Ky. Derby prep: 5 Triple Crown nominees clash in Japan

Ky. Derby prep: 5 Triple Crown nominees clash in Japan
Photo: Kaz Ishida/Eclipse Sportswire

The Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby wraps up on Saturday with the running of the Fukuryu over 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) at Nakayama.

As the final leg of the four-race series, the Fukuryu awards Kentucky Derby qualification points on a 40-16-12-8-4 basis to the top five finishers. Given the current configuration of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, the Fukuryu winner will vault to the top of the leaderboard (provided the winner is a Triple Crown nominee) and receive an invitation to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

A large field of 14 horses has entered the Fukuryu, which is slated as the 10th race on the card with a post time of 2:10 a.m. EDT. Five of the entrants are Triple Crown nominees, so don’t be surprised if the Fukuryu winds up producing a Kentucky Derby starter.

With that possibility in mind, let’s introduce ourselves to the five Triple Crown nominees in the race:

Curren Alcantara

Since finishing fourth in his debut over 1,600 meters (about one mile) at Tokyo Racecourse, Curren Alcantara has been unstoppable. In a 1,800-meter maiden race at Hanshin, Curren Alcantara tracked the pace from fourth place before finishing up strongly (final 600 meters in 37.6 seconds) to win by one length. Then in a 1,800-meter allowance at Chukyo, he again tracked the pace before finishing even faster (final three furlongs in 36.7 seconds) to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths.

Finishing in 36.7 seconds over one of the slow dirt tracks in Japan is encouraging. Curren Alcantara is a son of Japanese dirt star Espoir City, who started in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Curren Alcantara might be good enough to win the Fukuryu and emulate his sire with a trip to the United States.

Lux Frontier

Trainer Mikio Matsunaga achieved abundant success with Lucky Lilac, a four-time Group 1 winner who also placed in the Yushun Himba (G1, Japanese Oaks), Oka Sho (G1, Japanese 1000 Guineas) and Hong Kong Vase (G1). Now Matsunaga has a chance to qualify the up-and-coming Lux Frontier to the Kentucky Derby.

Lux Frontier finished fifth in his debut on turf, but improved when tackling dirt in a 1,800-meter maiden race at Chukyo, tracking the pace before holding off a late runner to prevail by half a length. Lux Frontier then stepped up in class for an allowance over the same track and distance, where he led for most of the way before weakening to finish second by a neck.

In both of Lux Frontier’s dirt races, he ran the final 600 meters in 37.5 seconds. He may need a slightly stronger finish to win the Fukuryu, but his tactical speed should ensure he receives a clean trip. Don’t count him out of the mix.

Mokku Mokku

Two starts sprinting 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs) at Hanshin have resulted in two comfortable victories for Mokku Mokku. First he employed pace-pressing tactics to smash a race for first-time starters by nine lengths. Then he took on allowance rivals and rallied from sixth place in a 16-horse field to score by 1 1/2 lengths.

Stretching out over 1,800 meters is a question mark for Mokku Mokku, but he clearly has talent and can’t be underestimated. Trainer Ryo Terashima has conditioned group stakes winners on dirt, on turf, and over hurdles, so who knows? Perhaps a Kentucky Derby starter will be the next milestone on Terashima’s list of accomplishments.

Till Dawn

A son of Metropolitan Handicap (G1) winner Mor Spirit out of a mare by Santa Anita Derby (G1) hero Indian Charlie, Till Dawn is bred for success in U.S. dirt racing and is conditioned by Hideyuki Mori, who saddled Ski Captain to finished 14th in the 1995 Kentucky Derby. More recently, Mori has sent out Full Flat and Pink Kamehameha to win back-to-back editions of the Saudi Derby (G3), and he’s saddled seven Breeders’ Cup starters since 2019.

All this is a way of saying that Till Dawn seems likely to pursue the Kentucky Derby if he prevails in the Fukuryu. Winning the qualifier won’t be easy since Till Dawn’s lone victory came against easier competition on Japan’s National Association of Racing (NAR) circuit, and he exits a third-place finish behind Fukuryu rival Oro y Plata in a 1,800-meter allowance at Hanshin. But perhaps Mori has Till Dawn ready to step up against tougher competition.

Vendaval y Rabiar

It’s hard to knock anything Vendaval y Rabiar has done so far. He won his debut racing 1,800 meters at Chukyo, dashing the final 600 meters in 37.1 seconds to rally and score by 1 1/4 lengths. Then he put up a good fight against Curren Alcantara in the above-mentioned 1,800-meter allowance at Chukyo, finishing up in 36.8 seconds to secure second place.

Vendaval y Rabiar bounced back from that defeat to nab a 1,800-meter allowance at Hanshin three weeks ago, rallying strongly from ninth place to post a 1 1/4-length triumph. Vendaval y Rabiar ran the final 600 meters in 37.3 seconds (the fastest split in the race by half a second), so look for this son of Asahi Hai Futurity (G1) winner Asia Express to be closing ground strongly down the Nakayama homestretch.

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