Friday, June 14, 2024

Kentucky Derby prep: 1 of 2 Europe candidates could be coming

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In many years, international participation in the Kentucky Derby is slim to none, limited to the occasional starter or two from the UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai. And many of those UAE Derby starters have come to the Derby with previous North America racing experience to their credit.

But the Kentucky Derby is gradually growing more global. The picture has changed with the introduction of the Japan and Europe roads to the Kentucky Derby, two separate qualifying series awarding one Derby berth apiece.

Kentucky Derby 2023 is shaping up to have its strongest international presence in years, perhaps ever. Japan’s Derma Sotogake qualified via victory in the UAE Derby. Continuar, who finished third in the UAE Derby, previously won the Cattleya Sho on the Japan road, and connections accepted an invitation to compete at Churchill Downs.

Now the Europe road is poised to qualify its first Kentucky Derby starter. The final leg of the seven-race series is Saturday’s Cardinal Conditions Stakes over the synthetic track at Chelmsford City, which awards qualifying points on a 30-12-9-6-3 basis to the top five finishers. Eleven are entered, including a pair of Triple Crown nominees with possible Kentucky Derby aspirations.

First and foremost is Brave Emperor, a late Triple Crown nominee after winning the Road to the Kentucky Derby Condition Stakes over the Kempton synthetic track last month. That Europe-road qualifier awarded 20 qualification points to first place, ranking Brave Emperor second on the leaderboard behind Patton winner Cairo. The latter subsequently finished 10th in the UAE Derby on dirt and seems unlikely to pursue a Kentucky Derby start.

That leaves Brave Emperor with a strong chance to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, which his connections have indicated is the goal. The son of speedy Phoenix (G1) winner Sioux Nation has developed into a winning machine since finishing sixth on debut nearly one year ago, winning five of his next six starts. He showed an affinity for Chelmsford City when nabbing a minor, six-furlong sprint over this track last May, and the tenacity Brave Emperor displayed to win the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes by a head over Alzahir was impressive.

Alzahir is back for a rematch in the Cardinal Conditions, and so, too, are Tenjin, Killybegs Warrior and Coco Jack, who finished third through fifth at Kempton. But the biggest threat to Brave Emperor might be fellow Triple Crown nominee Stormy Entry.

Stormy Entry is a homebred racing for Charles Fipke, who finished second in the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Golden Soul. Twice a winner over the Dundalk synthetic track, Stormy Entry made his Europe-road debut in the Patton, finishing third by 3 1/4 lengths against Cairo.

Prior to the Patton, Fipke indicated to Bob Kieckhefer of BloodHorse that the Kentucky Derby could be a goal for Stormy Entry. Earning six qualification points in the Patton puts Stormy Entry in an interesting position. If he defeats Brave Emperor in the Cardinal Conditions, he’ll vault to the top of the Europe leaderboard with 36 points, four more than the 32 points Brave Emperor would accumulate with a runner-up finish.

Of course, there’s always a chance a horse who isn’t nominated to the Triple Crown could upset the apple cart entirely.

Bold Act, a Godolphin homebred conditioned by the always dangerous Charlie Appleby, won three in a row to wrap up his juvenile campaign and successfully handled a synthetic track in a one-mile event at Kempton last summer.

Two-time Chelmsford winner Iconic Moment is undefeated in three starts overall, including a narrow triumph over New Definition in the one-mile Spring Cup at Lingfield earlier this month.

Physique was a sharp winner sprinting seven furlongs over the Newmarket turf course last fall.

Think Climate boasts a 2-for-3 record highlighted by a 3 3/4-length victory at Chelmsford.

But Kentucky Derby fans will have their eyes focused firmly on Brave Emperor and Stormy Entry. When the dust settles Saturday, there may be a third international contender in the mix for Kentucky Derby 2023.

Post time for the Cardinal Conditions Stakes is 2 p.m. EDT. It is fourth race on a seven-race card.

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