Locally-trained Thunder Snow may have grown a bit unorganized in the stretch when Japan's Epicharis repelled his first bid to take the lead, but jockey Christophe Soumillon was able to collect the son of Helmet to try one more time in Saturday's $2 million UAE Derby. Thunder Snow lunged forward at the wire, just getting his head in front to win the Group 2 contest on behalf of Godolphin and trainer Saeed bin Suroor, his eighth win in the UAE Derby. On the Meydan Racecourse rated muddy, Thunder Snow covered about 1 3/16 miles (1900m) in 1:57.76, besting Epicharis, Master Plan and Lancaster Bomber, respectively, and with his victory earned 100 points toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Thunder Snow was a late nominee to the Triple Crown, so it appears that his connections may be targeting a trip to Kentucky for the sophomore colt. Prior to the UAE Derby, he had already won the Group 1 Criterium International as a juvenile, and kicked off his 2017 season with a win in the UAE 2000 Guineas in early February.
“I was very confident before the race, even with that draw,” said Soumillon. “I came in the straight with a lot of power and I thought I would win very easy, but he was a bit looking around and unfortunately on the marks on the ground, he just got scared. He changed leg and just switched out for a few strides, and I was out of the saddle for a few strides. I got back on him and I thought I would have time to come back because he is a champion and has a big, big heart. He gave me everything. He is a champion. I knew he was going to be something special when he won in England last year.”
Leaving the starting gates from the 13-post in the 16-horse field, Soumillon had to use Thunder Snow's speed a bit to keep abreast of the eight-wide group all trying to find a spot near the front of the field. Approaching the first turn, Epicharis, the previously undefeated colt from Japan, had declared himself as the sole leader by just over a length and was finally able to move down toward the rail with just Qatar Man on his inside, briefly. Adirato, also from Japan, was up in second on the outside early on while Thunder Snow was hung four-wide in the second flight, about fourth off the leader.
Turning down the backstretch, Epicharis and Adirato continued at the lead, with the former able to secure the inside rail position early in the back straight. Cosmo Charlie came on to be third, allowing Soumillon to cover up Thunder Snow for a bit while maintaining third position as the leaders marked the half-mile in 48 2/5 seconds. Farther back, the Todd Pletcher-trained Master Plan was in between horses in mid-pack, taking a lot of dirt under John Velazquez but hunting a way through the field.
Epicharis had put away Adirato rounding into the far turn, but Thunder Snow was casually ranging up to threaten the leader, yet to be asked to run. The two turned for home a neck apart, and for a moment it appeared that Thunder Snow would easily blow past Epicharis, but the Japanese-trained colt found something more, drawing his lead out again to a half-length. Thunder Snow darted out with about 200 meters to run, changing leads abruptly and losing his momentum. Soumillon was just able to get him reorganized in time to mount a second challenge, just getting his head in front at the wire.
Meanwhile, Master Plan had found clear running room and angled out turning for home in about fifth position. He was making up ground well in the stretch, but was not quite able to get to the top two, finishing 1 1/4 lengths behind Epicharis to be third. Aidan O'Brian's Group 1 turf performer Lancaster Bomber rallied to be fourth, three-quarters of a length behind Master Plan.
“I talked to Sheikh Mohammed just now and we have nominated him for the Kentucky Derby but we are also considering the French, Irish, or even the English Derby,” said bin Suroor after the race. “We are keeping our options open and we will make a decision when I talk to Sheikh Mohammed again.”
Bred in Ireland by Darley, Thunder Snow is out of Eastern Joy, by Dubai Destination (Kingmambo). He broke his maiden at first asking at Leicester, then two starts later finished second in pair of Group 2 races at Goodwood and Doncaster. At Saint Cloud in October, Thunder Snow won the Group 1 Criterium International to close out his juvenile season. Opening up 2017 in early February, the colt was the easy winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas over the Meydan surface. Overall, Thunder Snow has four wins from eight starts, with earnings of over $1.5 million.
“It just shows how international the whole thing is,” said John Ferguson, chief executive for Godolphin. “From Thunder Snow's point of view, he did it in a good time, he showed he is very brave and it was a great performance. And His Highness has just mentioned that the Kentucky Derby is a possibility. It could be a great idea.”
Watch the race replay here:
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