Although Godolphin’s Thunder Snow and Japan’s unbeaten Epicharis are the obvious headliners in Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby (G2), there’s no shortage of challengers among the capacity field of 16. A total of 170 points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1) is up for grabs – with 100 earmarked for the winner of the about 1 3/16-mile test on Dubai World Cup night.
Thunder Snow is one of three for Godolphin, along with Top Score and Fly at Dawn, while Epicharis is joined by his compatriot Adirato, Todd Pletcher ships Master Plan, Aidan O’Brien sends Lancaster Bomber and Spirit of Valor, Mike de Kock’s Fawree rates a rebound chance, and Doug Watson’s duo of Cosmo Charlie and Bee Jersey are other locals to note. South American imports Vettori Kin (now with Ken McPeek) and He Runs Away aren’t eligible for Derby points, being four-year-olds by Northern Hemisphere standards, but they add to the cosmopolitan intrigue.
The Saeed bin Suroor-trained Thunder Snow concluded a fine juvenile campaign with a five-length rout of the Criterium International (G1) at Saint-Cloud. Hence he towered over the field in his dirt debut in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3), and he took to Meydan’s main track with alacrity to run off by 5 3/4 lengths. With his combination of top-class European form, and proficiency on this surface, Thunder Snow once again looms large. He was done no favors at the draw, however, landing in post 13, and the distance is terra incognita for a colt who hasn’t been past a metric mile.
Epicharis already has a gilt-edged invitation to Churchill Downs, as the top point-getter in this year’s new “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.” Three-for-three last season by a combined margin of about 25 lengths, the U. Carrot Farm runner passed his first real class test in the February 19 Hyacinth at Tokyo. Despite not being fully fit, the odds-on favorite overtook pacesetting Adirato to earn his Kentucky Derby ticket. Epicharis is sure to be effective at this trip, having twice romped at about nine furlongs as a juvenile. That makes Adirato’s task to turn the tables a daunting one, made all the harder by his being parked out widest of all in post 16. Like his archrival, Adirato is himself a U.S. Triple Crown nominee.
Master Plan’s strongest talking point is the fact that he chased home stablemate Tapwrit in the off-the-turf Pulpit S. at Gulfstream Park. While Master Plan went on to outclass them in the OBS Championship for fellow sales graduates, Tapwrit has blossomed into a major Derby contender with a stakes-record score in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). The UAE Derby marks Master Plan’s first opportunity on a fast main track, after starting his career on turf, charging through the Gulfstream slop, and relishing Ocala’s synthetic surface. The $850,000 OBS March purchase is well drawn in post 2 with regular rider John Velazquez. As you’d expect for a smart Pletcher sophomore, Master Plan is Triple Crown nominated.
Both of O’Brien’s US Triple Crown-nominated entrants face a real question on the dirt. Lancaster Bomber is the more accomplished, as the runner-up in both the Dewhurst (G1) (to his superior stablemate Churchill) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) when last seen at Santa Anita. Like Lancaster Bomber, Spirit of Valor is a War Front colt who’s raced exclusively on turf so far. But the $850,000 Keeneland November weanling has a much more dirt-oriented dam’s side, being out of a mare by 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone and as a half-brother to Grade 2-placed dirt performer Street Life. Spirit of Valor brings much less experience, though, with only three starts under his belt. Second in the Killavullan (G3) in his juvenile finale, he picks up Seamie Heffernan and adds blinkers. Ryan Moore takes over on Lancaster Bomber in post 3.
Rounding out the new shippers are the South Americans Vettori Kin and He Runs Away, who will concede 10 pounds to the younger males and 14 to the sophomore fillies. Brazilian-bred Vettori Kin has spent nearly all of his career on turf, highlighted by a commanding win in the Grande Premio Derby Paulista (G1), but he captured his lone dirt start at the Group 3 level at home. He’s posted three works at Payson Park for McPeek. Argentine-bred He Runs Away boasts top scores on both turf and dirt, in the Gran Premio Jockey Club (G1) and Gran Premio Nacional (G1). He also beat Vettori Kin when the pair were fourth and ninth, respectively, in the prestigious Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (G1) versus older horses in December. He Runs Away has since joined Uruguayan-based trainer Ricardo Colombo, so both will be making their debuts for new connections here.
The rest have all been seen at the Carnival.
Thunder Snow skipped the middle leg of the UAE Triple Crown, the Al Bastakiya, and Cosmo Charlie filled the void with a front-running success over Marco Botti’s rallying Qatar Man. But the complexion of the race was altered right out of the gate when heavily favored Fawree unseated jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe. De Kock brought in South Africa’s “horse whisperer,” Malan du Toit, to work with the talented but gate-anxious colt, and Fawree has since passed his gate test. The son of Candy Ride and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Keeper Hill is a threat if he’s now pacified. Fawree landed the plum post 6, unlike Cosmo Charlie out in post 15.
Cosmo Charlie’s stablemate from the Watson yard, Bee Jersey, has shown more ability than your average thrice-raced maiden. He’s been runner-up to Fawree and to Thunder Snow in the Guineas, and like the Guineas winner, the Charles Fipke homebred sat out the Al Bastakiya. Interestingly, Bee Jersey is Watson’s lone U.S. Triple Crown nominee, not Cosmo Charlie.
Bin Suroor’s Top Score and Fly at Dawn from Charlie Appleby’s Godolphin team are employing the turf-to-dirt angle after furnishing the exacta in the Meydan Classic. Both are already familiar with the Meydan dirt. Fly at Dawn ran down Cosmo Charlie in the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, in which Top Score was third from a poor post (12). And Fly at Dawn would have contested the Guineas, but for a dental mishap that caused his withdrawal.
The respective one-two from the UAE Oaks (G3), Nomorerichblondes and Midnight Chica, can claim effectiveness over this track and trip. Yet the fillies haven’t been as compelling as the colts this Carnival, and they’ll have to pick it up to threaten the boys on World Cup night.
Carded as the 4TH race, the UAE Derby is scheduled to go off at 9:25 a.m. ET.
Here is the field in post order: