July 21, 2024

Forever Young overcomes wide trip in UAE Derby, sets sights on Kentucky Derby

Forever Young stayed undefeated while booking his Kentucky Derby spot in the UAE Derby (Photo by Dubai Racing Club/Liesl King)

Japan just might have its best chance in the Kentucky Derby (G1) yet, after 1-2 favorite Forever Young took the scenic route at Meydan and still won Saturday’s $1 million UAE Derby (G2) decisively. The Yoshito Yahagi trainee earned 100 points to guarantee a berth in the starting gate at Churchill Downs, where he figures to attract plenty of attention as an unbeaten colt.

Indeed, Forever Young has overcome less than ideal circumstances in both of his Mideast ventures. Last time in the Saudi Derby (G3), Susumu Fujita’s colorbearer was in a poor position after a problematic start, and out of rhythm around the one-turn mile. Nevertheless, he kicked into gear to nip Book’em Danno on the line.

Returning to two turns in the about 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby was sure to be in Forever Young’s wheelhouse, if he could break better and not get discouraged by the kickback. The far outside post was in that regard a plus, helping him stay in the clear, but at the cost of losing ground every step of the way.

Getting away in better order with new headgear, Forever Young was content to sit in fifth early, keeping pacesetter Oasis Boy and the attending Auto Bahn in his sights. Favorite backers had to feel more confident at this stage than in Saudi, and Forever Young obligingly began to improve rounding the far turn.

Although Auto Bahn was also moving well as he took command swinging for home, Forever Young appeared to have his measure. Once regular rider Ryusei Sakai got him to switch leads, the son of Real Steel, grandson of Deep Impact, and great-grandson of Sunday Silence leveled off and delivered the knockout blow. Forever Young crossed the wire two lengths clear in 1:57.89, his ears pricked in a sign that he had more in reserve.

Argentine-bred Auto Bahn was easily second-best by 4 3/4 lengths, but ineligible for Derby points because he’s a four-year-old by Northern Hemisphere reckoning. Trainer Julio Olascoaga mentioned that Auto Bahn would remain in the Emirates and point to the 2025 Dubai World Cup (G1).

Christophe Clement’s shipper Pandagate got up for third (25 points), leaving jockey Dylan Davis encouraged about his prospects back home.

“He broke OK – he is not a very good gate horse,” Davis noted. “The kickback really hurt him when trying to get a position early. It’s a lot rougher here than it is at Aqueduct. But once we went to the backstretch, we found some good rhythm. When they punched, they just had a better kick than me and my horse just kept fighting for third and he managed to prevail for third.

“Shipping all the way and performing on this stage – he showed that he improved again. He got there well, he is kind of a stayer. He hasn’t got a big turn of foot but getting further should be no problem.” 

Rounding out the top five were Mendelssohn Bay (15 points) and Navy Seal (10 points), who fared a lot better than his Aidan O’Brien stablemate, the trailing Henry Adams.

Now 5-for-5, Forever Young scored his first stakes win in the Nov. 3 JBC Nisai Yushun. The bay announced himself as a candidate for the international stage by crushing the Dec. 13 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun by seven lengths, and he’s maintaining the winning habit despite the vibe of on-the-job training.

Yahagi revealed in the postrace press conference that much weightier matters had been on his mind on a very sad day for his family.

“My teacher, mentor and father (Kazuto) passed away this morning, and I want to dedicate this win to him,” Yahagi said.

The renowned horseman, a past master of figuring out how to win on the world stage, is hopeful of solving the elusive Kentucky Derby puzzle.

“Of course it will be very difficult to manage the horse’s condition (traveling) from Dubai to Kentucky, but I really believe my team will be able to get him in good order,” Yahagi said.

“He did not travel well from Japan to Saudi Arabia, so he was not in great condition but he still performed very well. After traveling from Riyadh to Dubai he improved and he has so much potential, I always have a lot of confidence in him.”

Bred by Northern Farm in Japan, Forever Young is a cousin, so to speak, of early Kentucky Derby favorite Sierra Leone. Their dams are half-sisters: Sierra Leone is out of Grade 1 vixen Heavenly Love (by Malibu Moon), while Forever Young was produced by Grade 2 scorer Forever Darling (by Congrats).