So, just what did we learn about Lani in the Kentucky Derby?
Well, even though he finished ninth, we learned he is not the harlequin many thought he was watching his unconventional training methods at Churchill Downs and his numerous quirks.
Although America has only a brief history hosting Japanese-trained horses, we can’t forget the powerhouse of a filly, Cesario, who ran off full tilt prior to the 2005 American Oaks at Hollywood Park, apparently costing her any chance of victory. But imagine the surprise when Cesario not only crushed her field, she ran the 1 1/4 miles in a blistering 1:59 flat, which is still a stakes record.
And who can forget Casino Drive, who dared to come to America to challenge the seemingly invincible Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes, only to be withdrawn on the eve of the race due to a foot bruise. Casino Drive was attempting to complete an amazing triple for his dam, Better Than Honour, who had produced the previous two Belmont Stakes winners, Rags to Riches and Jazil. Casino Drive was training like a champion before his injury, and could be seen anywhere on the Belmont backstretch during his many hour and a half strolls. While walking in the paddock every morning before training, he walked so fast he actually would lap the other horses, who would have to pull off to the side to let him go by.
The Japanese horses have always had a flair for the dramatic, as witnessed when Victoire Pisa and Transcend finished one-two in the 2011 Dubai World Cup just weeks after a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of Japan, killing more than 20,000 people.
They also have made an impact on the other big Dubai races, winning the Dubai Sheema Classic twice with Heart’s Cry and Stay Gold and the Dubai Turf with Admire Moon. The last two were ridden by Lani’s rider Yutaka Take.
And, of course, Lani captured this year’s UAE Derby.
It didn’t take Europeans long to appreciate Japanese horses in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Although they haven’t captured Europe’s most prestigious race, they nearly pulled it off three times when El Condor Pasa, Deep Impact, and Orfevre were all beaten less than a length. And Orfevre finished second another year as well.
So, is it just a matter of time when the Japanese make a significant impact on the American classics?
Yes, Lani was beaten more than 10 lengths by Nyquist at Churchill Downs, but to beat more than half the field was an accomplishment considering how much ground he lost and how ridiculously wide he was at the top of the stretch, when he was fanned about 12-wide trying to circle the field, as he did in all his races in Japan. The next widest horse had to be five paths inside him, as he was way out in the middle of the track all by himself. The last horse in memory who was that wide turning for home was Little Current, who came back to romp by seven lengths in the Preakness (with a rail-skimming trip) and Belmont Stakes.
Despite losing so much ground and getting bumped at the start and dropping back to last in the 20-horse field, he did manage to finish 3 3/4 lengths ahead of fifth choice Mor Spirit, while also finishing well ahead of Arkansas Derby winner Creator, Wood Memorial winner Outwork, and Blue Grass Stakes runner-up My Man Sam.
Watching all of Lani’s races in Japan, one had to be impressed by his versatility and turn of foot, and his ability to sustain his run a long way, as he demonstrated in the UAE Derby when he kept coming and coming and relentlessly wore down fellow Japanese horse Yu Change.
Remember, Lani has shown the ability to handle right-handed courses as well as left-handed courses, so he can be excused if he occasionally gets messed up on his lead changes. In addition, he has won from just off the pace, from midpack, and finished second in a 16-horse field coming from some 25 lengths back. He’s also finished first or second on fast, good, and muddy tracks, and was fourth on the grass in his career debut going 1 1/4 miles, in which he closed from far back.
Also, coming back in two weeks after the Kentucky Derby should be no problem for him in particular, as he won the Cattleya Sho Stakes in a 16-horse field only six days after breaking his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths in a 15-horse field.
The son of Tapit, out of a Sunday Silence mare, began his American adventure with some bizarre works and gallops, but seems to have settled in, and his works appear to be improving in all aspects, including his last two five-furlong breezes, the final one in 1:01 2/5 at Belmont Park May 18.
If you’re looking for class in a pedigree, look no further. Lani, not only having such an illustrious sire and broodmare sire, is out of a mare who was a grade I winner in Japan, and his third dam, Arkadina was a group winner in England who placed in the English Oaks, Irish Oaks, and Irish 1,000 Guineas. Arkadina is by the great Ribot, out of Natashka, champion 3-year-old filly and Broodmare of the Year, who captured the Alabama Stakes and Monmouth Oaks and other stakes. In addition to Arkadina, Natashka produced Test Stakes winner Ivory Wand (granddam of Elusive Quality and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Anees); Truly Bound, winner of the Ashland, Fair Grounds Oaks, and Cotillion Stakes; Gregorian, a group I winner in Ireland; and Blood Royal, winner of the Jockey Club Cup and Queens Vase at Royal Ascot.
Now, no one is claiming that Lani is going to upset Nyquist or even Exaggerator. He just looks like a horse, based on his steady acclimatization since arriving here and his extreme ground loss in the Derby and under-the-radar performance, who could surprise a lot of people in the Preakness.