Kentucky Oaks international scouting report: Mimi Kakushi
Named for a Japanese restaurant in Dubai, Mimi Kakushi is the second straight UAE Oaks (G3) winner to try the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Last year, Shahama brought a perfect record to Churchill Downs and finished a creditable sixth in the Oaks. She went on to place second in the Mother Goose (G2) and score a U.S. graded victory in the Monmouth Oaks (G3).
Mimi Kakushi doesn’t bring the unbeaten cachet of Shahama, but she’s won three straight while turning the same UAE 1000 Guineas/UAE Oaks double. Also unlike Shahama, who was transferred to Todd Pletcher for her stateside campaign, Mimi Kakushi remains under the supervision of her UAE trainer, Salem bin Ghadayer. Thus she’s continuing her familiar routine as much as possible in a new environment.
Mimi Kakushi’s pedigree
Bred by Woodford Thoroughbreds, also the breeder of Kentucky Derby (G1) contender Rocket Can, Mimi Kakushi is from the first crop of $5.6 million-earner City of Light. The son of Quality Road captured four Grade 1s, highlighted by the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill and the 2019 Pegasus World Cup (G1).
City of Light sired another filly who had been on the Oaks trail, Alcibiades (G1) near-misser Chop Chop. Disappointing as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), Chop Chop has reverted to turf after failing to progress in subsequent Oaks preps. Interestingly, a few of City of Light’s noteworthy progeny are turf performers—e.g., Futurity (G3) runner-up Gaslight Dancer, winner of the recent Palisades S. at Keeneland.
Mimi Kakushi is out of Rite Moment, a multiple Grade 2-winning sprinter who also romped in a minor two-turn stakes at Aqueduct. She is the dam of two previous stakes winners, Moment Is Right and Laudation, both sprinters. Rite Moment is by Vicar, hero of the 1999 Florida Derby (G1) and Fountain of Youth (G1), and unplaced in the Derby and Preakness (G1). Vicar is also the broodmare sire of Vicar’s in Trouble, the 2014 Louisiana Derby (G2) victor who trailed in the Kentucky Derby, but bounced back to form over the summer.
Mimi Kakushi originally sold for $180,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling to Al Pike. Well known for pinhooking youngsters, Pike successfully resold her for $250,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May two-year-old.
Mimi Kakushi’s connections
Bin Ghadayer has emerged as one of the UAE’s prominent trainers in recent years. His base is the Fazza Racing Stable of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum, Sheikh Mohammed’s son (not to be confused with his late brother of Shadwell) and the Crown Prince of Dubai.
Bin Ghadayer’s headliners include Gronkowski, who came within a whisker of Thunder Snow in the 2019 Dubai World Cup (G1); four winners of the course-and-distance World Cup prep, the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) (Long River, Capezzano, Matterhorn, and Hypothetical); top dirt miler Heavy Metal; and 2020 UAE Oaks scorer Down On Da Bayou.
Fifth in the overall standings for the 2022-23 season that just ended April 7, bin Ghadayer compiled 23 wins and 36 placings from 218 starts, according to emiratesracing.com, for an in-the-money rate of 27%. He would rank third by wins, if you filter the stats only for Thoroughbreds (Purebred Arabians enhance a couple of the other trainers’ stats).
Jockey Mickael Barzalona, Godolphin’s principal rider in his homeland of France, earned a stateside victory aboard Talismanic in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Barzalona has plenty of dirt experience from the Dubai Carnival, where he’s the top jockey for bin Ghadayer.
Mimi Kakushi’s early races in Dubai
Mimi Kakushi needed her Nov. 11 debut as an educational run. Drawn out wide in post 10 in an about six-furlong maiden, she was a non-threatening fourth to Asawer and stablemate Here We Are.
Her second start on Dec. 1 was compromised by early trouble. She didn’t break cleanly from post 3, got “bumped heavily on the hind-quarter by another runner,” according to the stewards’ report, and dropped back. “Mimi” tried to advance on the rail, only to be forced to steady—“restrained when tightened for room by another runner which was racing erratically”—and come around. Last entering the far turn, she rallied in the midst of field before angling out and staying on for fourth to Here We Are.
Next time, Mimi added cheekpieces and Barzalona, and she hasn’t lost since. In the about seven-furlong UAE 1000 Guineas Trial on Dec. 23, she engineered a convincing form reversal with Asawer. Mimi was bumped at the start, but this time recovered to secure her best tactical position so far. Stalking early and challenging in upper stretch, she asserted in the final furlong.
“Mimi Kakushi needed a bit of time and we all knew that,” bin Ghadayer told Duane Fonseca of adiyatracingplus.com Dec. 29. “I’ve always maintained that some horses need a race to come around and some need a little more education and a little more experience around a racetrack. Mimi Kakushi is one of those, but she has progressed all along and we were happy with the way she was doing.”
