Plus Que Parfait had to come to Dubai to do it, but he punched his ticket to the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with a gutsy victory over an international field in the $2.5 million UAE Derby Sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group March 30 at Meydan.
With Jose Ortiz in the saddle, Plus Que Parfait split horses as the field thundered down the stretch and shot past local hopeful Manguzi, then turned back the closing bid of American rival Gray Magician en route to a three-quarter length win for owner Imperial Racing.
Plus Que Parfait, a Point of Entry ridgling, finished 1,900 meters (about 1 3/16 miles) in 1:58.41 over a fast track.
Second in the Nov. 24 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs to close out his 2-year-old season, Plus Que Parfait was shipped to Louisiana but did not perform as desired next out. In his first two races this year at Fair Grounds Race Course, he was fifth in the Jan. 19 Lecomte Stakes and 13th, beaten more than 20 lengths, in the Feb. 16 Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford. Both of those races were won by War of Will, who then ran ninth in the March 23 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby.
"Some horses struggle at Fair Grounds," trainer Brendan Walsh said, explaining the decision to giver Plus Que Parfait a different opportunity to earn his way into the run for the roses.
"We thought when he (ran well in) the Jockey Club that we had a Derby horse," said Walsh, who early in his career worked in Dubai for Godolphin. "Now I'm trying to keep myself calm and not get too excited. But I'm not surprised he won tonight."
Coming to Dubai to qualify for Louisville, Walsh admitted, "Obviously, it's the tough way to do it. But these horses can be shipped around the world. We've seen Godolphin do it and Coolmore. I don't see why he couldn't be competitive."
Ortiz, riding in Dubai for the first time, scored his second victory of the evening after taking the Godolphin Mile Sponsored By Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City-District One.
"I was delighted when he won the first race," Walsh said of the young rider. "It's a big thing for him to come over here and compete with these world-class riders."
Walsh said he has yet to finalize travel plans for Plus Que Parfait but will either ship him directly to Churchill Downs or make a brief stop at Keeneland before moving on to Louisville.
Plus Que Parfait vanquished a field that included 3-year-olds who had competed earlier in the season in official Kentucky Derby preps in Japan and England. None of them figured in the outcome in the desert while Plus Que Parfait earned 100 points in the main "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series, guaranteeing a spot in the starting gate.
Among the major disappointments was Godolphin's star filly, Divine Image, winner of the UAE Oaks, who ran 13th of 14. The daughter of Scat Daddy qualified for the Longines Kentucky Oaks by virtue of that win but trainer Charlie Appleby indicated before the race that, despite the outcome, she likely would not come to the United States until the summer, targeting the rich turf races in New York.