Ruggero and his connections after winning the Cattleya Sho at Tokyo Racecourse

Ruggero and his connections after winning the Cattleya Sho at Tokyo Racecourse

Katsumi Saito

Kentucky Derby Slot on Line in Tokyo's Hyacinth Stakes

Ruggero has the inside track to get guaranteed entry to the Run for the Roses.

The Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse Feb. 18 is the third and final leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, and Ruggero has the inside track to get the guaranteed slot for the Run for the Roses.

Ruggero, a grandson of Sunday Silence bred by Shadai Farm, is nominated to both the UAE Derby Sponsored By The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) and the U.S. Triple Crown races. His connections have expressed interest in overseas travel.

"I would like to consider traveling (with) the horse to the USA, positively," Shikato said after the Cattleya Sho, before adding he needs to see more to justify the trip. "To be selected as winner of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, Ruggero has to win the last leg of the races, the Hyacinth Stakes. Otherwise, he is not competitive enough in the series."

The Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby series is comprised of three races. The first two legs each offer qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) on a scale of 10-4-2-1 for the first four finishers. Ruggero, by Kinshasa no Kiseki, won the first of those, the non-black-type Cattleya Sho, in November. Trainer Yuichchiro Shikato then elected to skip the second leg, the black-type Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushen, won by Le Vent Se Leve.

The Hyacinth point scale is 30-12-6-3. With Le Vent Se Leve not in the field, another win would clinch the series for Ruggero.

In 2016, Epicharis secured an invitation to Louisville by winning the Hyacinth. The Gold Allure colt went from that race to finish a short head behind Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby, but did not contest any of the U.S. Triple Crown races. Epicharis was entered in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1), but was scratched the day of the race because of lameness.

Oddly, had Epicharis won the UAE Derby, he would have been doubly qualified for the Run for the Roses. The Dubai fixture awards the winner 100 points as part of the main Road to the Kentucky Derby series, which is separate from the Japanese competition.

The Hyacinth field may prove a higher bar than the Cattleya Sho, with several "new shooters" boasting recent success.

Work and Love, by 2006 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner and Kentucky Derby starter Sinister Minister, won twice on dirt before finishing 16th in the Dec. 28 Hopeful Stakes (G1) at Nakayama, where he tried turf for the first time. Dark Repulser, by 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun , won his first two starts and was fourth behind Le Vent Se Leve in the Dec. 13 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki.

Ask Hard Spun, another by Hard Spun, has won his last two starts, as have Danke Schon, by Henny Hughes Sumahama, by Neo Universe; and, Meisho Isana and Meisho Opus, both by Meisho Bowler.

Nishino Trans Am, a Kentucky-bred colt by 2013 Derby winner Orb , finished third last time out behind the winner Ask Hard Spun.