By Kaitlin Free
With less than 60 days to go until Kentucky Derby 146 the Road to the Kentucky Derby is beginning to heat up. The next domestic stops on the trail are at Aqueduct for the Gotham Stakes, Tampa Bay Downs for the Tampa Bay Derby, and Santa Anita for the San Felipe Stakes. Both the west coast and east coast along with the trail through Florida are developing top contenders with a clear path to the Derby. The international Road to the Kentucky Derby is also in full swing and more than ¾ of the way complete. The newly turned 3YO’s in Europe contested the Patton Stakes at Dundalk and the Road to the Kentucky Derby Condition Stakes at Kempton Park. Japan’s top sophomores on the dirt ran in the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse.
One horse from both Europe and Japan that are Triple Crown nominated will automatically earn a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. The horse from each trail with the most qualifying points will receive the invitation. However, if the top qualifier is not Triple Crown nominated or declines the invite, it will move down the list until it is totally declined by all or accepted. Horses in Europe and Japan have one more chance to gain Kentucky Derby points with both the Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama and the Cardinal Condition Stakes at Chelmsford City still to come. The Fukuryu Stakes will take place on March 28th and the Cardinal Condition Stakes will be on April 2nd.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby that runs through Europe is often very topsy turvy and hard to find a contender dead set on the Derby. Many horses run in these races that aren’t Triple Crown nominated and will use as a prep to go elsewhere. Patton Stakes winner Crossfirehurricane certainly fits that bill. Crossfirehurricane sat off of pacesetter and fellow Joseph O’Brien trainee Choice of Mine throughout the running and got up to win by a half length in the final 100 meters. The son of Kitten’s Joy from the family of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Flotilla remains unbeaten in 3 starts. Runner up Choice of Mine is Triple Crown nominated however and moved up to 2nd behind Royal Lodge winner Royal Dornoch in the qualifying points race. Choice of Mine is a rare Kentucky Derby contender that was bred in Australia. Southern Hemisphere horses usually are not Triple Crown eligible due to age differences based off of different foaling seasons. Choice of Mine was however bred on Northern Hemisphere time but foaled in the Southern Hemisphere. Crossfirehurricane has until March 30 to secure a Triple Crown nomination unless the owners opt to nominate beyond the deadline resulting in a $200,000 entry fee.
Another undefeated but also unnominated horse won the Road to the Kentucky Derby Stakes at Kempton on March 4th. Chares, a German bred son of Ivawood, won confidently by a length over Berlin Tango to remain a perfect 4 for 4. This was also Chares’ 3YO debut not having raced since September of 2019. Runner up Berlin Tango is also not nominated for the Triple Crown, leaving only the 3rd place finisher New World Tapestry the only horse to secure Derby points. New World Tapestry, bred by Coolmore, received 4 Kentucky Derby points and currently sits 4th on the qualifying list.
The Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby has quite a clearer picture than its European counterpart. Japan has established themselves as the world leaders in thoroughbred racing and breeding and is eager to have a horse or two in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. There are currently three top Kentucky Derby prospects in Japan: Vacation, Dieu du Vin, and Cafe Pharoah. Both Vacation and Dieu du Vin opted to skip the Hyacinth Stakes and their next races have yet to be determined. Their defections were the gain of Cafe Pharoah who won the Hyacinth Stakes in impressive fashion. Cafe Pharoah came into the Hyacinth off of a huge maiden score at Nakayama in December. He went off as the favorite over the far more experienced Tagano Beauty. The pair ran one, two closing from behind to gobble up the front runners with Cafe Pharoah winning by just over a length. Cafe Pharoah is a US bred son of American Pharoah out of the G2 winning Mary’s Follies. Cafe Pharoah received 30 Kentucky Derby points for his win in the Hyacinth Stakes and Tagano Beauty scored 12 for his 2nd place effort. Both are Triple Crown nominated.
The Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama is the next stop on the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby. Cafe Pharoah can all but lock up the invitation in this race with a win. Another probable for this race is familiar foe Tagano Beauty who can continue to climb up the ranks should Cafe Pharoah's connections pass on the Kentucky Derby. Vacation and Dieu du Vin's next starts are yet to be announced but connections have previously expressed interest in the Fukuryu Stakes.
Follow the Kentucky Derby prep season on TVG as the team continues their quest of Chasing the Derby.
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