The “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” ends with more of a whimper than a bang in the Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse March 27 as the nation’s most promising dirt horses are otherwise engaged in Dubai.
Only five of the 14 starters in the Fukuryu have competed in any of the first three legs of the series and, of those, only the Hokko Tarumae filly Ladybug has finished in the top three. Churchill Downs lists only three Triple Crown-nominated 3-year-olds at the top of the “Japan Road” leaderboard and none of them are entered for the final race.
Nonetheless, the winner will earn 40 points and would move to the top of the list, earning the right of first refusal for a spot in the Louisville starting gate— pending, of course, payment of the $6,000 late nomination fee due no later than March 29.
Ladybug, one of four fillies in the 1,800-meter (about 1 mile) race, finished third in the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Feb. 21. She had a win and a second in two starts in 2020.
The others with experience in the series are Taisei Slugger and Lord Strom, sixth and eighth in the Hyacinth, respectively; Taisei Again, who finished fourth in the Zen Nippon Nisai Yushun Dec. 16 at Kawasaki Racecourse in his last start; and Miko Black, who was 10th in the first leg of the series, the Cattleya Stakes at Tokyo in November and whose overall record stands at 1-for-6.
While the “Japan Road” series is decided on native soil, the nation’s hopes are more firmly centered on Dubai where Al Rajhi Bank Saudi Derby winner Pink Kamehameha will look to double up that victory—and earn 100 points on the main “Road to the Kentucky Derby” in the UAE Derby Sponsored by Emirates NBD (G2) just hours before the Fukuryu goes to the post.
The “European Road to the Kentucky Derby” winds to its conclusion April 1 with the Cardinal Conditions Stakes at Chelmsford City in England.