Japan’s Crown Pride finishes 13th in Kentucky Derby
Crown Pride, Japan’s challenger in the Kentucky Derby fizzled in the stretch to an ultimate 13th-place finish after longshot Rich Strike swooped in under jockey Sonny Leon for gold by 3/4 length, stunning the full-capacity stands in one of the biggest upsets in the iconic race’s history. Race favorite Epicenter was second, with third choice Zandon finishing third.
Raced exclusively over dirt, the Reach the Crown colt had only four starts behind him and ahead was his first over 2,000 meters. His win of the Grade 2 UAE Derby last out, however, had handed him a ticket to Kentucky. Partnered with jockey Christophe Lemaire, hopes were high.
Based in the JRA Ritto Training Center and trained by Koichi Shintani, Crown Pride was only the fourth challenger from Japan. Ski Captain was the first in 1995, followed by Lani 21 years later, then Master Fencer, who scored the best-result sixth, in 2019. In the heads of Japan’s fans, with Japan-based horses recently raking in the wins overseas - two in the Breeders’ Cup in November, two in the Hong Kong International Races in December, four at the Saudi Cup Day in February, and five in the Dubai World Cup Day in March - visions of victory in Louisville, were definitely dancing.
Lemaire was at Churchill Down for the first time since riding in the Breeders’ Cups of 2010 and 2011. The Japan-based Frenchman on Wednesday had breezed Crown Pride over a half mile on the Churchill Downs dirt track for 46.60 seconds and found him all-systems go. “He was very comfortable. He changed leads on his own and his breathing was good. I am very happy with his attitude and his condition,” Lemaire said.
In another interview before the race, Lemaire had said, “It is the Kentucky Derby and it’s going to be a tough, rough race, but he has potential and we came here with hopes of getting good results. This is another step on the international horse racing stage. It is a very high step, but we have to take on the challenge and try to win. And whatever happens, it will be a great experience for the trainer, for myself and for the horse.”
Lemaire had added, “He is not the quickest horse, so it’ll be hard to lead, but he’ll be able to take up position just behind the leaders. It is hard to make a plan. It’s all about the start.” The race Saturday evening (post time just before 8 a.m. Sunday in Japan) did unfold according to plan, at least for the earlier stages.
Crown Pride broke from the No. 7 gate, and travelled in second position, holding steady just outside of Summer Is Tomorrow past the grandstand and down the backstretch. Turning out of the backstretch, Summer Is Tomorrow dropped back, with Messier moving into the lead, but Crown Pride holding strong and, at one point, lining up with the leader, in the hands-down most thrilling moment of the race for Japan.
Shortly into the stretch, however, it became clear Crown Pride was scraping bottom and eventually crossed the line in 13th place, some 20 lengths behind the winner.
“His condition was very good and he’d traveled relaxed. I had been confident so it’s a big disappointment,” Lemaire commented after the race. “It was an excellent start. He went forward easily and secured second position, but going around the far bend and into the stretch he was pressured by horses on the inside. By the time he was in the stretch he was tired out. I would like to thank all the Japanese fans for their support,” he added.
“He looked good from the gate to the first turn,” trainer Koichi Shintani said. “The early pace, however, was too fast. He gave it everything he had and he was in tiptop shape, so the results are unfortunate.” The 44-year-old Shintani opened his stable just two years ago. Already though, he’s been ranked 13th in the JRA Trainers Ranking at this point, only 10 wins off the top spot. “I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to the many fans who made the trip from Japan to cheer him on,” the trainer added.
Unlike Ski Captain, who was an American-bred from Fontainebleau Farm, Crown Pride was homegrown. The colt is owned by Teruya Yoshida and bred at his Shadai Farm in Hokkaido, Japan.