The Road to the Kentucky Derby takes a trip to Dubai on Saturday morning for the Group 2, $2,000,000 UAE Derby. A group of nine is set to run in this truly international race, with horses from the United States, Europe, and Japan ready to take a shot at earning a start in the Kentucky Derby.
Leading the charge will be Gold Town. The son of Street Cry was gelded last June and has barely looked back since, winning his last three starts and burning off the opposition to take both the UAE 2000 Guineas trial and the UAE 2000 Guineas over this course.
“He has done well for the switch to dirt, and he prefers it to grass,” said trainer Charlie Appleby. “Gelding him has made a huge difference. He is stepping up in trip from 1600 metres (approximately 8 furlongs) at the weekend, and we will see how he gets on.”
Europe’s best trainer, Aidan O’Brien, will have three horses in the race that all exit the Patton Stakes at Dundalk. Mendelssohn won the race by 3/4 of a length over stablemates Threeandfourpence and Seahenge, giving O’Brien the trifecta in the race.
“They all came out of their race at Dundalk well, and I’m happy with them,” O’Brien said. “We will learn more about Mendelssohn in Dubai, especially how well he stays, as he is a strong traveller. Threeandfourpence should improve from the run in Dundalk, as should Seahenge, who didn’t help himself by being slowly away.”
The United States is represented this year by the $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby winner Reride. The son of Candy Ride put in a workout over the track on Monday, and assistant trainer Scott Blasi seems happy with how the colt is coming into the race.
“His energy level has been good since we got here,” Blasi said. “We just put an easy 1/2-mile in him to let him pick his feet up over the racetrack. I got him in :50 4/5. He felt good coming back to the barn.”
The field from the rail out for the UAE Derby: Rayya, Ruggero, Reride, Mendelssohn, Gold Town, Seahenge, Yulong Warrior, Taiki Ferveur, and Threeandfourpence.
#5 Gold Town – Since moving to the dirt, this horse has turned into an absolute monster. He shipped to Meydan Racecourse in January to pick up a minor stakes win, then won the local prep race for this UAE Derby by 10 1/2 lengths in impressive fashion. That win opened a lot of eyes, including mine, and if he can repeat that performance, then he’ll be tough to beat here. He’ll have to stretch out in distance a bit in this spot, but his breeding suggests that he should handle that without much difficulty. The UAE Derby winners have not had success in Kentucky over the years, so even if he wins, he’ll be questionable at Churchill Downs, but as far as this race is concerned, he looks like squarely the one to beat.
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#1 Rayya – This American-bred filly takes on the boys and has a legitimate chance to win. Her last start in the Group 3 UAE Oaks was ultra-impressive when she ran away to win by nearly 10 lengths. The UAE Oaks was contested at the same distance as this race, too, which adds to her intrigue because she wasn’t slowing down. Also, news broke this week that the filly, currently pointing towards the Kentucky Oaks, would be joining trainer Bob Baffert in America after this race. What if she qualifies for the Kentucky Derby by winning this race? That could lead to a major decision for her connections, and it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities.
#3 Reride – This has to be one of the most surprising entries that I’ve seen in a long time. Reride last raced in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park and was victorious by nearly 3 lengths. It was just assumed that he would run in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby next, but instead, trainer Steve Asmussen decided to send him all the way to Dubai to run here. The second-place finisher of the Mine That Bird Derby, Runaway Ghost, ended up dominating the Sunland Derby, which makes Reride look very attractive. He should love this stretch out in distance, but can he match up from a class prospective? How will his Sunland Park form translate to Dubai? There are question marks, but I doubt that Asmussen shipped him all the way to Dubai just to watch him run backwards. He seems to be dangerous here.
#4 Mendelssohn – This will be the likely favorite for the race because his class – and his price tag – far outweigh everyone else’s. There’s no question that his win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf was impressive, but now he must prove his form on the dirt. In his 2018 debut, he tried an all-weather surface for the first time, and even though he won, he didn’t have that same burst that we’ve seen in his turf races. Obviously, his flashy pedigree suggests that he may take to the dirt well, but it’s hard to take him at a short price until he proves it. He’ll have to run much better than he did in his last start if he wants to win this race. There’s no guarantee that he won’t like the dirt; he very well may, but he very well may not. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with this classy runner and will try to beat him on the winning end of things.
#2 Ruggero – This horse is currently the leading point earner in the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, so even if he fails to run well here, he could still make it to Churchill Downs. This will be his toughest test by far, though, as he’s only started in conditioned and listed stakes races. He doesn’t match up from a class prospective, but we’ve seen Japanese horses ship here with success in the past. Playing him underneath would be smart.
#7 Yulong Warrior – He shipped to Meydan to prepare for this race and has done a solid job so far, winning two of three races leading up to this big test. Two races back, he broke his maiden by nearly 2 lengths, while last time out, he stomped his rivals in a listed stakes by a double-digit margin. This is the logical next step up in class. If he can continue to show improvement, then he’ll have a shot, and he has valuable experience over a track that can sometimes play strangely.
#9 Threeandfourpence – As one of O’Brien’s “other” horses in the race, he at least ran competitively with Mendelssohn in his last start. Like Mendelssohn, he must prove that he can run on the dirt in his first start over the surface. It’s hard to take a shot with him against this extremely tough field.
#6 Seahenge – O’Brien’s third entry, he exits the same race as his stablemates. He was third in that one, but he was a well-beaten 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner. He likely won’t turn it around here in his dirt debut.
#8 Taiki Ferveur – He was defeated in his last two starts in Japan, but he does have some back class. He needs to rebound big here if he wants to have a shot. Other horses seem to be a bit more intriguing.