Forever Young Punches Ticket to Kentucky Derby in Dubai, Laurel River Romps in World Cup

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Forever Young Japan United Arab Emirates UAE Derby Kentucky Derby Meydan Ryusei Sakai Yoshito Yahagi Pandagate Laurel River World Cup Senor Buscador Ushba Tesoro international horse racing

Japanese star Forever Young ran his way into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve field with a dominating victory in the $1 million United Arab Emirates Derby March 30 in Dubai.

The Real Steel  colt remained undefeated after five starts and backed up his win a month earlier in the Saudi Derby in Riyadh.

The UAE Derby is part of the primary Road to the Kentucky Derby series, which is otherwise populated solely with American races. It offers points on the 100-50-25-15-10 scale to Triple Crown-nominated horses, the same as the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa and the Arkansas Derby, run later the same day.

In recent years, 50 points have been sufficient to gain a spot in the 20-stall Churchill Downs starting gate when it oversubscribes, leaving Forever Young safely in the field. Forever Young’s contingent clearly is ready for the challenge.

Forever Young drew the outside 11 gate for the 1,900-meter (about 1 3/16 miles) UAE Derby over the Meydan Racecourse dirt. He broke well and jockey Ryusei Sakai let him take an outside position behind the leaders.

As the field straightened into the stretch, South American stalwart Auto Bahn surged to the front but could not withstand the relentless charge of the winner and settled for the runner-up prize.

Forever Young won by two lengths. Pandagate, a New York-bred son of Arrogate and the lone American-trained runner, finished third, another 4 ¾ lengths back, for trainer Christophe Clement and jockey Dylan Davis. The race was clocked in 1:57.89.

“It will be very difficult to go from Dubai to Kentucky,” trainer Yoshito Yahagi said. “But I believe my team will do everything to be in good order to go to Kentucky.”

Sakai said Forever Young was “very much improved” from the Saudi Derby, adding, “That’s why I have confidence in him. I really trust this horse.”

Forever Young won his first three starts in Japan and could have stayed there and qualified for Louisville with one more win in the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. Instead, owner Susumu Fujita and Yahagi pursued a more lucrative path, sending him to Saudi Arabia, where he won the $1.5 million Saudi Derby by a desperate head, over American sprinter/miler Book’em Danno.

The Saudi race is not part of any qualifying series for the Kentucky Derby, so after abandoning the Japanese series, the connections put all their eggs in the Dubai basket the day before Easter.

“We had very hard travel from Japan to Saudi,” Yahagi said. “So in Saudi, he was not in top condition but still he performed very well. Then we traveled from Saudi to Dubai and we saw that he was improving.”

Why take the hard route?

“Of course, money is very important for anybody,” Yahagi said. “But actually, I believe a 3-year-old horse should go travel as much as possible. That will be important for the future of the horse.”

Yahagi, known on international racing circuits as “the man in the hat” for his colorful headgear, confided his father had died earlier in the day.

“I feel very much that I made him a present with this victory,” he added.

Laurel River Much the Best in World Cup, Senor Buscador Third

Laurel River wins impressively. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Later on the card at Meydan, Laurel River pulled the robbery in one of the richest races on earth when he romped by 8 ½ lengths in the $12 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline.

A homebred for Juddmonte Farm, Laurel River blasted to the front from the 12 hole and commanded the race from start to finish, giving jockey Tadhg O’Shea and trainer Bhupat Seemar a second victory on the day after taking the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Nakheel earlier on the card with Tuz.

Laurel River raced the 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) in 2:02.31. The 6-year-old son of Into Mischief, previously trained by Bob Baffert, was coming off a win in the Burj Nahaar over the Meydan course March 2.

Last year’s Dubai World Cup winner, Ushba Tesoro, closed from last to grab second, a neck ahead of rallying Senor Buscador. The popular Senor Buscador settled for third one race after earning $10 million with a head victory over Ushba Tesoro in the Saudi World Cup on Feb. 24.

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