UAE 1000 Guineas/Oaks double
Favored in the international market for the Jan. 20 UAE 1000 Guineas, Mimi outclassed her foes on the step up to a metric mile. She initially prompted the pace on the inside. Then Barzalona elected to make a tactical withdrawal, easing back and coming around into a more comfortable outside stalking spot. Mimi was traveling best turning for home, as the leader came under pressure. She delivered the coup de grace in the stretch and kicked away by 4 1/2 lengths.
Mimi was again favored to complete the classic double in the Feb. 17 UAE Oaks, but Doug O’Neill’s Ami Please made it a stiff test. Barzalona hustled Mimi from post 2 to ensure she got into the game early. Ami Please sped past to set the pace, and Mimi tracked closely before tackling her. A tussle ensued as they turned the stretch drive into a match race, and a determined Mimi edged 1 1/4 lengths clear to collect 50 Oaks points.
There are two cautionary notes. The time for about 1 3/16 miles was a slow 2:00.01. The form is also questionable, considering that Ami Please hadn’t even competed in any Oaks scoring races at home in California. Her prior stakes experience was on turf, placing in the Pike Place Dancer S. at Golden Gate Fields and the Blue Norther S. at Santa Anita and finishing fourth in the Jimmy Durante (G3).
“She was my favorite filly and she improved again tonight,” bin Ghadayer said in a Dubai Racing Club release. “To be honest, I thought this race would be even easier than the Guineas as she wouldn’t be under pressure the whole way.
“She was a professional filly from the beginning, especially in her mind, and she’s very easy to train. She knows she must give everything in a race.”
Indeed, the UAE Oaks was a tough, no-holds-barred battle that could have left its mark if Mimi returned too quickly.
In the immediate aftermath of the Oaks, Mimi was under consideration for the UAE Derby (G2) as well as the Kentucky Oaks.
“It’s up to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum,” her trainer told khaleejtimes.com, “but I think she’s just as good as the boys, and I will not be afraid of testing her against them in the future.”
Meanwhile, Ami Please wheeled back to take on males in the March 4 Al Bastakiya, where she tired to third. The top two, Go Soldier Go and Mr Raj, advanced to the UAE Derby, but proved no match for the Japanese superfecta led by Derma Sotogake. They fared best of the locals in fifth and sixth, respectively.
Thus it was wise that Mimi didn’t try the UAE Derby. Aside from having an unlikely chance versus the Japanese juggernaut, she would have undermined her candidacy for the Kentucky Oaks if she bottomed out on World Cup night. The far better option was the one her connections chose—freshen up and point for the first Friday in May. As a footnote, Ami Please is also expected to resume in Friday’s Eight Belles (G2).
Kentucky Oaks chances
When Mimi flew out from Dubai, bin Ghadayer offered upbeat comments to the Dubai Racing Club:
“She did her last gallop yesterday and I’m so happy about her work; we couldn’t be any happier. She’s fit, she has the ability and the class. She had a two-week break after the Oaks and then went back to normal training. We are keeping everything as normal as possible for her, and Xavier (Ziani) rides her every day at home.
If I didn’t feel like she can run top three, I wouldn’t be going.
MIMI KAKUSHI's (nearside) last work in Dubai before leaving for the Kentucky Oaks @ChurchillDowns. @SalemGhadayer's G3 UAE Oaks winner has a great team going with her to 🇺🇸 - Xavier Ziani rides in the mornings and @mickaelbarzalon in the race.— Laura King لورا كنج 金樂雅 (@LauraKingDXB) April 20, 2023
📹 Jen Reggio pic.twitter.com/roRxYLS5n3
Bin Ghadayer noted that he’s been judicious about taking up Kentucky challenges, citing the example of Panadol, the 2021 UAE Derby runner-up who declined a shot at the Derby.
“We had the invitation two years ago with Panadol for the Kentucky Derby and we decided not to go.
“I just fear a muddy track as it will be different to what she knows. I have a private track here in Dubai and we did put some extra water on it one day to try and get her used to it, although I wouldn’t say it was muddy.”
Mimi got a taste of the slop at Churchill Friday, possibly removing that one caveat from her trainer’s mind.
“She has been on a wet track before, but not like this,” bin Ghadayer told the track’s notes team. “She did very well on it this morning.”
On Saturday, Mimi breezed a half-mile in :50.40 under Ziani. She posted splits of :13.60 and :26.20 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:05.20.
Although bin Ghadayer’s quotes in the Churchill notes were rather perfunctory, he sounded ebullient in his comments to Corrie McCroskey of the Blood-Horse:
“I’m happy about her work. Even for me, she worked better than her last work over in Dubai so we couldn’t be happier at this stage. Everything (went) well, even better than what we expected.”
If the Shahama comparison causes some doubt on paper, there are two counterarguments. First, their contrasting running styles. Shahama tended to be a slow starter who could leave herself too much to do, as it panned out in her belated Oaks sixth. Mimi, with a clean trip, figures to bag a more palatable early position.
Second, last year’s Oaks looked a deep renewal even at the time, and the subsequent exploits of Secret Oath and Nest endorsed that view. In contrast, the 2023 Oaks has a wide-open feel, with a few leading fillies not in the lineup. Hence Mimi Kakushi could deliver a similar effort to Shahama and yield a better result.