March 3, 2021

Plus Que Parfait achieves American breakthrough in UAE Derby

Plus Que Parfait wins the UAE Derby (c) Dubai Racing Club/Neville Hopwood

U.S. shippers had compiled an 0-for-17 record in the UAE Derby (G2) – until Saturday’s $2.5 million renewal on Dubai World Cup day. The Brendan Walsh-trained Plus Que Parfait bested Gray Magician from the Peter Miller barn in a breakthrough exacta for American sophomores, while Carnival queen Divine Image disappointed in a rare lowlight for Godolphin.

Ridden by Jose Ortiz, who had just won aboard his first Dubai mount, Coal Front, in the Godolphin Mile (G2), Plus Que Parfait was rebounding from a pair of subpar efforts at Fair Grounds. Much more was expected after his near-miss in last November’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), but he had a rough trip when fifth in the Lecomte (G3), and threw in a clunker when 13th in the Risen Star (G2). The change of venue to Meydan, and donning blinkers, got him back into the Kentucky Derby (G1) reckoning with Saturday’s 100-point windfall.

When the gate opened, favored Divine Image didn’t get away quickly, but another Godolphin filly, Swift Rose, had the speed to clear them from post 13 and bag the rail. Doug O’Neill’s Stubbins stalked, flanked by locally based stalwart Manguzi. Walking Thunder, who was forecast to show more zip from the rail, was perched behind the leaders. Divine Image soon recovered to secure position just off the pace, but beat a retreat on the far turn, as Gray Magician began to wind up wider out.

Manguzi was traveling best of the pace factors entering the stretch, striding past Swift Rose and the weakening Stubbins. Plus Que Parfait, nestled on the back of Walking Thunder, switched around him, but his path to the outside was blocked by the onrushing Gray Magician. Ortiz then altered course again, and Plus Que Parfait had the gears to split Manguzi and Stubbins.

The ground-saving trip may have been the difference for Plus Que Parfait, who outfinished the wide-traveling Gray Magician by three-quarters of a length in 1:58.41 for about 1 3/16 miles on the fast track. Gray Magician’s fine second was worth 40 points, as well as a compliment to Maryland standout Alwaysmining, who’d left him well back in second in the February 16 Miracle Wood.

Manguzi’s battling third from post 14, a neck astern of Gray Magician netted him 20 points. Not Triple Crown-nominated, Manguzi was the most consistent three-year-old in Dubai despite some tough draws. It will be interesting to see if he progress next Carnival.

The top three were well clear of Japan’s Derma Louvre in fourth. Although he banked 10 points on the main leaderboard, the Triple Crown nominee also has 14 on the Japan Road leaderboard. Stay tuned for tonight’s Fukuryu S. at Nakayama, the concluding leg on the Japan Road, to see who garners the invitation.

Swift Rose held fifth from Stubbins. Next came Walking Thunder; Superior; Aidan O’Brien’s Van Beethoven, who broke a tad slowly and spun his wheels out wide; Razeena, who might be America-bound according to an earlier plan; Jahbath, winner of a European Road scoring race last out but unable to transfer his British all-weather form to the Dubai dirt; Al Hayette; Divine Image, well below her best; and Golden Jaguar, a highly regarded son of Animal Kingdom with a 2000 Guineas (G1) entry and eligible to turn the page back on turf.

Imperial Racing’s Plus Que Parfait now sports a mark of 7-2-1-2 with earnings of $1,590,400. Before graduating to stakes company, the Point of Entry ridgling broke his maiden at Keeneland last fall over a pair of future graded winners in Holy Bull (G2) hero Harvey Wallbanger and Sunland Park Derby (G3) victor Cutting Humor.

Quotes from Dubai Racing Club

Winning trainer Brendan Walsh: “This is huge – Jose gave him such a great ride and what a night for him with two winners. This has been the plan for quite a while and his owners are based out here. We said if things didn’t work out to get to the Kentucky Derby then we would come here. He had a bad day the last time he ran but we didn’t hold it against him and it has worked out. Brilliant.”

Winning rider Jose Ortiz: “I have a nice horse. He was running well and around the turn I was trying to find spaces. I was happy that I saved the whole ground in the race. And when I was able to find a way through, he responded really well, so I am very happy and very happy for Brendan. He deserves it. Brendan, he works so hard and he gave me so many shots and we haven’t been lucky and now I was able to deliver for him. To win means a lot. It’s tough to come all the way and win and I have been blessed to have two winners, so I am very happy.”

Trainer Peter Miller on runner-up Gray Magician: “I thought he’d run a big race and he looked like a winner at the (furlong pole), but maybe Joel (Rosario) didn’t see the horse coming up on the inside because he didn’t use the whip in the last strides. Still, I’m very proud of the horse. It’s not likely that he’ll go for the Kentucky Derby, but he’s got 40 points so it’s not out of the question.”

Gray Magician’s rider, Joel Rosario: “He’s run his best race. I thought he was moving like a winner in the stretch and we got momentum when he went to the front, but the other horse has come on strong.”

Jockey Fernando Jara on Manguzi’s third: “From the 14 post, I couldn’t be more happy – doing it from that draw. He has been so good to us this year, he’s so consistent. We’re looking forward to next season, hopefully he’ll keep improving.”

Christophe Lemaire, who rode Derma Louvre in fourth: “We had a good trip behind the horse who finished third (Manguzi). He was not fast enough out of the gate and it took time to find his rhythm, but he finished well.”

Jockey Patrick Cosgrave on fifth Swift Rose: “Super run. We were drawn wide so I had to sacrifice some juice to be up on the pace. With a lower draw we could have waited a little longer and finished closer but she’s a lovely filly with a future.”

Jockey Flavien Prat on Stubbins in sixth: “He was up on the pace but the distance is too far for him and he got tired.”

Jim Crowley, who rode 11th-placer Jahbath: “He didn’t have the gate speed or tactical speed that you need in that sort of race. It is a very different style of racing to what he is used to in England and he was beaten before the home turn.”

Jockey William Buick on Divine Image, 13th in her career-worst finish: “She just sat back as the gates opened and I had to give her a bit of a squeeze, but we ended up in a good spot. I had to work for it a little bit. She felt OK down the back but approaching the last turn, about half a mile out, she came underneath me and had kind of ran her race. It was disappointing.”