Kentucky Derby International Scouting Report: T O Password

April 6th, 2024

Forever Young isn’t the only unbeaten Japanese hope in the 150th Kentucky Derby (G1). Japan Road invitee T O Password brings a 2-for-2 record into Churchill Downs, but he’s yet to race at anywhere near this level. With a lesser resume than his highly-regarded compatriot, T O Password enters with even more to prove.

Japan Road’s limited impact

The Japan Road itself has not been a noteworthy source of Derby contenders. The premier Japanese shippers typically arrive via the UAE Derby (G2), a pattern exemplified by Forever Young. In contrast, horses who qualified on the Japan Road in the past have often declined the invitation.

The only Japan Road invitee to compete in the Kentucky Derby so far was Master Fencer, who crossed the wire seventh (promoted to sixth) in 2019. Last year, Continuar earned his way into the Derby field just because of his Japan Road points. Yet Continuar also tried his luck in Dubai for Yoshito Yahagi (Forever Young’s trainer), who ended up using the Japan Road invitation as a fallback when he didn’t bank enough points in the UAE. That proved to be moot in any event, as Continuar scratched on Thursday night of 2023 Derby week. 

Trainer/owner teamed up for past dirt champion

T O Password’s trainer, Daisuke Takayanagi, also developed Japanese dirt champion T O Keynes for the same owner. Tomoya Ozasa’s colorbearers are recognizable by his “T O” initials in their names. 

As a sophomore in 2020, T O Keynes was second in the same Japan Road race that T O Password would win (the Fukuryu S.). He reached his peak as an older horse, putting an exclamation point on his 2021 campaign in the Champions Cup (G1) and adding the JBC Classic in 2022. Despite a winless 2023, T O Keynes continued to perform admirably, with his efforts including a close second to Ushba Tesoro and a fourth in the Dubai World Cup (G1). 

Takayanagi, who sent out his first runner in 2018, has compiled a 15.4% win rate in 2024, and 29.2% of his horses have finished in the money (as of April 1). He was previously an assistant to Takayuki Yasuda, trainer of such major international runners as turf sprint phenom Lord Kanaloa and dirt champion Transcend.

T O Password is picking up a fine North American-based jockey in Kazushi Kimura. After winning Eclipse and Sovereign Awards as an apprentice, Kimura has ranked as Woodbine’s top rider for the past three consecutive years. He nearly upset last year’s Santa Anita Derby (G1) aboard Japanese shipper Mandarin Hero, who also became his first Kentucky Derby mount, and wound up 12th at Churchill Downs. 

T O Password’s pedigree

T O Password is by Japanese champion dirt horse Copano Rickey, a prolific performer who won 16 of 33 lifetime starts. Copano Rickey’s titles include back-to-back wins in the February (G1), JBC Classic, and Mile Championship Nambu Hai; three trophies in the Kashiwa Kinen; and one apiece in the Tokyo Daishoten and the Teio Sho, to hit the biggest highlights. Himself a son of Gold Allure, a key dirt influence by Sunday Silence, Copano Rickey has yet to come up with a black-type winner from his first three crops. 

T O Password’s dam, T O Rachel, is by champion and outstanding sire King Kamehameha, who’s responsible for champions on both dirt and turf (the aforementioned Lord Kanaloa among the latter). Although her immediate family is a little light, T O Rachel descends from the influential matron Self Control, ancestress of Hall of Famer Open Mind, Excellent Meeting, and Peaks and Valleys.

T O Password’s race record

A May 20 foal, T O Password did not make his debut until Jan. 6 at Kyoto, in an about 1 1/8-mile test for newcomers. The slight 2.60-1 second choice was asked in the opening strides to press the slow pace. He responded to hound the leader, under a hold from Ryusei Sakai, until he was let loose turning into stretch. Traveling best of those in contention, he rattled off his last 600 meters (about three furlongs) in :37.5 and drew away by two lengths. 

T O Password was entitled to finish strongly, given the early crawl. That’s reflected in his final time of 1:57.1, which was much slower than the opening three-year-old maiden on the card (1:55.4). As of this writing, four of the vanquished have since broken their maidens. Of them, the two who’ve run back in allowances have lost. 

Hence the form was not exactly the type to make T O Password a clear threat in the Fukuryu, the final race on the Japan Road. The Fukuryu does not carry black-type status, but the about 1 1/8-mile contest did represent a class hike versus experienced rivals, including a few who’d already won an allowance. 

T O Password accordingly went off as a 13-1 shot – the seventh choice in an 11-horse Fukuryu field. On the plus side, his gaining weight between starts suggested physical development; he was up to 480 kilograms (1,056 pounds) from 474 on debut, and his improved performance on the track validated that idea.

Going straight to the lead at Nakayama, T O Password was very comfortable with no one engaging early. The pursuers began to gang up leaving the backstretch and entering the final turn, but jockey Katsuma Sameshima was just waiting to give him the cue.

T O Password spurted away again upon straightening and established a decisive advantage in the stretch. The further they went, though, the more he was looking for the wire. His margin evaporated as he tired at end, clocking his final furlong in :13.2 (and last 600 meters in :37.9).

But the wire came in the nick of time, and T O Password just lasted by a head from the barnstorming Arare Tabashiru. If he’d kicked into gear fractionally sooner, maybe Arare Tabashiru, a fellow Triple Crown nominee, would have won the 40 points to secure the Japan Road invitation. 

T O Password’s time of 1:54.1 was much faster than the preceding maiden (1:55.3) and an older allowance (1:55.1), and those nearest him early all dropped back. On the other hand, for whatever it’s worth, the later dirt races were quicker. And the proximity of 146-1 longshot Amber Doll in third casts a further cloud over the value of the Fukuryu form. 

The lingering what-if from the Japan Road

T O Password’s bare form is below the standard set by Forever Young at home, let alone abroad. Only two of his Fukuryu rivals had previously competed on the Japan Road, a pair of also-rans from the Nov. 25 Cattleya (itself an allowance race at Tokyo). 

There were no runners from the listed stakes races on the Japan Road – neither from the Dec. 13 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun won in spectacular style by Forever Young, nor the Feb. 18 Hyacinth S. won by Ramjet.

Indeed, Ramjet would have been a logically stronger addition for Team Japan. Unfortunately, the Koji Maeda homebred didn’t run again in the interim, and T O Password supplanted him on the Japan Road leaderboard.

The curse of Leonatus?

As if the class level and international challenges weren’t enough, T O Password faces another daunting hurdle in the Kentucky Derby: the lack of racing experience. The unraced juvenile angle has lost its saliency in recent years, with Justify (2018) and Mage (2023) both exorcising the “curse of Apollo” (so named from the 1882 Derby winner who didn’t race at two). 

But having only two career starts going into the Derby remains an anomaly. According to the media guide (crediting Jay Privman and Keeneland librarian Becky Ryder), Leonatus (1883) is the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby while making the third start of his life. And the first of those came as a juvenile.

Thus T O Password has to defy both Apollo and Leonatus, in addition to trying to make history for Japan. The number of historical obstacles keeps increasing, and intensifying the questions posed, like so many additional circles in the Ptolemaic universe.

T O Password’s forward style implies that he’ll try to be in the early mix with Fierceness and Track Phantom. It’s tough to see how he copes with their speed, or does so well enough to hang around at the finish. While his lack of experience leaves open the possibility of tactical experiments, it would be a rather radical makeover for him to unleash a closing kick from off the pace. Chances are that this comes too soon for the still-maturing sophomore, who stands to get stronger over time.