor Epicharis in the final stride. Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor thus scored a record eighth win, and late Triple Crown nominee Thunder Snow entered Kentucky Derby (G1) calculations with 100 points.

The 4-1 Epicharis, who topped the leaderboard in the inaugural “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” in the Hyacinth S. last out, soon took up the front-running role in Saturday’s $2 million prize. Thunder Snow, the 5-2 favorite in the wake of a stunner in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3), set up shop in close striking range.

Smoothly advancing to challenge, Thunder Snow served it up to Epicharis at the head of the lane. But the Japanese colt dug in determinedly in the mud, and for much of the stretch, appeared to be staving off the favorite. That became even likelier when Thunder Snow drifted out inside the final furlong.

Was the added ground of the about 1 3/16-mile test beginning to tell? No. Jockey Christophe Soumillon quickly reorganized Thunder Snow, who made one last lunge at the line to snare the honors. By clocking 1:57.76, he succeeded where his sire, multiple Australian Group 1 hero Helmet, had failed in his 2012 UAE Derby attempt.

Epicharis earned 40 Derby points, but Naoya Yoshida tweeted that connections will swerve Louisville and look to the Preakness (G1) or their long-range target, the Belmont S. (G1).

Master Plan stayed on relentlessly for third, 1 1/4 lengths back, and banked 20 points toward the Derby. The Todd Pletcher trainee may focus on the Belmont himself. Lancaster Bomber, who faced a huge question on the dirt for Aidan O’Brien, was a solid fourth and takes 10 points home to Ballydoyle.

Thunder Snow, hero of last October’s Criterium International (G1), was also runner-up in the Champagne (G2) and Vintage (G2) as a juvenile. The fourth Group stakes performer from as many runners for his dam, the Dubai Destination mare Eastern Joy, he is a half-brother to 2014 UAE Oaks (G3) and 1000 Guineas heroine Ihtimal.

Quotes from Dubai Racing Club

Winning jockey Christophe Soumillon on Thunder Snow: “He is a champion with a big, big heart. He gave me everything.

“I was very confident before the race. He had good gate speed and jumped well, but he was startled by the lines on the ground or something and changed leads, shifting out for a few strides. I was able to get him focused again and thought I still had time to come back.

“He got scared twice of the screen. I could feel when we came into the last turn, he put his nose completely on the left. He did not turn left. And when I came into the straight, he was just waiting for that screen.

“So I was trying to get him to concentrate. And fortunately when I arrived at the 150m marker, he just saw the marks from the gates on the ground. He got scared, he changed legs and he stopped.

“He hangs and I tried to keep him to concentrate. I knew it wasn’t finished. I thought ‘you are doing it to me again,’ he was really giving it hard to me. I thought you never know, he might come back again. And he did. Today he showed me he was still a bit immature.”

Trainer Saeed bin Suroor: “This was a new trip for him at 1900 meters, but I had confidence. 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 200m out, but the jockey sorted him.

“I talked to Sheikh Mohammed just now 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.”

Godolphin chief executive John Ferguson: “From Thunder Snow’s point of view, he did it in a good time, he showed he is very brave and it was a great performance. And His Highness has just mentioned that the Kentucky Derby is a possibility. It could be a great idea.”

Jockey Christophe Lemaire on runner-up Epicharis: “He was very brave. It was the first time he had been on this dirt but he answered very well and showed a lot of ability. It was a very close race but the winner was very strong and must have held some advantage at a home ground. He was very relaxed during the trip and showed his best run. It was defeat today but you would have to be happy.”

Hall of Famer John Velazquez on third-placer Master Plan: “He didn’t have the easiest run. He stayed on really well. He’s a very nice horse.”

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