Author: Michele Macdonald

UAE Derby winner aims for top prize in Kentucky’s Run for the Roses

THE WORD ‘superstar’ is bandied about far too often, in racing and in the world at large, along with other exaggerated monikers such as ‘icon’ and ‘legend’. Proof of our apparently unquenchable thirst to designate individuals who have displayed some ability with exaggerated superlatives is revealed just about every week, with early Dubai World Cup favourite Life Is Good, billed as a superstar in some quarters, the latest example.

It’s unfortunate that, in the mad dash to pinpoint those who could be exceptional, these kinds of designations often have the reverse effect since there is nothing like failure to tarnish the shine of a star on the rise who has been overhyped. Life Is Good, who returned to WinStar Farm in Kentucky on 1 April along with Dubai World Cup victor Country Grammer (who in contrast had been underrated by many), is the latest high profile example. It will be interesting to see what kind of future course is plotted for both runners as Life Is Good faded over the 2000m on a tiring track, whereas Country Grammer proved he is a highly capable contender at the distance.

A 3yo filly, Secret Oath, also comes to mind. That daughter of ‘star crossed’ Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate had been so ballyhooed prior to the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on 2 April that her third place finish against colts seemed a weighty disappointment to many, when, in fact, she could still be the best candidate for the Kentucky Oaks once grouped back with her own gender.

Yet here’s one possibility to consider for, if not instant superstardom, extraordinary achievement in the coming weeks: UAE Derby winner Crown Pride. To be sure, he will have a huge mountain to climb to reach his next goal, the winner’s circle of the Kentucky Derby. Already training at Churchill Downs for the 7 May ‘Run for the Roses’, Crown Pride would represent not only the first UAE Derby champion to win America’s most coveted prize for 3yos, he also would be the first Japanese invader to prevail.

But since Japanese horses currently are conquering the world, as witnessed at Meydan on Dubai World Cup day, we should not rule out what would be a jaw dropping feat. The lightly raced Crown Pride would, at first glance, not seem to be a very likely contender in Kentucky. He’s raced only four times, winning twice in Japan as a 2yo prior to his big UAE Derby score for ‘up and coming’ trainer Koichi Shintani, who counts Crown Pride as his first Graded or Group winner after beginning his career last year.

Yet on closer inspection, Crown Pride offers some tantalising assets; particularly in this year when the Kentucky Derby picture has been thrown out of focus with the sanctions levied against record Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert in tandem with a lack of overly exciting prospects from outside the Baffert barn.

Bred by his owner, Teruya Yoshida of Japan’s Shadai Farm, Crown Pride is by the somewhat internationally obscure stallion Reach The Crown, a multiple Japanese Graded winner who was moved from the Shadai Stallion Station to Arrow Stud in 2021, usually not a sign of success. Indeed, Reach The Crown has, to date, only 24 registered foals from his 2021 crop, 14 from his 2020 crop and 33 from 2019, when Crown Pride was born.

However, upon further examination of his pedigree, Reach The Crown could be just the kind of sire to pull off a Kentucky Derby heist through his son. A massive, ‘American type’ horse physically, Reach The Crown is by Sunday Silence’s champion and Japanese Derby-winning son Special Week and his dam is Crown Piece, a daughter of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew whose other family members include Triple Crown winner Secretariat and Filly Triple Crown winner Chris Evert.

That’s a lot of American Classic genetic ability concentrated in one Japanese stallion. On the female side of his pedigree, Crown Pride has more Classic credentials through Japanese Derby and 2000 Guineas winners King Kamehameha and Agnes Tachyon and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners Dancing Brave and Tony Bin.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, Crown Pride is inbred 3x4 to Sunday Silence, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner of 1989 who, in what turned out to be a massive blow to American breeders, was famously sold for what became a truly legendary, iconic and superstar stallion career at Shadai.

Beyond pedigree, Crown Pride’s performance at Meydan in the 1900m UAE Derby at a distance just shy of the 2000m he will have to run in Kentucky, was noteworthy under Australian jockey Damian Lane in that he raced in a manner that often is successful in the Kentucky Derby. Showing enough speed to get out of early trouble and race just off the pace, Crown Pride made a strong move around the far turn and resolutely wore down Summer Is Tomorrow to gain the trophy as well as the qualifying points needed for Kentucky.

His race was tactically ideal for the ‘Run for the Roses’, even if his final time of 1:59.76 on the apparently tiring track was too slow to predict victory at Churchill Downs. At this point in time, there appear to be no ‘superstars’ currently on the list of likely Kentucky Derby contenders, although we have to give 3yos the time and opportunities to display what they are made of and they can always surprise us.

Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox unsheathed Cyberknife for victory in the Arkansas Derby, but the final time recorded by the son of champion and Dubai World Cup runner-up Gun Runner of 1:50.42 for 1800m also was slow and he was notching only his first Stakes victory. White Abarrio, who won the Grade 1 Florida Derby on the same day for his second consecutive Graded triumph, also finished in a slow time of 1:50.64.

With a variety of promising candidates still to compete in their final preps, including American Pharoah’s son Forbidden Kingdom and Empire Maker’s son Messier apparently set to square off in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on 9 April, there are many questions left to be answered. Epicenter is the current leader by Kentucky Derby qualifying points and by performance as he has three Stakes wins to his credit.

The son of Not This Time set a track record of 1:54.38 for 1900m (the roughly equivalent distance of the UAE Derby) when he won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on 26 March with a trip similar to the one Crown Pride had in Dubai. While it’s too early to make a Kentucky Derby pick just yet, with the Santa Anita Derby and Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland still to be run, it’s never too early to be reluctant to proclaim superstardom for any horse until they have duly earned it.

However, wouldn’t it be amazing to see Crown Pride make history for both his homeland and the Dubai World Cup programme if he were to win the Kentucky Derby? That would indeed be an accomplishment unlike any other in the 148 years that hoofbeats have resounded down the stretch in the full flower of Kentucky’s spring while seeking one of the world’s most coveted prizes in racing.

Michele MacDonald
Award Winning International Journalist