Kentucky Derby Betting: Intrigue Surrounds Derma Sotogake
There are many bad wagers in horse racing.
One of the worst is any bet on a horse to win the Kentucky Derby who earned his way through the UAE Derby.
The UAE Derby is a 200-point, win-and-you’re-in Kentucky Derby prep race held on the last Saturday in March at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. The race attracts 3-year-old horses from around the world and offers a purse of $1 million.
Kentucky Derby bettors who wagered on any UAE Derby finisher during the past two decades have a zero return on investment. Since the UAE Derby was first run in 2000, 18 horses who made their most recent start in Dubai have run in the Kentucky Derby. None finished first, second or third.
Yet much of the talk this week ahead of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby centers on the 2023 UAE Derby winner, Derma Sotogake. Here’s why: His time for the 1 3/16-mile race was nearly four seconds faster than the 2022 winner. Horses from Japan finished 1-2-3-4 in this year’s UAE Derby. And Japan-based horses continue to burst onto the international scene, winning more prestigious races during the past two years than ever before.
For those reasons, Derma Sotogake is only 10-1 on the morning line (fourth choice in the wagering), low odds in a 20-horse field considering the wretched history of UAE Derby horses at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Japan Horse Racing On The Rise
Derma Sotogake is one of two Japan-based horses in this year’s Run for the Roses. The other is Continuar, who was third in the UAE Derby and won the ‘Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying series.
History is squarely against them. Four Japan-based horses have competed in the Kentucky Derby. None finished better than sixth. Last year, Crown Pride (the 2022 UAE Derby winner) was a brief early-pace factor before fading to 13th at 17-1.
Derma Sotogake will likely go off at half that price due to his dominating 5 1/2-length UAE victory and eye-opening time of 1:55.81. But an even bigger factor in his favor is how well Japanese horses have performed on the world stage in recent years.
The big breakthrough occurred in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup in Southern California at Del Mar. Loves Only You won the Filly & Mare Turf, the first Japan-based horse to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Later in the day, Japan’s Marche Loraine won the Distaff at nearly 50-1.
That was followed five weeks later by a pair of victories by Japanese horses in two of the most prestigious races in Hong Kong. Then, at last year’s Dubai World Cup card, Japanese-bred horses won five of the nine races, including the $12 million Dubai World Cup.
Horse racing has always been one of the most popular sports in Japan, and the country’s breeding stock continues to improve. The ability of its top trainers to prep their horses at a wide range of international venues on both dirt and turf is also paying off.
Adding more intrigue to Derma Sotogake’s Derby chances was the runner-up finish of Mandarin Hero in the Santa Anita Derby last month. Mandarin Hero, the first Japan-based horse to compete in the Santa Anita Derby, lost by only a nose to top Kentucky Derby contender Practical Move. Derma Sotogake raced against far better competition in Japan than Mandarin Hero, whose 40 Derby points left him just outside the 20-horse field.
UAE Derby Futility at the Kentucky Derby
While all of that bodes well for Derma Sotogake, it’s hard to understate just how ineffective the UAE Derby has proven to be as a Kentucky Derby prep, no matter what country the winning horse is based.
The highest finisher of the 18 Kentucky Derby horses who ran in Dubai was Master of Hounds, who finished fifth in 2011.
And it’s not just the losses, but how badly they’ve lost. The 2017 UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow broke last from the Kentucky Derby starting gate, nearly unseated his jockey and was pulled up out of the race not long after the start.
The following year, Menedelsson won the UAE Derby by an astonishing 18 1/2 lengths and set the Meydan track record by more than a second. Sent off at 6-1 at Churchill Downs, he finished last of 20, losing contact with the field and had to be eased to the wire, an inexplicable and embarrassing performance.
The barriers to Derby success for non-U.S-based horses are not insignificant. Shipping a horse halfway around the world is difficult, requiring periods of adjustment and quarantine. The composition of the Churchill Downs dirt surface is different from the dirt tracks in Japan, some of which run races clockwise and others counter-clockwise.
Both Derma Sotogake and Continuar arrived in Louisville several weeks ago, giving them time to acclimate. Derma Sotogake had a five-furlong workout at Churchill Downs on April 26 in which he outperformed workmate Continuar by a wide margin. Derma Sotogake also undergoes a series of long, daily gallops, a few of which appeared a bit awkward, according to Daily Racing Form workout reports.
Adaptable Running Style
Derma Sotogake is a chestnut colt from the sire Mind Your Biscuits, a former U.S.-based sprinter/miler who now stands in Japan. Derma Sotogake’s first two races were off-the-board finishes in grass races, but things changed when he was shifted to the dirt.
He was third in his first dirt start in September 2022, then reeled off three consecutive victories, all at different tracks in Japan. Derma Sotogake finished third in the Saudi Derby in February, then dominated the UAE Derby in gate-to-wire fashion, punching his ticket to Churchill Downs, where he will start from post 17 with top French rider Christophe Lemaire aboard.
Derma Sotogake has shown plenty of versatility in his races, winning from off the pace and on the lead. That’s a handy trait in a large and congested 20-horse Derby field.
Still, he will need more than versatility to overcome all the Kentucky Derby trends against him. He’s a bit of a wise-guy horse this year and has attracted a good-sized bandwagon, though history emphatically screams otherwise.
How past five UAE Derby winners fared in Kentucky Derby
How Japan-based horses fared in Kentucky Derby
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