Emotions Run High After Japan’s Derby Win

$1 000 000 Gr2 UAE Derby

Forever Young put Japan on the board at Meydan on Saturday under a take-no-risks ride from Ryusei Sakai, who sat off the fence in fifth, looping the field on the home turn before running down Auto Bahn to win the $1 000 000 Gr2 UAE Derby Sponsored by Atlantis The Royal.

In doing so he gave the country’s most recognisable and popular international racing ambassador, trainer Yoshito Yahagi, the chance to pay tribute to his father, who had died back in Japan just hours before the race.

“My teacher, mentor and father passed away this morning and I want to dedicate this win to him,” Yahagi told the international press in an emotionally charged media conference.

Forever Young races past Auto Bahn to maintain his unbeaten streak in the UAE Derby (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

Pandagate finished best of those coming from off the pace in third but the writing was on the wall for those hoping to derail Forever Young’s chances when Sakai took a long look to his inside 400 metres from the line.

A son of 2016 Dubai Turf hero Real Steel, Forever Young came into World Cup night as arguably the banker for the large Japanese challenge.

In contrast to his victory in the G3 Saudi Derby (1600m) – when traffic issues and the shorter trip meant he left it desperately late in sealing the deal – Forever Young looked the near-certain winner from a long way out.

In pulling two lengths clear of Auto Bahn, Forever Young secured 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and a certain place in the line-up come the Run for the Roses, a challenge both Yahagi and owner Susumu Fujita are keen to take up.

“Of course it will be very difficult to manage the horse’s condition [travelling] from Dubai to Kentucky but I really believe my team will be able to get him in good order,” Yahagi said

Explaining the improvement from his win in the Saudi Derby, Yahagi explained: “He did not travel well from Japan to Saudi Arabia so he was not in great condition but he still performed very well. After travelling from Riyadh to Dubai he improved and he has so much potential, I always have a lot of confidence in him.”

Sakai was able to celebrate his second success at Meydan, following on from the Yahagi-trained Bathrat Leon’s strike in the 2022 Godolphin Mile.

Enjoy the replay:

The 26-year-old said: “His condition improved from the Saudi Derby and so I was very confident that the horse would perform for me. I really trust the horse and it was a great performance.”

On the challenge to come at Churchill Downs, Sakai added: “This horse is yet to be beaten and I feel he’s the champion three-year-old in Japan. I will do everything to prepare for Kentucky.”

Fujita added: “I was a little concerned before the race but this horse has shown great ability.

“This is only my third season as an owner with the Japan Racing Association and I have already found a champion racehorse. He continues to attract international attention for the Kentucky Derby, which tells me that he should have a good chance. Looking forward I would like to underline that I would like to win the Dubai World Cup.”

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