Equine March Madness continues with three important stakes to end the month. The UAE Derby and the Spiral Stakes will be renewed on Saturday March 25 and the Sunland Derby will be run the next day.
The $2 million UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse offers a $2 million purse. It is run at a mile and three sixteenths and it is the first race this season that offers 100 qualifying points to the winner. The place horse will earn 40 points, the show horse 20 points and the fourth finished will earn 10 points.
The $500,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park and the $800,000 Sunland Derby will both be run at nine furlongs and they are the last races in the Road to the Derby Series that will offer 50 points to the winner.
Interestingly, the Sunland Derby was responsible for one of the biggest upsets in Kentucky Derby history. In 2009 Mine That Bird ran fourth in the Sunland Derby and fans watched in awe as the equine March Madness unfolded. Mine That Derby upset in the Run for the Roses at 50-1.
This year, both Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher could be represented in the Sunland Derby. Baffert has Bronze Age and Pletcher conditions Hedge Fund.
Bronze Age cost $600,000 and is bred to run all day. He has sub :22 speed and he was impressive breaking his maiden last month.
Hedge Fund has been put through his motions since graduating in his 2017 opener. He has a right to adore the classic distances as his sire Super Saver won the Kentucky Derby.
The Spiral Stakes is not considered a must on the equine March Madness schedule but Animal Kingdom did pull off the Spiral Stakes/Kentucky Derby double in 2011. This year Pletcher could saddle Made You Look for this edition. Made You Look will need a rebound race after running poorly in the Fountain of Youth.
Another candidate is Star Empire. This racer was Grade 3 placed last year and the colt has two races to build on now. Trained by Wesley Ward, who is very good with young horses, Star Empire needs to improve after being beaten by It’s Your Nickel. That last runner mentioned has only run one poor race. He graduated on the grass at Saratoga last year and was put up via the stewards to kick off 2017. One of the best things It’s Your Nickel has going for him is that he won the prep for the Spiral Stakes. He came from second to last in the $97,000 Battaglia on March 4 and he should be a handful if the Spiral is on his calendar.
Over the years the keys to the UAE Derby has been Saeed bin Suroor. Sure, this is not the name on the tip of the tongue of equine March Madness fans but he has won this race seven times. In 2016 the Japanese runner Lani won this race and the race transferred well. Lani went into the Kentucky Derby and lost all chance when he was off slowly. He atoned for the poor effort with a solid third in the Belmont Stakes when beaten by Creator.
This year the race in Dubai is wide open but Saeed bin Suroor is back for more. His trainee Thunder Snow could again make some big noise in the UAE Derby. The colt took a Group 1 to end 2006 and was freshened till February 11. He returned that day and won the Group 3 District at Meydan to push his bankroll to over $400,000. This one is coming to the UAE Derby in fine stead.
Top Score is another trained by Saeed bin Suroor. This runner has won two of his three starts this year but against rather inferior foes.
Epicharis is an interesting commodity. The Japan-based runner is undefeated. He won his first three races by a combined 25 lengths. He returned to action to kick off 2017 last month and beat 14 horses. He has had a light work over the Meydan dirt course and will get the acid test in the UAE Derby.
Nomorerichblondes will try to have fun vs. males and that could prove a tough task. Cosmo Charlie is trained by Doug Watson, who is a major player in Dubai racing. This colt has only run one poor race in his career. The runner has some sense of tactical speed. Watson also trains Bee Jersey, who is on the improve and should be running late.
It will be a tough task for anybody that wins the UAE Derby to win the Kentucky Derby just because of logistics but that is why they run them. This portion of equine March Madness must be scrutinized.
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