Short Head Separates Two at Finish
By Dick Downey
The Kentucky Derby got a new look on Saturday as Thunder Snow overcame a wide post to win the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.
It was one of the more memorable runnings of the $2 million race. Epicharis narrowly led Thunder Snow through a scintillating stretch run, with the winner getting up in the final jump to win by a short head.
It was the eighth win of the UAE Derby, and first since 2011, for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who handles many of the runners for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Godolphin Racing. Meanwhile Christophe Soumillon won the UAE Derby for the third time -- the most by any jockey.
Epicharis broke from post 10, ran 150 meters to the first turn, and led Adirato and Qatar Man into the bend. Heading up the backstretch, those same three were on top. Thunder Snow, who wasn't as quick as the pacesetter breaking from post 13, and Fawree vied for fourth. The first half-mile was timed in 48 2/5.
Up the backstretch, Epicharis and Adirato still controlled the pace, and Thunder Snow was fully engaged in third, with Qatar Man still going along in fourth. As the field rounded the far turn, Adirato began to fade, and Thunder Snow threw down the gauntlet to a stubborn Epicharis. Qatar Man was still third but about to be surpassed.
As the field hit the furlong marker, it was a two-horse race with Thunder Snow to the outside of Epicharis. The outcome was in doubt until the last jump, when Soumillon got Thunder Snow up by a short head. Master Plan, who was eighth and wide leaving the turn, got by five horses in the stretch to finish third, beaten 1 1/4 length. Lancaster Bomber, who was fifth out of the turn, got by Qatar Man for fourth. Fly at Dawn was fifth and Qatar Man sixth.
They were followed by Fawree, Spirit of Valor, He Runs Away, Vettori Kin, Top Score, Adirato, Cosmo Charlie, Nomorerichblondes, Bee Jersey and Midnight Chica.
The final time for the 1,900 meter UAE Derby, which is about 1 3/16 mile by U.S. standards, was 1:57.76. The track record for the distance is 1:56:51.
The track looked wet-fast at worst but was rated muddy by Emirates Racing.
Of the 16 who ran, seven were nominated to the Triple Crown, including the top four finishers. Thunder Snow was a late nomination, his name having been added by the March 20 deadline.
The UAE Derby was the first 2017 race to have a total of 170 Kentucky Derby points, and Thunder Snow was awarded 100, with Epicharis getting 40, Master Plan 20 and Lancaster Bomber 10.
Epicharis, who shipped in from Japan, had already secured a spot in the Kentucky Derby by securing the most points on the Japan Road to the Derby, a two-race series. He did it by winning the Hyacinth Stakes earlier this year. Master Plan shipped in from Florida, and Lancaster Bomber is based in Ireland.
All signs are that Thunder Snow will be heading to Louisville. He would bring an impressive resume with him that includes a stakes win and placings on turf and now two stakes wins on dirt. His first dirt race was on Feb. 17, when he took the one-mile Group 2 UAE 2000 Guineas at Meydan.
The race turned out formfully. On Twinspires.com, Thunder Snow was the 5-2 favorite, Epicharis was the 4-1 second choice, and Master Plan and Lancaster Bomber were each 6-1 third choices.
By the Australian sire Helmet, Thunder Snow is by Eastern Joy (GB), out of Dubai Destination. He was bred in Ireland by Darley, Godolphin's sister operation.
In terms of trips,Trakus has Epicharis getting the better of the top two finishers.
Results chart -- scroll down to race 4
Christophe Soumillon (jockey, Thunder Snow (IRE), 1st) – “He got scared twice of the screen. I could feel when we came into the last turn, he put his nose completely on the left. He did not turn left. And when I came into the straight, he was just waiting for that screen. So I was trying to get him to concentrate. And fortunately when I arrived at the 150m marker, he just saw the marks from the gates on the ground. He got scared, he changed legs and he stopped.
“He hangs and I tried to keep him to concentrate. I knew it wasn't finished. I thought ‘you are doing it to me again’, he was really giving it hard to me. I thought you never know, he might come back again. And he did. Today he showed me he was still a bit immature."
John Ferguson, (Godolphin chief executive): "It was a very good performance and a really international race. You have a winner from Dubai and a horse from Japan and an American horse. It just shows how international the whole thing is. “From Thunder Snow's point of view, he did it in a good time, he showed he is very brave and it was a great performance. And His Highness has just mentioned that the Kentucky Derby is a possibility. It could be a great idea."
Christophe Lemaire (jockey, Epicharis (JPN) 2nd) – “He was very brave. It was the first time he had been on this dirt but he answered very well and showed a lot of ability. It was a very close race but the winner was very strong and must have held some advantage at a home ground. He was very relaxed during the trip and showed his best run. It was defeat today but you would have to be happy.”
John Velazquez (jockey, Master Plan (USA) 3rd) - “He didn’t have the easiest run. He stayed on really well. He’s a very nice horse.”
Ryan Moore (jockey, Lancaster Bomber (USA) 4th) - “He ran a very nice race for his first run of the year.”
William Buick (jockey Fly At Dawn (USA) 5th) – “He ran well to come home fifth. I took him out of the early speed duel and I think it paid off; he finished well to finish fifth against what I thought was a pretty strong field.”
Colm O'Donoghue (jockey, Qatar Man (IRE) 6th) - "He broke smart from the gates and ran solid throughout. It was a high class contest and a solid effort."
Bernard Fayd'herbe (jockey, Fawree (USA) 7th) – “He ran OK, we had some interference, but he’s still a bit green.”
Seamie Heffernan (jockey, Spirit Of Valor (USA) 8th) - “He was staying on a bit but eventually we just got tired for a few strides. He was drawn wide and he ran his race”
Silvestre De Sousa (jockey, He Runs Away (ARG) 9th) – “He needed the race, I just wish we’d got a run into him.”
Joel Rosario (jockey, Vettori Kin (BRZ) 10th) - "He broke fine and was going good and was in a good position. It looked to me like he maybe just got a little tired at the end. He was moving well but then he just had trouble moving forward when the running started."
Adrie de Vries (jockey, Top Score (GB) 11th) - “He refused to jump so it was always going to be difficult.”
Yutaka Take, (jockey, Adirato (JPN 12th) – “He ran well. The distance was probably a bit far and he ran respectably given his post position and the fact that he might not have been able to handle the wetness of the surface.”
Pat Dobbs (jockey, Cosmo Charlie (USA) 13th) - "He didn't turn really well on the first bend and he didn't enjoy the kickback. The track is OK, but the kickback is pretty bad."
Antonio Fresu (jockey, Nomorerichblondes (USA) 14th) - “It was just no good today. She missed the break a bit and she never really picked up.”
Sam Hitchcott (jockey, Bee Jersey (USA) 15th) – "It went nicely until he had to run his race, but that's racing. I was settled beautifully behind Thunder Snow but we got a bump and that was race over.”
Chris Hayes, (jockey, Midnight Chica (USA) 16th) – “I got in a terrible position early and just couldn’t hold it. She lacked a bit of experience.”