Ruggero Kicks Off Japan's Road to the Kentucky Derby

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

November 30th, 2017

If you’re a fan of international participation in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (gr. I), then you’ll want to keep an eye on what transpires in Japan this winter.

One starting berth in the Derby will be offered to whichever horse earns the most qualification points in a series of three Derby prep races in Japan, and the first of these races—the 1,600-meter (about one mile) Cattleya Sho at Tokyo Racecourse—was held on November 25th.

The winner of the race was Ruggero, and while it’s too early to get overly excited about any horse on the Derby trail, Ruggero certainly made a nice impression. After getting away a step slowly from the starting gate, Ruggero moved up as the field transitioned from the turf course on to the dirt track, eventually settling in third while tracking a modest pace (approximately :23 4/5, :48 flat, and 1:13 and change per my estimates).

With Japan’s second-ranked jockey Keita Tosaki in the saddle, Ruggero waited patiently and didn’t bid for the lead until reaching the top of the lengthy 2 ½-furlong homestretch. It took Ruggero a little while to get going, but nearing the eighth pole he took off and appeared to be on his way to a decisive victory until the pace-setting Morito Yubu—racing directly inside of Ruggero—ducked toward the rail and fell, which appeared to cost Ruggero considerable momentum. However, the colt’s lead was large enough that he held on to win over the late-charging pair of Mic Ben Hur and Meiner Yukitsubaki.

Ruggero’s final time of 1:38.20 isn’t eye-catching, but it compares favorably with the time of 1:37.80 posted by 2016 Cattleya Sho winner Mont Saint Legame. But times aside, Ruggero’s tactical speed could be an asset should he wind up racing in North America, where speed is generally the key to success in dirt races.
Now the question is whether Ruggero will qualify to the Derby.
By winning the Cattleya Sho, Ruggero has earned 10 qualification points, but according to a Bloodhorse.com article by Bob Kieckhefer, Ruggero is scheduled to skip the December 13th Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, the second of Japan’s qualification races. Therefore, to automatically qualify to the Derby, Ruggero will have to win the February 18th Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo, which offers 30 points to the winner.

In any case, Japan’s Road to the Kentucky Derby is officially underway, and Ruggero has thrown his name in the ring as one to watch.