Kentucky Derby contender profile: Cafe Pharoah

February 24th, 2020

He is bred to excel on turf and negotiating 1 1/4 miles could be a tough task, because many of his relatives have been milers, but good horses can defy their breeding.

With his abundant speed and powerful finishing kick, Cafe Pharoah might be the brightest Kentucky Derby (G1) prospect to ever emerge from Japan.

Bred in Kentucky by Paul Pompa, Cafe Pharoah sold for $475,000 as a 2-year-old in training, a lofty but warranted price considering his high-class pedigree. A son of 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, whose first foals are thriving on grass, Cafe Pharoah was produced by the More Than Ready mare Mary’s Follies, a classy turf miler whose previous foals include the graded stakes-winning grass stars Night Prowler and Regal Glory.

Despite being bred for turf, Cafe Pharoah debuted on dirt in a Dec. 14 maiden race traveling 1,800 meters at Nakayama. With internationally acclaimed jockey Ryan Moore in the saddle, Cafe Pharoah sprinted straight to the lead and only widened his advantage down the homestretch. He sprinted home the final 600 meters in :37.30 to defeat next-out winner Barnard Loop by 10 lengths.

With this effortless victory under his belt, Cafe Pharoah stepped up in class for the Feb. 23 Hyacinth S. at Tokyo Racecourse, a Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race that offered 30 qualification points to the winner. The stakes were high, and Cafe Pharoah made the task even more challenging when he hesitated at the start of the 1,600-meter test and conceded about 10 lengths to the pacesetters.

But under a patient ride from jockey Mirco Demuro, Cafe Pharoah gradually worked his way back into contention. Although he raced very wide around the turn, Cafe Pharoah sustained his rally into the long homestretch and surged through the final 600 meters in :35.20 to defeat Tagano Beauty by 1 1/4 lengths.

Should Cafe Pharoah enter the Churchill Downs starting gate on the first Saturday in May, he’ll become just the fourth Japan-based sophomore to contest the Kentucky Derby, following Ski Captain (14th in 1995), Lani (ninth in 2016), and Master Fencer (sixth in 2019).

But whereas Lani and Master Fencer finished out of the money in the Hyacinth, Cafe Pharoah was an impressive winner, which suggests he is a more promising Derby prospect than his predecessors. Cafe Pharoah’s runaway maiden win going 1,800 meters also hints the Derby’s testing, 1 1/4-mile distance will be within his reach.

It’s safe to say owner Koichi Nishikawa and trainer Noriyuki Hori have a promising colt on their hands.