Lani scores ticket to Kentucky Derby with win in UAE Derby

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Lani became the first Japanese horse to win the Group 2, $2 million UAE Derby and for his next trick will try to become the first Japanese horse to win the Kentucky Derby.

Lani overcame a wide trip Saturday and beat the favored Polar River by three-quarters of a length in the 1 3/16-mile dirt fixture for Northern Hemisphere 3-year-olds and Southern Hemisphere 4-year-olds. Lani is a nominee to the Kentucky Derby, will easily make the field for the race with the 100 qualifying points he earned by winning the UAE Derby, and his connections have every intention of running in the race.

Trainer Mikio Matsunaga said through an interpreter after the race that plans already had been laid for Lani to travel to Churchill Downs, and that the colt would depart Dubai for the U.S. in less than one week.

Lani, a bulky, gray son of Tapit and out of Heavenly Romance, by Sunday Silence, is a temperamental colt, and he was slow away from the gate Saturday, racing well behind the second-to-last horse into the first turn of the UAE Derby. But in a move reminiscent of Mirco Dimuro's ride on Dubai World Cup winner Victoire Pisa, jockey Yutaka Take guided Lani six or seven paths off the rail turning into the Meydan backstretch and let Lani race up close to the leaders, Vale Dori and Yu Change.

Lani got into the 2 or 3 path around the far turn and still had work to do 1-1/2 furlongs out as Yu Change continued to lead, but Yu Change weakened late while Lani stayed on, passing the leader in the final 100 yards and holding clear Polar River. His time on a fast track of 1:58.41 was 0.06 seconds slower than Mubtaahij's clocking in his blowout win in the race last year. Mubtaahij would go on to finish eighth in the Kentucky Derby.

Polar River, taking her first loss after four wins, had a tough trip. She was trapped in behind Vale Dori for most of the race, finding herself in an uncomfortable position for the first time in her career. Jockey Pat Dobbs waited and waited for room and said he didn't have the horse to get through a seam that opened at the three-sixteenths pole, instead swinging wide, making some headway in the final furlong, but falling short in the end.

Yu Change finished a neck behind Polar River, with Vale Dori another half-length back in fourth. The California shipper Frank Conversation finished last of seven.

Lani won for the third time in six starts and scored for the first time at the group level and at a distance beyond one mile. He was bred in Japan by the North Hills Co. and is owned by Yoko Maeda.