The Derby and Oaks trails took on an international feel last week, with the most notable action taking place in Japan and Dubai.
Let’s catch up on last week’s news and notes, then preview the fantastic weekend set to close out February:
Changes on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard
Although last week was a quiet one as far as stateside Kentucky Derby preps are concerned, the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby took an exciting twist with the running of Sunday’s 1,600-meter Hyacinth S. at Tokyo Racecourse.
A dozen runners faced the starter, but in the end, the only horse who mattered was La Perouse. The lone Triple Crown nominee in the field, La Perouse was slow to get going and settled well off the early pace. But down the long homestretch, La Perouse accelerated furiously, rallying between and inside of rivals to roar past pacesetter Probatio and score by 1 1/2 lengths.
This was a legitimately strong performance from La Perouse, whose pedigree is packed with American classic winners. He reached the finish line in a snappy 1:36.80, the fastest Hyacinth since multiple Group 1 winner Gold Dream clocked 1:35.40 over a muddy track in 2016. Even better, he sprinted the final 600 meters in a blazing :35.00, a full second faster than any of his rivals.
Conditioned by Kazuo Fujisawa, who swept the 2017 Japanese Derby and Oaks with Rey de Oro and Soul Stirring, La Perouse was guided to victory by Japan’s leading jockey, Christophe Lemaire. With these high-profile connections in his corner, La Perouse would arguably rank as Japan’s best Derby hopeful to date if he makes the trip to Louisville. He currently sits atop the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 30 points, and the Mar. 27 Fukuryu S. at Nakayama Racecourse is the only remaining race in the series.
Recent Maiden Winners
Hozier may have faltered in his debut sprinting at Santa Anita, but the Bob Baffert trainee took a big step forward when stretching out over 1 1/16 miles, employing pace-tracking tactics to win a Feb. 15 maiden heat by 1 3/4 lengths.
Quantum Leap and Warrant are among the other notable maiden graduates from last week. Check out all the details in our latest Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch installment.
On the Work Tab
Caddo River: Blazed five furlongs in bullet :59.60 on Saturday at Fair Grounds.
Candy Man Rocket: Sam F. Davis (G3) winner returned to the Payson Park work tab with a quick four furlongs in :49 on Saturday.
Capo Kane: Clocked a bullet half mile in :48.94 on Wednesday at Parx Racing.
Essential Quality: Fired off a fast five furlongs on Saturday at Fair Grounds, speeding the distance in 1:00.80. The Southwest (G3) will mark his 2021 debut.
Get Her Number: Continued preparations for his 2021 debut when clocking five furlongs in 1:01.40 at the San Luis Rey Training Center on Saturday.
Greatest Honour: In anticipation of a start in the Fountain of Youth (G2), the runaway Holy Bull (G3) winner took an easy half-mile spin at Payson Park, completing the move in :51.20.
Hidden Stash: Cruised four furlongs in :50.60 on Tuesday at Payson Park.
Hot Rod Charlie: Took things easy on Saturday at Santa Anita, working five furlongs in a modest 1:02.
Jackie’s Warrior: Wrapped up his preparations for the Southwest (G3) when breezing five furlongs in 1:01.60 on Sunday at Fair Grounds.
Life Is Good: The Derby favorite continues to train strongly in preparation for the San Felipe (G2), breezing five furlongs in a bullet :59.60 on Sunday at Santa Anita.
Medina Spirit: Turned in a bullet six-furlong workout on Saturday at Santa Anita, completing the distance in a snappy 1:12.40.
Midnight Bourbon: Clocked a modest four furlongs in :51.20 on Monday at Fair Grounds, his first breeze since finishing third in the Risen Star (G2).
Nova Rags: Sam F. Davis (G3) runner-up got back on the work tab with a straightforward half mile in :50 on Saturday at Payson Park.
Prime Factor: Cruised through a half mile in :48.69 on Saturday at Palm Beach Downs.
Risk Taking: The Withers (G3) winner got back in action with four furlongs in :50.06 over the Belmont Park training track on Sunday.
Roman Centurian: Worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 on Saturday at Santa Anita.
Sittin On Go: Took to the Gulfstream Park main track on Saturday and traveled five furlongs in 1:01.25.
Spielberg: Worked a quick six furlongs in 1:13 on Saturday at Santa Anita, gearing up for a start in the Southwest (G3).
Smiley Sobotka: Breezed four furlongs in :48.78 on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Super Stock: Worked five furlongs in 1:02 on Monday at Fair Grounds.
Tarantino: Turned in a straightforward half-mile workout on Sunday at Palm Meadows, recording a time of :49.45.
The Great One: Took another step toward the San Felipe (G2) when cruising five furlongs in 1:01.20 at Santa Anita on Saturday.
Road to the Kentucky Oaks
The UAE Oaks (G3) at Meydan in Dubai was the only Road to the Kentucky Oaks prep race held last week, and it remains to be seen whether any of the top finishers will wind up in Louisville. Mnasek left no doubt about her superiority, drawing away to win by 6 1/2 lengths over Nayefah, Last Sunset, and Al Maroom in a strung-out field.
But although Mnasek (50 points) and Nayefah (20 points) would rank in the Top 14 on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard, neither filly has been nominated to the race. Last Sunset and Al Maroom are in the same boat.
As a result, the only change in the rankings last week came when the Thoroughbred Daily News reported Starlet (G1) winner Varda (14 points) is off the Kentucky Oaks trail with a minor setback. The Bob Baffert trainee was not nominated to Oaks, which means Alcibiades (G1) runner-up Crazy Beautiful (8 points) now occupies the final slot in the Top 14.
Looking Ahead on the Road to the Kentucky Derby
Action on the Derby and Oaks trails will come fast and furious this week with five prep races on the agenda at three different tracks.
Turfway Park will kick off the action on Friday with the Cincinnati Trophy S. (an Oaks steppingstone) and the John Battaglia Memorial S. (a Derby prep), each awarding qualification points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis. Entries have already been drawn, and the Battaglia has come up particularly strong with Summer (G1) winner Gretzky the Great and Laurel Futurity winner Catman among the notable participants.
The same number of points will be up for grabs in Saturday’s Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park, a Derby prep expected to draw the strongest field of the week. Reigning champion two-year-old Essential Quality will square off against two-time Grade 1 winner Jackie’s Warrior, with Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Keepmeinmind and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) winner Spielberg among the other possible starters.
Lastly, Gulfstream Park will join in on the Saturday action with the Fountain of Youth (G2) and the Davona Dale (G2), which will quintuple the number of points at stake by awarding 85 points on a 50-20-10-5 basis among their top four finishers. The Fountain of Youth—long an important Derby prep—is expected to feature Holy Bull (G3) winner Greatest Honour and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) hero Fire At Will, though exciting maiden winner Prevalence will unfortunately miss the race with an illness.
Meanwhile, the Davona Dale is expected to mark the 2021 debut for champion two-year-old filly Vequist, who looms among the early Oaks favorites after capping off 2020 with a ground-saving victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).
Enjoy the racing!