A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
The Dubai route to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve has not been a fruitful one in its history. From 18 starters, the best Kentucky Derby finish from a runner coming out of the United Arab Emirates Derby was a fifth by Master of Hounds in 2011.
However, this $1 million race at Meydan has produced quite a few talented runners over the years, like 2018 Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow and 2022 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf victor Rebel’s Romance. Perhaps shipping from the Middle East to Central Kentucky is a bit too taxing on a 3-year-old to elicit a career-peak effort on the first Saturday in May, but it nonetheless remains a major international prep race for the U.S. Triple Crown races.
The 2023 UAE Derby sponsored by Atlantis The Royal drew an evenly match group of 13 entrants with several notable Japanese and U.S.-based runners along with a top contender from the powerful barn of Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES DERBY
PLEASE NOTE: Numbers shown are the saddlecloth (with post position in parenthesis).
1.(7) Es-Unico (20-1 morning-line odds): Needs to improve upon a fourth-place finish in the Saudi Derby Presented by Boutique Group to be a factor here. Three-race winning streak in 2022 came in sprints, but he’s never run a bad race in seven starts and the price should be right.
TRAINER: Antonio Cintra; JOCKEY: Joao Moreira
2. (4) Ah Jeez (12-1): After racing on turf exclusively and posting a couple of wins in his first six starts in the United States, the Mendelssohn colt took a huge step forward when switching to the main track for the first time in Dubai. He won a Feb. 24 conditions race at Meydan at about seven furlongs by 2 ¼ lengths, defeating eight opponents. Top U.S. rider Tyler Gaffalione picks up the mount on an intriguing upset contender.
TRAINER: Doug O'Neill; JOCKEY: Tyler Gaffalione
3. (5) Cairo (5-2): Figures to vie for favoritism off a two-length win March 3 in the Patton Stakes on the synthetic main track at Dundalk, which earned him 20 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. He is a group stakes winner on grass in Ireland for elite trainer Aidan O’Brien and has never been worse than second in five races. Formidable if he can handle the switch to dirt, but that is a significant hurdle.
TRAINER: Aidan O'Brien; JOCKEY: Ryan Moore
4. (12) Continuar (15-1): He was fifth in the Saudi Derby Presented by Boutique Group after winning two of three starts in Japan. Big race days in recent years have taught racing fans to respect the chances of Japanese shippers, but other Japanese runners look more promising in this spot.
TRAINER: Yoshito Yahagi; JOCKEY: Ryusei Sakai
5. (1) Derma Sotogake (10-1): This Mind Your Biscuits colt had won three on a row in Japan at distances from a mile to 1 1/8 miles, including a stakes victory that earned him 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, before shipping to the Middle East and running third in the Saudi Derby Presented by Boutique Group. Worth a long look.
TRAINER: Hidetaka Otonashi; JOCKEY: Christophe Lemaire
6. (8) Dura Erede (6-1): Won his only previous try on the dirt in Japan and enters this race off an incredibly game upset win by a nose in the Group 1 Hopeful Stakes Dec. 28 at Nakayama. A classy 3-year-old but tough to evaluate the quality of competition from his lone dirt win plus the fact that Dura Erede has not raced since the Hopeful.
TRAINER: Manabu Ikezoe; JOCKEY: Cristian Demuro
7. (2) Go Soldier Go (15-1): Enters off back-to-back wins at about 1 1/8 miles on this main track at Meydan, most recently winning the Al Bastakiya Sponsored by Arabian Adventures by a head over UAE Derby entrant Mr Raj. Has shown significant improvement of late and should not be dismissed.
TRAINER: Fawzi Nass; JOCKEY: Adrie de Vries
8. (13) Goraiko (8-1): Enters off a fifth-place finish after a 3 ½-month layoff in the one-mile Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo after posting open-length wins in his native Japan in 1 1/8-mile races. The extra distance could help his chances and he should improve in his second start off the layoff, but the outside post did him no favors.
TRAINER: Koichi Shintani; JOCKEY: Yuga Kawada
9. (9) Lahresh (30-1): Impressed in his 3-year-old debut when winning a conditions race by 4 ½ lengths at about 1 1/8 miles on this main track, but he took a step back when beaten by 6 ¾ lengths by Go Soldier Go in the Al Bastakiya Sponsored by Arabian Adventures. Eligible to factor with a bounce-back effort but not sure he’s fast enough.
TRAINER: Musabbeh Al Mheiri; JOCKEY: Mickael Barzalona
10. (6) Mr Raj (20-1): He ran third in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas Presented by Nakheel and then second by a neck to UAE Derby entrant Go Soldier Go March 4 in the Al Bastakiya Sponsored by Arabian Adventures. He led in deep stretch in his most recent race and a repeat effort would make him a threat to finish in the top three.
TRAINER: Ahmad Bin Harmash; JOCKEY: Ray Dawson
11. (3) Perriere (15-1): Hyacinth Stakes winner has won three of four career starts and was only beaten a length while third in the Zennippon Nisai Yushun, a Kentucky Derby points race, in his lone defeat. Distance is the question with Perriere but he closed powerfully in the Hyacinth and has been very consistent. A win contender.
TRAINER: Yoichi Kuroiwa; JOCKEY: Oisin Murphy
12. (10) Tall Boy (10-1): Finished in the top three in two of four starts in the U.S. for trainer Doug O’Neill. He was fourth in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity but shipped over to Dubai as a 3-year-old and delivered a breakout win by a length in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas Presented by Nakheel. If he can replicate UAE Two Thousand Guineas effort, Tall Boy is a player for top honors.
TRAINER: Doug O'Neill; JOCKEY: William Buick
13. (11) Worcester (5-1): While he has yet to win in three starts, Worcester probably will be one of the betting favorites coming out of the barn of U.S. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert following a third-place finish, beaten by two lengths, in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes Feb. 4 at Santa Anita Park. The Lewis was a big race in his first try around two turns, and he’s the pick coming out of that race.
TRAINER: Bob Baffert; JOCKEY: Frankie Dettori
THE PICK: Worcester
LIVE LONGSHOT: Derma Sotogake