The UAE Derby has, for the last several years, offered enough Kentucky Derby points that the winner can run in the Kentucky Derby. After Regal Ransom became the first in 2009 to make the trip, four of the last five winners have made the trip - Daddy Long Legs, Lines of Battle, Mubtaahij and Lani. None of those five horses has been a particular threat in the Derby. Sooner or later, though, a horse based in Dubai is going to do some damage in the Derby. It's one of the world's great races, and one of the huge-money owners over there will want roses for their mantle.
Thunder Snow is a more successful runner than those that have come before, but it's not necessarily success that is relevant to winning at Churchill Downs. So, can this colt, who is owned by Godolphin Stables, which is the most powerful owner in the world, be the one to make history?
Last race: The UAE Derby win was fairly impressive. And just as hard to judge. Thunder Snow showed a whole lot of toughness to come out on top of a tough stretch duel. To win he had to put away Epicharis, who was a previously undefeated Japanese star who had already earned a Kentucky Derby bid, which he subsequently rejected, in Japan. It's hard to know how impressive the win really was because we can't really know how good Epicharis is. There was an American horse in the race, but that doesn't help us much either. Todd Pletcher's Master Plan was third in the UAE Derby but he was hardly the star of Pletcher's stable - he wouldn't have been sent to Dubai if he was. In December Master Plan was second in a stakes at Gulfstream behind stablemate Tapwrit, who just finished a dismal fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes. So, what does beating a second-tier American horse who wasn't as good as a horse who just flopped in the U.S. tell us about Thunder Snow's Derby readiness? Your guess is as good as mine.
Prior experience: Thunder Snow broke his maiden way back in May - very early for this Derby class. He was a winner at Leicester in England. Then he ran four times in graded stakes in England, topping out with two second-place finishes. From there he headed to France where he was the very strong winner of the group 1 Criterium International. All of his career races to that point were on turf. After a layoff he headed to Dubai to learn to run on dirt and prepare for the UAE Derby. He started by prepping in the UAE 2000 Guineas, which he won. And then came the UAE Derby. So, all in all he has won four times in eight starts, with three wins in graded stakes and two on dirt. Solid. Confusing, but solid.
Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor is one of many trainers who work for Godolphin, and he's the most important one. He has been training for the stable since 1994. They have had massive success together, including seven Dubai World Cup victories, wins in most of the top races in England, Hong Kong, France, Ireland and Italy, and more than a few wins in the U.S. as well, including three Breeders' Cup races. He trained Regal Ransom in the Derby, so he isn't going into this experience blind.
Jockey: Christophe Soumillon has been riding this horse and will presumably make the trip to Kentucky with him. If he does ride in the Derby it will be his second start in the race - he was aboard Mubtaahij. He's short on American experience - he won the Breeders' Cup Turf in 2005, and that's it for major races - but he's a world elite rider. He's won every race worth winning in France - most multiple times - along with many top races in England and Hong Kong. He's a little beyond his best riding, and I wish he had more experience with American racing, which is a unique challenge, but he's unquestionably capable.
Breeding: I'm quite obsessed with breeding and value it above all other factors in Triple Crown handicapping, but I am very poorly equipped to judge what's in the blood of this colt. His sire Helmet is the son of Australian champion sprinter Exceed and Excel. Helmet won two grade 1 races in Australia at 2 and a major race at 3. It's very hard to assess southern hemisphere runners because they can't run in our classics and we almost never see them up here at all. The last Australian horse I paid any attention to in the U.S. was Phar Lap, and that was only in a movie theatre. I don't know much of what to take from this, and it doesn't help that he is a young sire - Thunder Snow is his most successful offspring to date. The sprinter part of Helmet's pedigree doesn't excite me, though. Thunder Snow's damsire is also complicated to assess. Dubai Destination was bred in Kentucky, but both his racing and breeding career were in Europe, and most of his top offspring have run on turf. So we have a son of an Australian horse out of a mare by a European turf horse. If you know what that means for the Derby then you're smarter than me.
Odds: Bovada has Thunder Snow at +1600 to win the Derby, which puts him in a group of six horses tied as the sixth choice to win the race. My gut says that that is an underlay, but it's all just a guess with him. In the final Kentucky Derby future wager held by Churchill Downs he was at a somewhat more attractive 23/1.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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