When initial Triple Crown nominations were released in early February, among the cast of 312 were 21 Japanese horses, including a colt with a 2-for-2 record by the name of Crown Pride.
Though Crown Pride disappointed a couple of weeks thereafter, finishing sixth in the Feb. 20 Hyacinth Stakes in Japan, he showed March 26 at Meydan Racecourse why he was made eligible to the American classics, defeating an international field in the $1 million Group 2 UAE Derby Sponsored by Mubadala. The 3-year-old son of Reach the Crown launched a sweeping rally on the second turn and caught pacesetting Summer Is Tomorrow in the stretch for a 2 3/4-length triumph.
The UAE Derby, the lone international race on the primary Road to the Kentucky Derby series, offered qualifying points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to its top-four finishers, provided they are Triple Crown nominees or eventually become so.
So, with 100 qualifying points toward the May 7 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs, Crown Pride essentially has secured entry into the often oversubscribed race. A representative for Crown Pride's owner expressed an interest Saturday in pursuing the Derby.
If makes his way to Kentucky, he would not be the first Japanese horse to compete in the Triple Crown. Lani came from Japan to ninth in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, fifth in the Preakness Stakes, and third in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.
Master Fencer, a son of Just a Way, was the first Japanese-bred horse to run in the Derby. Lani, by Tapit, was foaled in Kentucky.
While Master Fencer competed in Japanese races immediately before the 2019 Triple Crown, Lani, like Crown Pride, captured the UAE Derby before his U.S. excursion.
It would appear that Crown Pride is every bit as talented as Master Fencer and Lani, if not better, based on his UAE performance.
Pinched at the break Saturday evening, he quickly recovered under Australian rider Damian Lane to race about three to four lengths off the early pace set by Summer Is Tomorrow, with American Pinehurst chasing in second in close attendance. Three wide into the first turn and four wide into the second, Crown Pride then closed from sixth to reel most of those in front of him.
That is, all but Summer Is Tomorrow, who still held a clear lead with 300 meters remaining in the 1,900-meter (about 1 3/16 miles) contest. But the leader began to weaken in midstretch, and surging under left-handed urging from Lane, Crown Pride proved superior in the final 200 meters.
"I was very confident turning in from about the (600 meters remaining mark)," said Lane, riding on Dubai World Cup night for the first time. "He just leveled out as I turned in about 300—I began to worry but when (Summer Is Tomorrow) got tired, he didn't."
The winner was timed in 1:59.76, returning a $34.90 mutuel payoff in simulcast wagering offered in the United States.
The runner-up and winner are under consideration for Kentucky Derby, their connections indicated immediately after the UAE Derby.
Bhupat Seemar, trainer of runner-up Summer Is Tomorrow, said: "I'd definitely consider the Kentucky Derby, but I'd have to see if he's nominated or not first of all. That's the biggest thing. Why not though? There were some good horses behind him, a couple of grade 1 horses from America, so now that he's had that run I think we'd have to think about it."
Summer Is Tomorrow was not an original Triple Crown nominee, though he can be made one with a $6,000 late payment, due March 28.
The UAE Derby favorites, Combustion and Pinehurst were unplaced. The latter was eased by jockey Flavien Prat after weakening leaving the second turn.
In explaining his rebound from the Hyacinth, winning trainer Koichi Shintani said the longer distance of the UAE was more suitable for the Teruya Yoshida-owned colt.
"The distance was a little too short," he said of the one-mile Hyacinth.
Asked about his feelings on Dubai World Cup night, which included a series of winning efforts from Japanese runners on the undercard, Sintani replied with a smile, "It's perfect."
Lane expressed appreciation for being asked to ride for Sintani.
"I mean, to get here from Australia and to join with the Japanese, it's just a bit surreal," he said. "I'm just grateful to be a part of their racing and then to be able to travel with their horses, especially."
Bred in Japan by Shadai Farm, Crown Pride is the first foal to race from the King Kamehameha mare Emmy's Pride. The colt's second dam, Emmy's Smile, was a stakes winner in Japan.