Lani is about to embark on a 7,380-mile journey back to his old Kentucky home for a chance to Run for the Roses.
The gray colt earned the trip to the Kentucky Derby with a come-from-way-behind victory in the UAE Derby on Saturday in Dubai. The win was worth 100 Derby qualifying points, and Lani will be on his way to America in the next few days.
“Of course, we will go to the Kentucky Derby,” said Koki Maeda, the son of Lani’s owner, Yoko Maeda, “and I’d like to get the first prize.”
Lani moves into the AP’s latest Run to the Roses Top 10 Derby contenders at No. 9. The biggest jump was made by Gun Runner, who won the Louisiana Derby by 4½ lengths and is up to No. 6.
Unbeatens Nyquist and Mohaymen remain 1-2 heading into their showdown in the Florida Derby on Saturday.
Lani was bred in Kentucky out of the Sunday Silence mare Heavenly Romance but is based in Japan. A son of Tapit, Lani won two of five starts in Japan before his victory in Dubai.
Ski Captain is the only Japan-based horse to run in the Derby, finishing 14th in 1995. As fate would have it, the jockey who rode Ski Captain — Yutaka Take — is also the rider for Lani.
Take nearly fell off when Lani stumbled at the start and dropped well back in the field. But the colt regained his balance, raced on the outside and began making up ground. In the stretch, Lani pulled ahead of the leaders with about 100 yards to go and won the nearly 1¼-mile race by a half-length.
Trainer Steve Asmussen has himself a strong Derby contender in Gun Runner, who now has wins in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds and sits atop the points standings with 151.
“The good thing is he’s very easy to manage,” said Gun Runner’s jockey, Florence Geroux. “He has so many gears.”
To have a Derby horse, “it’s great,” he added. “I was in the Derby last year (with Stanford), but my horse was scratched. Hopefully we can make a nice run the first Saturday in May.”
— In addition to Nyquist and Mohaymen, others set for the Florida Derby include Fashionable Freddy, Fellowship, Majesto, Sawyers Mickeys and Takeittotheedge. Entries are drawn on Wednesday.
— The other Derby prep is the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. Among the probables are Ralis, Two Step Time and Strike Up The Band.
— Last week, there were nine late Triple Crown nominations, including John Battaglia Memorial winner Surgical Strike. The fee for each horse was $6,000.
Here’s our Top 10:
1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): Unbeaten 2-year-old champ on way to South Florida for showdown with Mohaymen. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:03 at Santa Anita on Friday. … Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, Saturday. … Derby odds (pool 3): 7-1.
2. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Trainer back from Dubai to get unbeaten colt set for toughest test yet. … Fountain of Youth winner worked 4 furlongs in 48.80 at Palm Meadows last week. … Next start: Florida Derby. … Odds: 7-2.
3. Cupid (Bob Baffert, Martin Garcia): Rebel winner back at Santa Anita prepping for one more start before trip to Louisville. … Next start: Arkansas Derby, April 16, Oaklawn Park. … Odds: 36-1.
4. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise Jr., Mike Smith): San Felipe winner worked 5 furlongs in speedy 58.60 at Santa Anita on Saturday. … Winner of three straight after running eighth in first race. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, April 9. … Odds: 17-1.
5. Mor Spirit (Baffert, Gary Stevens): Baffert looking for eighth Santa Anita Derby win. … San Felipe runner-up worked 4 furlongs in 47.80 at Santa Anita last week. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby. … Odds: 12-1.
6. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Overpowered field to win Louisiana Derby. … Comes into Derby with four wins in five races. … Leads in Derby qualifying points with 151. … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7. … Odds: 25-1.
7. Shagaf (Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz Jr.): Gotham winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.10 at Belmont on Saturday. … Like top 2, colt is also unbeaten. … Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, April 9. … Odds: 14-1.
8. Destin (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Could run one more time before Derby. … Options still Blue Grass, Wood or Arkansas Derby for final prep. … Next start: Undecided. … Odds: 15-1.
9. Lani (Mikio Matsunaga, Yutaka Take): Won UAE Derby to clinch trip back home to Kentucky. … Bred in Kentucky, races in Japan. … Has three wins in last four races. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 5-1 (mutuel field).
10. Zulu (Pletcher, John Velazquez): Fountain of Youth runner-up worked 4 furlongs in 49.43 at Palm Beach Downs on Saturday. … Next start: Florida Derby. … Odds: 26-1.
Keep an eye on: Brody’s Cause, Exaggerator, Mo Tom, Uncle Lino, Whitmore.
Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap