Kentucky Derby Contender Epicharis may find Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby

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TwinSpires Staff

February 20th, 2017

Epicharis wins the Hyacinth Stakes (Japan Racing Association Photo)

by Alastair Bull

Unbeaten Japanese colt Epicharis may not have earned his place in the Kentucky Derby field as easily as some thought he might, but he showed enough to suggest he’s worth a thought from punters if he makes his way to Churchill Downs.

The Gold Allure colt won the Hyacinth Stakes Feb. 19, the second of the inaugural two-race Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby series, earning 50 points. With the winner of the Cattleya Sho, Mont Saint Legame, finishing outside the Hyacinth top three and thus failing to add to his 40 points, Epicharis thus earned the sole available Derby spot.

REILLY: Epicharis earns Kentucky Derby invitation

But despite being a very short favorite after winning his three 2-year-old starts by a combined 25 lengths, it wasn’t easy for Epicharis. He trailed the leader Adirato, the second favorite after winning his two starts following his move from turf to dirt. Adirato kicked well in the stretch and there wasn’t much room for Epicharis on the rail, but he found enough and extended his stride well for jockey Christophe Lemaire to score a threequarter-length victory.

At this stage it’s difficult to know how Epicharis compares to his American 3-year-old counterparts. Dirt racing is definitely ranked lower than turf racing in Japan, but as Lani showed with his competitive runs in the 2016 U.S. Triple Crown series, they shouldn’t be ignored.

One thing U. Carrot Farm’s Epicharis should have going for him is stamina, judging by his pedigree.

He is by Gold Allure, a son of Sunday Silence, the Kentucky Derby winner who was a breed-shaping sire in Japan. Sunday Silence is best known for his turf runners, and Gold Allure’s distaff line includes mares by Nureyev, Vaguely Noble, and Never Bend.

But Gold Allure proved best as a racehorse when switched to dirt in Japan, and he has been an outstanding sire of dirt horses in his home country, with his progeny winning four of the last eight editions of the February Stakes, one of Japan’s grade I dirt races. They include this year’s edition, won by Gold Dream the same day that Epicharis won the Hyacinth. Gold Allure died two days before his sons scored their Tokyo double.

Epicharis’s distaff line also has a turf look to it – his dam Stapes Mitsuko is by the 1994 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Carnegie. Stapes Mitsuko has also produced the Japanese turf grade III winner Meisho Naruto (by Heart’s Cry), and his third dam Miyuki Kamada (by Diatome) is the dam of Japan’s champion older mare Louisiana Pit.

Reports suggest Epicharis and Adirato may follow Lani’s path and head next to the UAE Derby (G2), a race in which points are available for the main Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. Adirato will in all likelihood need to finish in the top two in Dubai to earn a Derby start.

The UAE Derby could be a useful guide to the Japanese Derby contenders’s prospects as the field could also include Godolphin’s Thunder Snow (by Helmet), a European group I winner who easily won the UAE 2000 Guineas Feb. 11. Thunder Snow is not a Triple Crown nominee, but a convincing UAE Derby victory could make Godolphin reconsider.