The final leg of the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1)” was run on Sunday at Nakayama. Run at 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) going two turns around the right-handed dirt track, it attracted a field of eight. Dirt races in Japan are run over tracks that are very deep and tiring since it looks like they do not get watered like our horses do. The riders wear visors since the kickback is brutal. So, they are not very speed-favoring so Der Flug was in the right spot.
Der Flug was sent off as the 3-5 favorite against his seven rivals. Undefeated in his first two starts, he drew the far outside and rider Akihide Tsumura kept him in the back of the pack. He waited at the back with Master Fencer and they were content to stay there in the run down the backstretch. As the running got serious and the field bunched up, they moved as a team around the final turn with Der Flug five wide and Master Fencer to his outside.
It looked like Tsumura had a ton of horse as he sat chilly while Hiroyuki Uchida had Master Fencer in a drive. They caught the leaders at the top of the stretch but Der Flug pulled away convincingly to a 1 1/2-length victory. Rhein Carina raced up on the pace throughout and held on for third at 29-1. All three of Der Flug’s wins have come on dirt going 1,800 meters.
Der Flug is a son of Bekhabad who raced for owner/breeder the Aga Khan. He won the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) going 1 1/2 miles and then was third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) in 2010. The dam of Der Flug, Pai Guniang, won in Japan as a two-year-old. She has produced five winners from seven foals to race and there is not much black type under the first two dams. At least the dam’s sire, French Deputy, raced only on the dirt and won the Jerome Handicap (G2) going a mile in very fast time while beating the very fast Mr. Greeley.
Der Flug earned 40 points for his win but there is one problem: He is not an early Triple Crown nominee. His connections can rectify that on April 1 but I doubt that they will. Master Fencer now has 19 points and would be the Japan Road leader if Der Flug does not get supplemented. But they still have to decide if they want to come.