UAE Derby: Forever Young Seeking Kentucky Derby Berth; Picks

He was in dire straits entering the straight, and at the eighth pole, his situation still looked bleak. Forever Young had three lengths to make up in the final furlong of the Saudi Derby (G3), and somehow, despite a perfect storm of trouble, he kept his record perfect.

The Japanese star’s late surge nailed Book‘em Danno by a head in what the Brits call “a desperate finish.” Forever Young overcame a bad start, a very wide trip and not changing leads in the stretch. At odds-on he triumphed over all odds Feb. 24 at King Abdulaziz Racetrack.

“I was worried, but we finished very strongly,” jockey Ryusei Sakai said. “He hasn’t fully matured but he is improving now. I think he’ll go on to win big races in a number of other countries.”

The mile Saudi Derby was Forever Young’s first start around one turn, and his time of 1:36.17 broke the track record by about two seconds. His trainer believes Saturday’s 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby (G2) will suit the 4-for-4 colt better.

UAE Derby: The longer the better

“Stretching out in distance is very welcome for him,” said Yoshito Yahagi, whom you may remember from the 2021 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar. His wins with Marche Lorraine (Distaff) and Loves Only You (Filly & Mare Turf) were firsts for Japan at the world championships.

Yahagi, 63, is the gold standard for Japanese horsemen, with a status comparable to Bob Baffert’s. He led Japan in purse earnings the past five years and in wins four times. He trained Contrail to the 2020 Japanese Triple Crown and took last year’s $20 million Saudi Cup with Panthalassa.


The trainer is quite the character, like Baffert

Like Baffert, Yahagi is a character. Baffert’s trademark is his platinum hair. Yahagi’s is his collection of broad-brimmed hats. “Over 300,” he said while sporting a purple fedora at the Saudi Derby. “Can’t count.”

Forever Young

He’s been called charismatic, an uncommon description for a people noted for restraint and humility. “When I started as a trainer, nobody knew me,” Yahagi said, “so I started wearing hats.” The man has style. He’s dazzled with western wear in the Far East, featuring a white cowboy hat and bleached white jeans in Hong Kong.

Japan a major racing force

Japan has become a major force in international racing and breeding, and it’s been chasing the Kentucky Derby (G1) in recent years, with Lani (ninth, 2016), Crown Pride (13th, 2022) and Derma Sotogake (sixth, 2023) disappointing.

Derma Sotogake ran creditably at Churchill Downs despite a brutal trip, then was second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). He’s highly regarded in Saturday’s Dubai World Cup (G1), and Forever Young has the potential to be as good or better. He has a terrific distance pedigree, being sired by a son of superstar Deep Impact, himself a son of 1989 U.S. Horse of the Year Sunday Silence. The Kentucky Derby’s 1¼ miles should be a good fit.

The UAE Derby is worth $2.5 million, but what Yahagi wants most are the 100 Kentucky Derby points that go to the winner. None of its runners has been better than fifth in Louisville, but Yahagi can do breakthroughs.

“At Meydan, I hope he has a very good race to qualify for the Kentucky Derby,” Yahagi said. “We look forward to bringing him to the U.S.”

The picks: 1 Forever Young 2 Pandagate 3 Navy Seal

The field for the $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2 ) at Meydan Racecourse, from the rail out, with trainer:

1 Killer Collect (USA), Bhupat Seemar

2 Rock Walk (URU), Julio Olascoago

3 Mendelssohn Bay (USA), Bhupat Seemar

4 Oasis Boy (ARG), Julio Olascoago

5 Ballon D’Or (JPN), Mikio Matsunaya

6 Satono Phoenix (JPN), Masato Nishizono

7 Henry Adams (IRE), Aidan O’Brien

8 George Tesero (JPN), Takayuki Kato

9 Guns and Glory (USA), Bhupat Seemar

10 Pandagate (USA), Christophe Clement

11 Auto Bahn (ARG), Julio Olascoago

12 Navy Seal (IRE), Aidan O’Brien

13 Forever Youn (JPN), Yoshito Yahagi

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