There are plenty of Kentucky Derby qualifying points on the line in the G2 2023 UAE Derby at Meydan on Saturday, with horses from six nations in contention for the 100 RTKD points on offer to the winner and the big purse. The favorite Cairo comes from Ireland while Worcester is the leading US hope, and Derma Sotogake and Goraiko lead the line for Japan against representatives from Bahrain, the UAE and Brazil.
2023 UAE Derby
G2, $1,000,000, 1m 3/16 dirt, 3yo, 5.50am ET
A truly international field – as you’d no doubt expect – goes forward for the UAE Derby at Meydan on Saturday, which is eccentrically part of the US Road to the Kentucky Derby and offers qualifying points for Churchill Downs on a 100-40-30-20-10 breakdown, not just a win-and-in but very likely a ‘finish second and you’re in’ as well.
Historically the UAE Derby has been a very poor trial for the Kentucky version, but hope springs eternal and there is a good chance that today’s contest will at least provide a contender for America’s greatest race. Aidan O’Brien has won it three times – most recently with 19-length hero Mendelssohn – and supplies this year’s favourite in Cairo (+160), a G3 winner on soft turf last year who reappeared in the same Dundalk stakes previously won by Mendelssohn.
He was 3-10 against moderate rivals over the synthetic mile and posted a powerful display, always on the pace and turning back a strong late challenge to win going away by two lengths. It was only what was expected, but he is certain to move up for that as his trainer’s horses are always better for their first run back, and his pedigree suggests he’ll be fine to stretch out.
There are three US runners and the best-fancied is the three-race maiden Worcester (+450), who leaves Santa Anita for the first time after running third in the four-runner G3 Robert B Lewis over a mile-sixteenth last month. He has been beaten by some talented Bob Baffert barnmates and has more ability than his maiden status suggests, and stamina is also on his side. He is ineligible to earn RTKD points, though.
Doug O’Neill barnmates Tall Boy (+1200) and Ah Jeez (+1200) both have experience of this circuit, with Tall Boy breaking his maiden when winning a G3 over a mile last month, and Ah Jeez taking a minor conditions race over seven furlongs on his first run off the lawn.
That local form indicates Tall Boy’s potential superiority, although their form at home – both have finished fourth at G3 level – suggests there won’t be much between them. Perhaps Ah Jeez (actually a son of the aforementioned Mendelssohn) may do better with that first experience of dirt under his belt, but this class hike will put them both under pressure.
The best of the locals is probably the Bahraini Go Soldier Go (+1000), who closed like a runaway train to win a stakes over course and distance three weeks ago, getting up in the last jump to pip Mr Raj (+2200) by a head, with the favourite Lahresh (+2500) a disappointing sixth, doing some good work late but never a threat.
On his previous start Lahresh had won over course and distance on a muddy track when four and a half lengths too good for Go Soldier Go, who had blown his chance at the gate with a poor start. Mr Raj had earlier run third behind Tall Boy in that G3 over a mile when nearest at the line, beaten two and three-quarter lengths – it’s decent form of its kind but it would be a surprise if any of this trio were capable of figuring at the business end.
Threat from the East
Japan is making a serious play for the Kentucky Derby this year, with Mandarin Hero expected for the G1 Santa Anita Derby next week, and five Japanese horses are bidding to follow in the hoofprints of last year’s winner Crown Pride.
That horse’s trainer Koichi Shintana sends Goraiko (+775), who would have little chance on the evidence of his most recent run when fifth, beaten five and a quarter lengths, in a Tokyo mile stakes behind Perriere (+1800), but would have a good chance based on his previous start when a comfortable winner of a nine-furlong stakes at Mombetsu, on a muddy track. It’s hard to be dogmatic about his prospects but his odds seem too short based on either instance of form.
Perriere did all his best work late when justifying favouritism by a length and a half on that occasion, but may have benefited from a pace meltdown and the market speaks volumes about his chance today.
A better clue to the Japanese threat comes from the G3 Saudi Derby over a mile in Riyadh, in which Derma Sotogake (+1500) rallied well through the final furlong to finish third, beaten two lengths. He was a neck ahead of the late-running Brazilian hope Es-Unico (+4000) in fourth, and three-quarters of a length better than the one-paced Continuar (+1200) in fifth.
The key here is the US G2 winner Havnameltdown, who was runner-up, a length and three-quarters ahead of Derma Sotogake over a distance that is absolutely his ceiling at the moment.
The front two went off hard and only just got home, possibly flattering the third and fourth. But is Havnameltdown better than Worcester, Tall Boy and Ah Jeez at a mile or less? Yes, he almost certainly is, so the late-closing Derma Sotogake is definitely right in the picture with an extra three-sixteenths of a mile to travel today.
As an aside, Es-Unico is a three-year-old only on southern hemisphere time and would be considered a four-year-old up north, so has a 10lb age penalty and is therefore at a major disadvantage.
The final member of the Japanese quintet is Dura Erede (+825), who was a 90-1 boilover winner of a ten-furlong G1 on turf at Nakayama in December. It took him all his time to get there by a nose, and it would be a surprise if he had enough speed to make his presence felt in this tough test.
2023 UAE Derby Odds & Betting Pick
|Horse||Jockey||Odds by Jazzsports|
|Es Unico||J. Moreira||+4000|
|Ah Jeez||T. Gaffalione||+1200|
|Derma Sotogake||C. Lemaire||+1500|
|Dura Erede||C. Demuro||+825|
|Go Soldier Go||A De Vries||+1000|
|Mr Raj||R. Dawson||+2200|
|Tall Boy||W. Buick||+1200|
The Japanese contingent doesn’t appear that strong, with the possible exception of Derma Sotogake, so this may be best left to CAIRO, who is certain to improve on his comeback success and hails from a yard that is well versed in winning this race.
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