Epicharis ready to bloom in Hyacinth
As tempting as it may be to oppose the favorite in a 15-horse field, Epicharis looks too tough in tonight’s Hyacinth S. at Tokyo (12:25 a.m. EST), the second and final points race on the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.” For that reason, if you’ve not yet qualified for Round 2 of the $25,000 Kentucky Derby Dream Bet, it might be worth banking on Epicharis to get you through Round 1.
(Qualify by cashing a $5 Win bet on one of the remaining contest races in Round 1. Click “Opt In” from the Kentucky Derby Dream Bet banner on the TwinSpires.com contest & promotions page for eligibility and additional information.)
Epicharis (#2, 2-1) has won his three starts by about 25 lengths, combined. I say “about” because his last romp on November 1 was officially labeled a “distance,” and chalked up as 12 lengths. Watch how effortlessly he’s moving up front as the rest of the field is all off the bridle midway on the far turn:
To put that race in perspective, the Hokkaido Nisai Yushun was just a Grade 3 on the local NAR circuit (and thus a listed stakes for international cataloging purposes). But two starts back in an allowance, Epicharis routed them over this metric mile at Tokyo, leaving Lavapies seven lengths back in second. Lavapies came back to finish a creditable fourth in the first Derby points race, the November 26 Cattleya Sho, beaten about 4 1/2 lengths by Mont Saint Lagame. On a literal formline, Epicharis has both Mont Saint Legame and Cattleya Sho runner-up Caucus covered.
That’s one reason I’m taking a stand against Mont Saint Legame for the win. Despite its status as a Derby points race, the Cattleya Sho is still an allowance. Mont Saint Legame is certainly eligible to keep progressing, but both of his wins have come in mud or slop, and he’s facing two or three hotter prospects here. A minor award is likelier in my view.
Epicharis also dusted Shigeru Kong (fifth) in his Tokyo allowance. Shigeru Kong has since won a Tokyo allowance himself and finished second in a local Grade 1, the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, to high-flying filly Rieno Tesoro. Both of those efforts came on off tracks. While Shigeru Kong may be better in the mud or slop, or possibly improved since meeting Epicharis, his last two efforts can be taken as flattery.
Reading form tea leaves aside, Epicharis has serious international ambitions. Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara is already thinking Belmont S. (G1), with the March 25 UAE Derby (G2) on the way. He could be the next big thing for the Sunday Silence stallion Gold Allure, who’s sired such top dirt performers as Espoir City, Copano Rickey, Smart Falcon, and Chrysolite.
Other up-and-comers to note are Foggy Night and Adirato (both US Triple Crown nominees, like Epicharis, Mont Saint Legame, and Caucus).
Foggy Night (#1, 8-1) could be any kind after a good-looking debut for Noriyuki Hori, at this track and trip no less. With his American pedigree (by Tapit and out of multiple Grade 1 winner Champagne d’Oro), and particularly with Ryan Moore aboard, the gray is likely to get bet down from his 8-1 morning line. Yet his maiden race hasn’t really worked out, and I’m slightly concerned about his drawing the rail, against this group, in just his second career start.
Adirato (#7, 4-1), who has the benefit of more experience, is eligible to run a third straight stormer on the dirt. When trouncing a horse from Foggy Night’s maiden by a “distance,” he sped about seven furlongs in the Hanshin slop in juvenile record time. Adirato backed that up with a three-length decision on a “good” track at Chukyo. If he takes to a fast strip as swimmingly, the Naosuke Sugai pupil should be bang in the mix with Yutaka Take.
You might suppose that the five US Triple Crown nominees (who are all also possible for the UAE Derby) would have the finish to themselves, but Liverdy (#3, 8-1) is worth a look as a dark horse. Undefeated in two starts, both over track and trip, he’s by outstanding dirt horse Smart Falcon and out of a French Deputy mare.