Thunder Snow narrowly beats Epicharis in fast UAE Derby

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Thunder Snow was a very good horse racing on the European turf last year, and he is doing pretty well so far on dirt.

After winning the UAE 2000 Guineas at Meydan Racecourse in his dirt debut, Thunder Snow ran out a dead-game nose winner over the Japanese colt Epicharis on Saturday in the Group 1, $2 million UAE Derby.

Thunder Snow gave jockey Christophe Soumillon his second straight win on the card, following his Gold Cup triumph on Vazirabad, and became the eighth UAE Derby winner for Saeed bin Suroor, who trains Thunder Snow for Godolphin.

The UAE Derby is a major qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby, and Thunder Snow's 100 points will be more than enough to get him into the race if his connections want to go. Thunder Snow earlier this week was made a late nominee to the Triple Crown.

"It will be up to Sheikh Mohammed," bin Suroor said. "We'll talk and make the decision later."

Epicharis earned 50 Derby qualifying points Saturday but already had earned a Derby berth as the leading points earner in the Japanese Road to the Derby, a path to qualification created this year by Churchill Downs.

Thunder Snow finished fourth in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes before winning the Group 1 Criterium International in his 2-year-old finale, and he has transferred at least most of that form to dirt.

Epicharis outran Qatar Man for the lead into the far turn and set the pace down the backstretch, as Thunder Snow, who broke well, tracked the pace from fourth while three wide. Thunder Snow held his position around the turn, though Soumillon said the colt "put his nose out to the left" and cornered poorly.

Things got worse in the homestretch. Soumillon said Thunder Snow twice had spooked at the huge video screen on the infield during prerace warm-ups, but as he closed in on a determined Epicharis, Thunder Snow saw the marks left on the track from the starting gate and shied badly to his right.

"He got scared about it and changed legs and stopped, and when he did it to me a second time, I thought it was nearly over, but I kept going," Soumillon said.

Back on course, Thunder Snow leveled off again, bore down on the leader, and got his head down at just the right moment.

"He showed me today he was still immature, but for him to do it, he must be a great horse," said Soumillon.

On a muddy track, Thunder Snow, a homebred by Helmet out of Eastern Joy, by Dubai Destination, ran 1,900 meters (about 1 3/16 miles) in 1:57.76, the fastest UAE Derby during the Meydan dirt era. Epicharis clocked virtually the same time and showed that his strong Japanese dirt form traveled at least to the Middle East.

"First time out of his country, first time on that kind of dirt, he ran very well," said jockey Christophe Lemaire. "He relaxed really well today, and he's got plenty of ability. It's a defeat, but we must be happy."

The connections of Master Plan, Al Shaqab Racing and trainer Todd Pletcher, also should be fairly happy, as Master Plan closed steadily to finish third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths while finishing three-quarters in front of Lancaster Bomber.

But on a rainy night in Dubai, the UAE Derby belonged to Thunder Snow.