Could We See A Japanese Contender In The Kentucky Derby 2023?

Could We See A Japanese Contender In The Kentucky Derby 2023?

There are few more prestigious international races on the calendar than the Kentucky Derby. The opening leg of the Triple Crown series takes place annually on the first Saturday in May, with the incredible Churchill Downs playing host to the event.

The race has been won by some legendary runners in the past, including American Pharoah, Secretariat, and Seattle Slew. However, it is also a race for dreamers, evident in 2022 when 81/1 shot Rich Strike gave Sonny Leon and Eric Read a first Grade 1 success.

But, could there be a serious Japanese contender that may head Stateside to throw it down against some of the best colts on the dirt?


The Road to the Kentucky Derby for horses based in Japan is similar to that of the United States. That series, which includes four races, started in late November with the Cattleya Sho at Tokyo Racecourse. Continuar was the winner of that opening series race on the dirt, as held off Mirror of Pride over 1600 meters.

That was the second victory in three career starts. His only defeat was suffered on a fast surface over 1800m in the Mochidoki Sho. That defeat certainly doesn’t boost his Derby credentials, as the track at Churchill Downs will likely ride on the fast side in May.

Derma Sotogake

The second Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race was staged at Kawasaki Racecourse in December, with the field competing over 1600 meters. It was a pleasing display by Derma Sotogake on that afternoon, as he held off Omatsuri Otoko to win by a head.

However, that race only competed over a mile, and there would be serious questions to answer over an extended distance given that he was sixth of 12 when 120/1 on debut over an extended distance.

Future Kentucky Derby Preps

The most interesting Kentucky Derby prep looks set to come at the end of February, as the G1 Hyacinth Stakes takes center stage. This race will offer 30 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner, and will likely feature a number of standout contenders. It will offer a first look at some contenders over an extended distance of one mile, and it has been a key race previously, with both Café Pharoah and Epicharis winning the race.

The final Kentucky Derby prep in Japan this year will be staged in March. It comes in the form of the G1 Fukuryu Stakes, and offers 40 qualifying points to the winning runner. This is potentially the most interesting race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, as it will be competed over a distance of 1 1/8 miles. However, last year’s winner, God Selection, opted against a run in the United States for trainer Teiichi Konno.

Last Year’s Japanese Hope

There was real optimism last year surrounding Japan’s bid to win the Kentucky Derby, as Crown Pride took a very different approach to the race at Churchill Downs. The Japanese hope landed the Mochinoki Stakes at Hanshin in November 2021, before finishing third in the Hyacinth Stakes in Tokyo. However, instead of waiting for the next Derby prep in Japan, connections instead headed for the lucrative G1 UAE Derby in Meydan.

It was a bold plan for the unproven Japanese runner, but one that ultimately ended in a famous success, becoming the first Japanese-trained winner of the race. It was an excellent finish by Crown Pride, as he kicked clear to finish two lengths ahead of Summer Is Tomorrow.

Crown Pride’s Derby Performance

Crown Pride became just the fourth Japanese-trained runner in the Derby last year, and the three-year-old was far from disgraced in the big race. He was among the quickest starters in the race, and run second for much of the race, chasing the leader. He certainly ran to his odds of 20/1, available with Japanese Horse Betting at However, he faded in the closing two furlongs and eventually dropped down the rankings.

Still, a 13th-placed finish was a respectable outing in a star-studded renewal of the race, and he finished ahead of some talented runners. That included Messier, who was a one-time favorite for the Derby, and White Abarrio, who many expected to run a big race. To put it into context, he also finished ahead of Cyberknife, who later claimed victory in the prestigious G1 Haskell Stakes.

Will Japan Win The Kentucky Derby?

Japanese racing is still on the rise, and that has been evident by landmark wins in recent years. However, the two big races that many crave remain the Kentucky Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It would be hard to see any Japanese contender making a strong challenge in 2023, as the top of the field looks to be very impressive American contenders. But, an Arc success later in the year would certainly be a main goal for 2023 for Japanese trainers.

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