March 24, 2018

Sumahama captures Kentucky Derby berth in Hyacinth

Sumahama zoomed to the top of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard in the Hyacinth, the final scoring race (Photo courtesy of Mike Ziegler)

Sanshisuimei Co. Ltd.’s Sumahama turned an apparently wide-open renewal of the Hyacinth S. into a one-sided affair at Tokyo Sunday, and in the process, snared the Kentucky Derby (G1) berth on offer by way of the Japan Road – if connections have an interest in pursuing it. Sumahama is not nominated to the Triple Crown.

One of a number in this final Japan Road scoring race with two wins under his belt, the Ryo Takahashi pupil attracted market support as the day unfolded and eventually went off as the 5-2 favorite in Japan. The market proved spot on.

Sumahama had won his last pair by open lengths, graduating by six at Hanshin second time out December 10 and upstaging Hyacinth rival Great Time in a January 14 Kyoto allowance. In both, the Neo Universe colt had dictated terms going about nine furlongs. Now he was confronted by two new challenges: shortening up to a metric mile for the first time and clashing with other potentially smart pace factors. The strapping chestnut adapted beautifully to both.

Breaking from post 13 with regular pilot Yusuke Fuijioka, Sumahama took up a close tracking position as Meisho Isana scampered to the lead. Danke Schon attended the pace on the inside, but could not maintain his spot. Sumahama was lapped onto Meisho Isana turning for home, and wider out, the 324-1 longshot Morino Last Boss was alongside. That veteran of the National Association of Racing circuit was improbably holding his own at the JRA level in upper stretch.

Then Sumahama launched his bid, spurted clear before the rest of the field knew what hit them, and leapfrogged to the top of the Japan Road leaderboard with 30 points. Taiki Ferveur rallied stoutly to take second, or else the winner’s margin would have been larger than 2 1/2 lengths.

Ruggero, winner of the Japan Road opener in the Cattleya Sho, was a respectable third. That finish may turn out to be clutch. His 6 points here, combined with the 10 in the Cattleya Sho, put him second to Sumahama on the leaderboard. If Team Sumahama think it more prudent to pass on Churchill Downs, Ruggero would be next on the invitation list. And as a Triple Crown nominee whose connections have sounded favorably inclined, he might well take up the offer. The only other Triple Crown nominee in the Hyacinth, Work and Love, wound up ninth.

Taiki Ferveur took home 12 points as the Hyacinth runner-up. Third on the Japan Road leaderboard, he would inherit the Derby invitation should both Sumahama and Ruggero skip it. The line of succession stops with the fourth point-getter, Le Vent Se Leve, whose 10 points came in his victory in the middle leg, the December 13 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun. That’s academic now since Le Vent Se Leve has been knocked off the trail by a setback.

The three non-nominated colts who could have jumped onto the Derby trail with a Hyacinth win – Dark Repulser, Meisho Isana, and Meisho Opus – respectively finished fifth, sixth, and 14th (Meisho Opus encountering considerable trouble according to the commentator). All three are still in the UAE Derby (G2), along with five other Hyacinth participants, most notably Ruggero, Taiki Ferveur, and belatedly closing fourth Great Time, who may improve with added distance. Great Time, for the record, received 3 points in the Hyacinth.

Sumahama took 1:38.50 to negotiate the metric mile, a factor to consider if any of the Hyacinth principals end up entertaining Derby 144. By contrast, the February (G1) went 2.5 seconds faster, with Nonkono Yume denying defending champion Gold Dream in 1:36.0. Granted, those were high-class older runners competing in a Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) “Win and You’re In,” but it still raises questions.

And at the risk of a “grass is always greener” view, it’s also worth wondering how Le Vent Se Leve may have fared had he remained healthy. If you take a strict line through Dark Repulser, who was fourth to Le Vent Se Leve and fifth here, Sumahama is comparable. But those niceties aren’t unimpeachable. It remains to be seen whether Sumahama turns out to be Japan’s best dirt three-year-old, with the question of competitiveness in the Kentucky Derby on top of that.

On the plus side, Sumahama is a big colt who’s physically developing. He’d lagged near the tail of the field in his November 11 debut at Kyoto, where he rallied for fourth, and has now won three in a row since finding his forward style.

Bred by Chiyoda Farm Shizunai, Sumahama was produced by the multiple stakes-winning Afleet mare Sound the Beach. Black-type is thin on the ground for this family, which has been in Japan since before World War I.

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