Absent its likely favorite, the prior 2020 Kentucky Derby prep winner Dieu du Vin, Tokyo Racecourse’s Hyacinth Stakes rolled on Sunday with Cafe Pharoah its new top betting choice — and the son of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah didn’t disappoint.
A 10-length winner on debut, the $475,000 OBS March purchase completely missed the break, yet rallied to top a field of 14 and put himself squarely in contention to run on the first Saturday in May.
Cafe Pharoah improved to 2-for-2 for trainer Noriyuki Hori, who enlisted Mirco Demuro to ride. Even though their colt was left at the gate in the one-mile event, run around one turn, a methodical drive back to the front keyed a victory of just more than a length.
Of one concern for handicappers moving forward: Up the back stretch, Cafe Pharoah had just one rival beat, Tagano Beauty. He followed Cafe Pharoah through to be second with Yaugau third and Longonot fourth. A winner of his first two races, the more experienced Tagano Beauty was the race's second choice who entered having made four starts in all, including two graded stakes tries.
Nonetheless, a victory in the Hyacinth, the third of four legs on Japan’s Derby trail, makes Cafe Pharoah the circuit’s points leader with 30. One race remains, with the March 28 Fukuryu at Nakayama Racecourse worth 40 qualifying points to the winner.
The Japan and European roads to the Derby are ranked on leaderboards separate from the domestic preps. At the end of the respective series, Churchill Downs will extend an invitation to the top points earner looking to find mutual interest in a trip to the United States.
Last year, Master Fencer appeared in but didn't win both the Hyacinth and Fukuryu, but it was his connections who accepted the Derby invitation. The deep closer ran on to place sixth on the first Saturday in May as the first Japanese-bred to run in the Derby.
Cafe Pharoah, meanwhile, is a Kentucky-bred out of the More Than Ready mare Mary’s Follies, who won multiple graded stakes for owner Paul Pompa Jr. during her career on track. Of course, Pompa also had a share of the 2008 Derby winner Big Brown.
A Dec. 14 Nakayama maiden victory under top jockey Ryan Moore established Cafe Pharoah as Sunday’s favorite. He paid $3.30 to win on the American tote.
Should Dieu du Vin and Cafe Pharoah both show up for the Fukuryu, a win for either would put them in position to receive the Derby invitation from Churchill Downs officials. Vacation won the Dec. 18 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, the first leg of Japan’s road to the Derby, but also didn’t appear in the Hyacinth.