Last year, the UAE Derby Sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) gave Japan's Lani a ticket to the American Triple Crown races, where his best showing was third in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1).
This year, the race features a Japanese runner already qualified for a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) in the form of Epicharis. Another, Adirato, could earn a spot in the Run for the Roses with a victory Saturday at Meydan Racecourse.
Epicharis was guaranteed a spot at Churchill Downs by winning the Feb. 19 Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse—where he became the top points earner on the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby."
The winner of the UAE Derby gets 100 points in the main "Road to the Kentucky Derby," enough to ensure a spot in the starting gate May 6. Second through fourth receive 40-20-10.
Epicharis, a son of Gold Allure and grandson of Sunday Silence, breezed over the Meydan dirt the morning of March 22 and trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara said the colt is "right where we want him." Jockey Christophe Lemaire will have the mount Saturday.
After his victory in the Hyacinth, a spokesman for the owning partnership said no decision about the Kentucky Derby would be made until after the Dubai race.
Adirato, a Rulership colt, won his first two starts in Japan before finishing second in the Hyacinth, three-quarters of a length in arrears of Epicharis.
Fourteen other 3-year-olds, including an American pair, also seek the $1.2 million winners' share of the $2 million purse plus the 100 Kentucky Derby points.
Todd Pletcher sends Master Plan, a Twirling Candy colt who won the OBS Championship Colts and Geldings at Ocala Training Center in his last start in January after finishing second behind Tapwrit in the Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
And Kenny McPeek has Vettori Kin (BRZ), a Brazilian-bred colt by Vettori who was 2-for-3 last fall in his homeland. McPeek has an interest in the group that purchased the colt late last year.
"We're excited about him," McPeek said after March 22 trackwork. "He's a really top horse and trains like a good thing. Being a Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old against Northern Hemisphere 3-year-olds is a good setup for him, too."
Among the others, Godolphin Racing, the "home team" at Meydan, has Thunder Snow, an Irish-bred colt by Helmet who raced with distinction in England last fall, then easily won the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) in his only previous start as a 3-year-old for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Cosmo Charlie, from the powerful Doug Watson stable, won the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday at Meydan and Watson rated him "a good chance" in the Derby.
Lancaster Bomber, a War Front colt trained by Aidan O'Brien, makes his first start since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (GIT) at Santa Anita Park. Fawree, a Candy Ride colt trained by South African Mike de Kock, unseated his rider at the start of his final prep for this race, but was impressive in January winning in his second start.
Nomorerichblondes, a Hard Spun filly, won the UAE Oaks in her last start.
UAE Derby Sponsored By The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2), March 25, 2017, Meydan, Race 4
About 9.5f, Dirt, 3yo (NH and SH), $2,000,000
PP, Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1 Qatar Man, C. O’Donoghue, M. Botti
2 Master Plan, J. Velazquez, T. Pletcher
3 Lancaster Bomber, R. Moore, A. O’Brien
4 Midnight Chica, C. Hayes, D. Selvaratnam
5 Top Score, A. De Vries, S. bin Suroor
6 Fawree, B. Fayd’Herbe, M. de Kock
7 Bee Jersey, S. Hitchcott, D. Watson
8 Vettori Kin, J. Rosario, K. McPeek
9 Fly At Dawn, W. Buick, C. Appleby
10 Epicharis, C. Lemaire, K. Hagiwara
11 He Runs Away, S. De Sousa, R. Colombo
12 Spirit of Valor, S. Heffernan, A. O’Brien
13 Thunder Snow, C. Soumillon, S. bin Suroor
14 Nomorerichblondes, A. Fresu, A. bin Harmash
15 Cosmo Charlie, P. Dobbs, D. Watson
16 Adirato, Y. Take, N. Sugai