Why I'm Betting Walking Thunder in the UAE Derby

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 27th, 2019

The international roads to the Kentucky Derby will heat up significantly this weekend, with the $2 million UAE Derby (UAE-II) at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai being the main highlight.

A major Road to the Kentucky Derby steppingstone offering 100 qualification points to the winner, the UAE Derby has never produced a Kentucky Derby champion, but it has produced plenty of Derby starters through the years and figures to produce one or two more in 2019.

After all, six of the 14 entrants have been nominated to the Triple Crown, and that includes #1 Walking Thunder, the horse that interests me most. A Florida-bred son of Violence, Walking Thunder was the toast of Dubai two months ago after kicking off his career with three straight victories by a minimum margin of 4 ½ lengths. The most impressive among these was a powerful romp in the UAE 2,000 Guineas Trial, in which he tracked the pace and pulled away to win by nine lengths with a solid 106 Racing Post Rating.
The Walking Thunder bubble seemed to burst when he finished a distant second in the UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III) on February 7, but it might be wise to forgive that defeat. In a race that saw several runners vigorously urged to vie for the lead, Walking Thunder got squeezed between horses and wound up racing off the pace, where he showed a disdain for the dirt kickback and had to be steered to the far outside. Considering these obstacle, I thought he did well to re-rally and finish second, especially when you consider that Meydan tends to place outside closers at a disadvantage compared to rail-running speed horses. Notably, the winner of the UAE 2,000 Guineas set the pace on the rail, a much better trip than the one endured by Walking Thunder.
Now Walking Thunder has landed the rail draw for the UAE Derby, and he’ll be ridden for the first time by top jockey Frankie Dettori. If Walking Thunder breaks alertly, he should have every opportunity to secure the lead and hold his position on the rail, an advantage that could prove insurmountable.

#6 Divine Image, a filly owned by Godolphin Racing, will likely be favored after crushing males by 7 ¼ lengths in the Al Bastakiya Stakes over this track and distance three weeks ago. The daughter of Scat Daddy has improved with leaps and bounds this year, but doesn’t have as much tactical speed as Walking Thunder, a potential disadvantage over this track. Actually, #2 Jahbath could be poised to sit a better trip while breaking from post two; the pace-tracking colt has won four straight races over synthetic courses in Great Britain and figures to stalk Walking Thunder through the early stages of the UAE Derby.

I’ll include these two plus the Japanese shipper #5 Derma Louvre with Walking Thunder in the exacta, but I’ll play against the three U.S. hopefuls #4 Plus Que Parfai, #8 Gray Magician, and #12 Stubbins, since American shippers have a poor record in this race.

$12 to win on #1 Walking Thunder $3 exacta: 1 with 2,5,6 ($9) $3 exacta: 2,5,6 with 1 ($9)

Good luck!