HOW HE GOT HERE
He’s taking advantage of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby invitation, a vision of the Churchill Downs Incorporated group to lure top horses from Japan to participate in the run for the roses. Japanese horses compete in a series of four events in Japan, with Continuar winning the first race in the series, the Cattleya Stakes (worth 10 points to the winner) at a Mile on dirt at Tokyo Racecourse this past November. The other two points winners Perriere (won the Hyacinth Stakes) and Mitono O (Fukuryu Stakes winner) both didn’t accept the invitation due to performance in the case of Perriere and Mitono O not being nominated to the Triple Crown.
Continuar started his career on October 8th last year at Hanshin Racecourse over a mile and an eighth (note it’s right-handed) on the dirt, stalking the leader before taking over to break his maiden at first asking.
Allowance company at Hanshin was up next where he’d face a familiar foe and his dirt archnemesis in Japan, Derma Sotogake. He employed a similar running style to his maiden breaking effort, sitting in behind the early leaders then making his typical grinding run to the lead. That day Derma had a better trip (was behind Continuar) and turn of foot to win the race but note that Continuar was grinding away to reduce the deficit to a half head on the wire.
His last start as a juvenile was in the Cattleya stakes in late November at Tokyo Racecourse (left-handed), dropping back to a mile after his last two over longer. With more speed signed on that day, top Australian jock Damian Lane positioned him mid-pack, was fanned five wide at the top of the stretch and was not asked for his best until mid-stretch. He won the race under a sustained drive, holding his competition safely at bay.
His two starts as a three-year-old this year have not been eye catching but have shown that he will continue (pardon the pun) to put his best effort forward in every race. In the Saudi Derby the two leaders opened up on the field and were in a race by themselves. He again put in his typical grinding effort to finish 5th that day (Derma 3rd). It wasn’t bad but is a cause for pause. The UAE Derby was an “interesting” race for him. Ryusei Sakai used him hard early to get into position going into the first turn where he remained in third place behind a front running Derma Sotogake and his country mate Dura Erede. He again put in his usual grind away effort to finish 3rd, twelve lengths back of the impressive wire to wire winner Derma Sotogake. He raced on a part of the track at Meydan where runners usually pack it in late but he continued to race on after a less than favorable ride.
HOW HE FITS HERE
He’s a grinder with little to no turn of foot but a horse you know that will continue to come on late. Consistency is the word for him. He always puts in his best effort and gives you everything he has. The last furlong of the derby is usually a bit of a stagger fest so see him sitting a mid-pack trip, allowed to settle, then just grind and plod away to gain ground over tiring foes. He possesses that typical Japanese breeding blend of speed and stamina, so the mile and a quarter should pose no issue to him.
CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE
The current landscape in Japan has really shifted over the years to syndicate groups, allowing everyday people to buy into these magnificently bred racing prospects. Lion Race Horse Company is one of those syndicate groups in Japan but does things on a smaller scale vs. larger operations such as Sunday Racing (Orfevre, Gentildonna, etc.). They’ve had some success of late in the form of Unicorn Lion, who just ran 5th in Australia.
Trainer Yoshito Yahagi has really become a master of Japanese raiding parties across the world. Best known for his stylish hats and positive smile on race days, he possesses immense talent and the ability to target foreign races with the right horse. Races such as the Breeders Cup Distaff (Marche Loraine), Filly and Mare Turf (Loves only You) and the Saudi Cup (Panthalassa) are amongst his latest global triumphs. If any of that doesn’t impress you, he also won the Japanese triple crown in 2020 with the superstar colt Contrail.
This will be another feather in the cap of young rider Ryusei Sakai. Sakai, who apprenticed in Australia in his younger years has been the stable rider to trainer Yahagi, getting first call on many of his stable stars (Bathrat Leon, Panthalassa, etc.). The 25-year-old jockey has continued to impress in Japan and abroad with many Japanese and international grade one races under his belt. He’s won the Saudi Cup and three G1’s in Japan already so you know he can handle the pressure of the big stage.
Continuar has a sneaky good pedigree and one that should have no issue with the 1 ¼ distance of the derby. By the talented champion dirt sprinter Drefong (Gio Ponti) out of an unraced King Kamehameha (Kingmambo) mare. Drefong has already sired a classic winner on turf (Geoglyph) who won the Japanese 2000 Guineas (1 ¼ turf), proving he can sire longer distance types. On the dam side, she’s a ¾ sister to the brilliant Almond Eye (Triple Tiara winner in Japan, Japan Cup, HOY, etc.), out of the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (1 3/8) winning mare Fusaichi Pandora. Lots of stamina on both sides of the pedigree to go along with the speed of Drefong.
He’s the Japanese version of Rich Strike this year minus the super charged late kick. If ridden to his best chance (mid-pack and given time to settle), I think he could hit the back end of exotics to pump up payouts. He is rated higher than Mandarin Hero and that one almost pulled off a shocker in the G1 Santa Anita Derby.
He has a superstar international trainer, a talented up and coming jockey and a pedigree with a beautiful blend of speed and stamina. There will be worse long shots come derby day and you know he’ll be running his consistent grinding race to the wire. Can Yahagi-san pull off a Marche Loraine type score again??