Kentucky Derby, Oaks Candidates Face Off in Japan's Hyacinth Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

February 16th, 2019

If you’re a forward-looking handicapper already anticipating major spring races like the UAE Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Kentucky Oaks, then I encourage you to stay up late on Saturday night and check out the Hyacinth Stakes in .

Held over a metric mile at Tokyo Racecourse, the Hyacinth (which technically takes place at 12:25 a.m. Eastern on Sunday Morning) serves as the third leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. There’s a good chance that it will live up to its billing his year and serve as a springboard to Churchill Downs for multiple horses.

Leading the charge is #3 Derma Louvre, a three-time winner who produced a big rally to finish second by a narrow margin in the one-mile Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun in December, which placed him on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with eight qualification points. With the Nisai Yushun winner Nova Lenda skipping the Hyacinth, Derma Louvre looms as the favorite to win, especially since he’ll be reunited with jockey Christophe Lemaire, who is 3-for-3 aboard the son of Pyro.
Assuming that Derma Louvre runs well, plans call for him to head to Dubai for the March 30 UAE Derby (UAE-II), where he would face international competition for the first time and further his quest to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. If all goes well, he could become only the third Japanese runner in history to contest the Kentucky Derby, following Ski Captain (who finished 14th in 1995) and Lani (who checked in ninth in 2016).

But Derma Louvre isn’t the only Hyacinth starter with an eye on Churchill Downs. The filly #4 Make Happy prevailed in the Cattleya Sho (the first leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby) and subsequently finished fourth in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, demonstrating that she can hold her own against some of the best young dirt runners in Japan. Her connections have mentioned the Kentucky Oaks as a possible goal, so while it could be tough for her to turn the tables on Derma Louvre today, a strong effort would surely keep the daughter of Square Eddie under consideration for a trip to Louisville.

However, #6 Oval Ace might throw a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans of Derma Louvre and Make Happy. The son of Henny Hughes was a tremendous nine-length winner on debut over this track and distance in November, pulling away through a fast final 600 meters in :36.10 to win by nine lengths. He followed up with an allowance win going 1,400 meters at Chukyo (defeating the next-out winner Keiai Turquoise) and looks like a major threat from off the pace.

#1 Master Fencer, who joins Derma Louvre as one of two Triple Crown nominees in the field, suffered a couple of early defeats on turf but is 2-for-2 going 1,800 meters on dirt. A son of Just a Way out of a Deputy Minister mare, Master Fencer will be cutting back in distance for the Hyacinth. Likewise, #9 Weitblick has won his first two starts going 1,800 meters on dirt by large margins, though his raw final times and finishing fractions haven’t been as fast as those posted by Master Fencer.

Primarily, my interest in the Hyacinth stems from its sporting aspects—I’m curious to see if Derma Louvre and Make Happy will perform well enough to continue along the road to Churchill Downs. But it’s also an intriguing betting race, so with that in mind, I plan to emphasize Derma Louvre and Oval Ace in the exacta and trifecta while including a few others underneath:

$5 exacta: 3,6 with 3,6 ($10) $1 exacta: 3,6 with 1,4 ($4) $1 trifecta: 3,6 with 3,6 with 1,2,4,9 ($8) $1 trifecta: 3,6 with 1,2,4,9 with 3,6 ($8)

Good luck!