The $2 million Group 2 UAE Derby, held as the fourth race on Saturday's Dubai World Cup card at Meydan Racecourse (approximate post time 9:25 a.m. EST), has drawn a talented field of 16 sophomores to compete in the 1900m (about 9.5 furlongs) race. Offering 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the UAE Derby drew a major U.S. shipper in the Todd Pletcher-trained Master Plan, owned by Al Shaqab Racing, WinStar Farm and the China Horse Club.
The son of Twirling Candy chased stablemate Tapwrit home in the Pulpit Stakes in December; Tapwrit has since come back to win the Tampa Bay Derby in record time. Master Plan began his 2017 season with a 2 1/4-length win on the synthetic surface in the OBS Championship Stakes, and will be ridden once again by John Velazquez this Saturday.
Bradley Weisbord, US advisor to co-owner Al Shaqab Racing, was on hand for Master Plan's Tuesday morning exercise, a 2200m (about 11 furlongs) gallop on the main track, and laughingly referred to the entry of the promising colt as “a crazy decision.”
“It would be great to get Al Shaqab's first Dubai World Cup night win – that would be special. It all made sense in the end, and the purse is a very interesting piece of the puzzle.”
If Master Plan wins, the Kentucky Derby could be an option for him since he will acquire the necessary eligibility points for entry. Weisbord said a strong performance in the UAE Derby could indicate Master Plan might be a good candidate for the Belmont Stakes.
There are several very talented local horses who will provide a major challenge for Pletcher's entrant, but the major concern is Thunder Snow. An Irish-bred son of Helmet trained by Saeed bin Suroor, the colt brings impressive credentials to the UAE Derby. Not only did he win the Group 1 Criterium International by five lengths to close out his juvenile campaign, he opened 2017 with a 5 3/4-length rout in the UAE 2000 Guineas on Feb. 11.
Thunder Snow drew the 13th post position, and will be piloted by Christophe Soumillon. The only major dent in the Godolphin-owned colt's armor is that he has never raced over a distance greater than one mile, so the 1 3/16 miles distance of the UAE Derby poses an unfamiliar challenge.
Another solid contender is Japanese shipper Epicharis, who already posses a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. The 3-year-old son of Gold Allure (Sunday Silence) is unbeaten in his four-race career, winning his three juvenile starts by a combined 25 lengths. The Kiyoshi Hagiwara trainee kicked off 2017 with a big win in the Hyacinth Stakes over fellow UAE Derby contender Adirato, and figures to be tough breaking from post 10 under Christophe Lemaire.
“He is moving quite nicely,” Hagiwara said after Epicharis galloped at Meydan Tuesday. “After a brief maintenance gallop we schooled him in the paddock.”
Trainer Aidan O'Brien has entered a pair of Triple Crown-nominated colts owned by the Coolmore partners, though neither has yet tested his skills over the dirt course. Lancaster Bomber (War Front) has finished second in both the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket (behind Churchill) and in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita, and draws the skills of pilot Ryan Moore from post three.
Spirit of Valor is another son of War Front, though he is out of a daughter of Grindstone, so it is possible he will take to the dirt course better than his stablemate. Most recently Spirit of Valor was most recently second in a Group 3 in Europe back in October, but has added blinkers and picks up the skills of Seamie Heffernan for his 2017 debut.
A pair of Southern Hemisphere colts are ineligible for the Derby points in this race, as they are considered 4-year-olds in the US, but their addition brings an interesting spin to the field. Brazilian Group 1 winner Vettori Kin is now under the care of US trainer Kenny McPeek, and though his major success came on the turf, the son of Vettori did win a Group 3 on the dirt in his only start on the surface. He will be ridden from post eight by Joel Rosario. The other colt is He Runs Away, a Group 1 winner on dirt in Argentina now trained by Uruguayan Ricardo Colombo.
Here is the full field for the UAE Derby:
- Qatar Man (Marco Botti)
- Master Plan (Todd Pletcher)
- Lancaster Bomber (Aidan O'Brien)
- Midnight Chica (D Selvaratnam)
- Top Score (Saeed bin Suroor)
- Fawree (Mike de Kock)
- Bee Jersey (Doug Watson)
- Vettori Kin (Ken McPeek)
- Fly At Dawn (Charles Appleby)
- Epicharis (K Hagiwara)
- He Runs Away (Ricardo Colombo)
- Spirit of Valor (Aiden O'Brien)
- Thunder Snow (Saeed bin Suroor)
- Nomorerichblondes (A bin Harmash)
- Cosmo Charlie (Doug Watson)
- Adirato (N Sugai)
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