Kentucky Derby International Scouting Report: Crown Pride

April 5th, 2022

Since Japan’s first-ever wins in the Breeders’ Cup last November, their flagbearers have continued to rack up trophies in major international meetings, adding four on Saudi Cup Day and five on the Dubai World Cup card. Can the Kentucky Derby (G1) be next?

Crown Pride in historical context

Crown Pride combines elements from Japan’s three prior Derby competitors. His Shadai Farm connections harken back to their first contender, Kentucky-bred but Japan-based Ski Captain (14th behind Thunder Gulch in 1995). Crown Pride won the UAE Derby (G2) to book his ticket to Louisville, as did Japan’s second runner, Lani (ninth behind Nyquist in 2016). But Crown Pride is also a Japanese-bred, like the most recent to make the attempt, Master Fencer (promoted to sixth after the Maximum Security disqualification in 2019).

Yet Crown Pride’s Derby credentials transcend theirs. Ski Captain had class on turf, but never raced on dirt until the Run for the Roses, off a three-month holiday. The quirky Lani was proven on dirt, but lacked a compelling résumé overall. Master Fencer, a cut below the division leaders at home, only made it to Churchill Downs after others declined the Japan Road invitation.

In contrast, Crown Pride brings a 3-for-4 record on dirt, with significant trouble in his lone loss. If he qualifies as Japan’s best-credentialed hope, the question is whether that’s enough to bridge the gap with the marquee Americans.

Crown Pride’s pedigree

Sunday Silence, the American Hall of Famer-turned-Japanese patriarch, looms large in Crown Pride’s ancestry. The paternal great-grandsire of Crown Pride, Sunday Silence also factors on the dam’s side, giving Crown Pride 3x4 inbreeding to the 1989 Kentucky Derby legend.

Although his Grade 2-winning sire, Reach the Crown, was an underachiever on the racecourse and at stud, the Shadai homebred had ability. By one of Sunday Silence’s illustrious sons, Special Week, and out of a Seattle Slew mare from the family of 1988 Kentucky Derby heroine Winning Colors, Reach the Crown was runner-up as the favorite in the 2009 Japanese Derby on turf.

Crown Pride’s dam, Emmy’s Pride, did not compete at that level in her career, but she did win nine of 27 starts. Based on the lesser NAR (National Association of Racing) circuit that hosts the bulk of Japan’s dirt racing, Emmy’s Pride ran at Monbetsu as a juvenile and thereafter at Funabashi. She was a specialist at 1,200 meters (about six furlongs), winning in conditions ranging from fast (three times) and good (four times) to muddy (twice). But she tended to fare worse on tracks rated sloppy (managing one third and five times unplaced).

By King Kamehameha, a once-beaten champion and leading sire, Emmy’s Pride is a half-sister to dirt stakes-placed Emmy’s Paradise, runner-up in the about 1 5/16-mile Empress Hai at Kawasaki in 2013. The family descends from U.S. champion and noted matron Quill.

Crown Pride’s trainer and jockey

Koichi Shintani sent out his first runner as a Japan Racing Association trainer in early 2020, but he’s now ranked in the top dozen horsemen by wins in 2022. Tenth among those based at Ritto Training Center in the west, and 12th overall, he has a 12.4% win rate and 30% in the trifecta (according to JRA statistics as of April 3). Most of his starts, and wins, have come on dirt. Crown Pride is his first graded winner, but the eight-year-old veteran History Maker has placed in four Grade 3s since joining Shintani.

Japan’s leading rider, Christophe Lemaire, picks up the mount at Churchill Downs, as reported by Jour de Galop. The French expat has taken the Japanese riding title for the past five years (2017-21). His streak is nearly six in a row, for he was just one win away from the top in the 2016 standings.

While Lemaire is most often associated with such turf stars as Almond Eye and Gran Alegria, he has won majors on the dirt as well, including the Champions Cup (formerly Japan Cup Dirt) (G1) twice. He recently masterminded Dancing Prince’s frontrunning coup in the Feb. 26 Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3), one of his four wins on the Saudi Cup undercard. As that suggests, Lemaire has other international successes on his résumé, from a pair of French winners in British classics at Newmarket to Australia’s Melbourne Cup (2011), the Secretariat (G1) at Arlington (2012), and a Breeders’ Cup score aboard Flotilla in the 2012 Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).

Crown Pride’s juvenile campaign

A perfect 2-for-2 as a juvenile, Crown Pride outperformed his odds in both starts at about 1 1/8 miles. He was an 8-1 chance in a newcomers’ race Oct. 3 at Chukyo, where he wasn’t quick away but soon picked up. Despite being tough to handle, dragging his rider forward and nearly running up on heels on the inside, Crown Pride had plenty of energy in the stretch. He angled out and easily drew off by six lengths, although clinging to his left lead.

Crown Pride offered value again at 6-1 in a Nov. 7 Hanshin allowance. Breaking from post 13, he scrambled into a forward stalking position, asserted at the top of the stretch, and drove three lengths clear.

Hyacinth S. loss in perspective

Stepping up to a listed stakes in the Feb. 20 Hyacinth S. at Tokyo, on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, Crown Pride was sent off as the 7-2 third choice in a 14-horse field. Unfortunately, he lost any realistic chance after being pinched back and jostled at the start. That trouble put him dead last, and out of sync, as he had to regain balance and organize himself to get into stride, let alone into a competitive spot. In the circumstances, Crown Pride did well to rally for sixth, flattening out late behind the victorious Combustion in a stakes-record 1:35.3 on a muddy track.

Two other factors put his Hyacinth loss into perspective: he was cutting back to a metric mile after racing over farther at two, and he weighed in 10 kilograms (22 pounds) heavier. The former means that he ideally would have raced handier, to make the most of his stamina, while the latter suggests he wasn’t totally cranked. Either way, this wasn’t a true bill.

UAE Derby upset

Crown Pride got the added distance he wanted in the about 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby and delivered a 16-1 upset. He didn’t get the cleanest start, bumping out of the gate, but he was able to secure reasonable position several lengths off the pace. Warming to his task for new pilot Damian Lane, Crown Pride improved as others began to tire on the far turn. He didn’t change leads, yet kept coming relentlessly and outstayed pacesetting Summer Is Tomorrow in deep stretch.

The time was a slow 1:59.76. So was the Dubai World Cup (G1) by night’s end, but there is more to knock in the UAE Derby. The form should be treated with caution, since Americans Gilded Age and Pinehurst ran light years off their best, as did fellow Japanese shippers Combustion and Sekifu.

Moreover, runner-up Summer Is Tomorrow, a stretch-out sprinter, lasted much farther than most expected in his first start at a route. Summer Is Tomorrow was subsequently made eligible for the Triple Crown by the late deadline (March 28), and connections are eyeing a rematch at Churchill Downs.

Crown Pride’s challenge

Crown Pride will be staying on late in the Kentucky Derby, albeit against the deepest field he’s ever faced. He’d prefer a stamina-sapping slog, exposing any possible distance limitations of his rivals, and putting a premium on his own staying capacity. Even if he gets his wish, Churchill will be a much quicker surface than the slow, demanding Meydan. And he’ll need to break cleanly for Lemaire to slot into a sensible position.

His best talking point is a comparative one: if Master Fencer could be beaten a grand total of four lengths in the 2019 Derby, and just about a length away from the exotics, how much closer can a more accomplished Japanese contender come? Churning into the superfecta might be within reach. Still, whenever Japan sends out its first Kentucky Derby winner, I’d imagine it would be a sophomore with a touch more brilliance.