Sumahama scored his third straight win in the Hyacinth Stakes Feb. 18 at Tokyo Racecourse and earned first dibs on Japan's spot in the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
The Hyacinth was the third and last leg of the Japan Road to the Derby, which was established by Churchill Downs to encourage foreign competition in the Run for the Roses. Sumahama earned 30 points, topping this year's points total.
He is not nominated to the U.S. Triple Crown, however. Should his connections decline the Derby invitation, the spot would be offered to Ruggero, a Triple Crown nominee who won the second leg of the series, the Cattleya Sho, and finished third in the Hyacinth for a total of 16 points.
Sumahama, the favorite in the Hyacinth, stalked the pace through the early stages of the 1,600-meter (about one mile) test. When jockey Yusuke Fujioka asked him to run, he was rewarded with a burst of speed that surprised even the rider, and he raced on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Taiki Ferveur. Ruggero was 1 1/2 lengths back in third. The final time was 1:38.50.
"Until his previous start, he had a habit of weaving during the race, but today he ran smoothly, and that was more than I expected," Fujioka said. "About the race distance for him, there was no problem running in (a) mile race. I think that he would have no problem running in 1,800 meters and upward races."
Trainer Ryo Takahashi added, "In his last two races, he led the races, but today he kept in the second position during the race and he could manage the race well."
Takahashi was circumspect about any plans for international travel for the chestnut colt.
"We will check his condition and decide his next race," the trainer said. "But until now he could perform the tasks step by step, so we hope he will go on to bigger and better things."
Sumahama is by Neo Universe, a son of Sunday Silence. He is out of the Afleet mare Sound the Beach. He finished fourth in his initial start at Kyoto Nov. 11, then easily won his next two outings. All three were on dirt.
Several of the runners in the Hyacinth, including Ruggero, are nominated to the UAE Derby (G2) at Meydan March 31. That race offers the winner 100 points in the main Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Last year Epicharis won the Japanese series, then finished second to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby. Epicharis did not contest the Kentucky Derby, but entered the Belmont Stakes (G1) and was a vet scratch on the day of the race.