Kentucky Derby History: International Horses & Why Japan Is Coming

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Written By Brett Gibbons | Last Updated
Kentucky Derby international horses

This year, Derma Sotogake and Continuar are probable starters in the 2023 Kentucky Derby field. Both colts are international horses, bred and trained out of Japan, making them a unique case study. Last year, Crown Pride was the lone international horse in the Kentucky Derby and just three Japanese horses prior to him ran in the Derby. Both Derma Sotogake and Crown Pride won the UAE Derby – the second-longest Derby prep race at 1900 meters. That’s about 11 meters short of 1 3/16 miles, the distance the longest prep race, the Louisiana Derby.

How do international horses fare in the Run for the Roses? We’ll take a look below.

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International Horses That Won The Kentucky Derby

Omar Khayyam, a colt from England, became the first international winner at the Kentucky Derby in 1917. Joining Omar Khayyam as the lone victor from the UK was Tomy Lee in 1959. Canonero II not only won the 1971 Kentucky Derby, but also the 1971 Triple Crown and hailed from Venezuela. The only two other international winners were bred in Canada – Northern Dancer (1964) and Sunny’s Halo (1983).

Northern Dancer held the Kentucky Derby track record until it was broken by Secretariat in 1973.

International Horses In 2023 Kentucky Derby: Derma Sotogake, Continuar

Derma Sotogake qualified for this year’s Kentucky Derby thanks to a victory at the UAE Derby and third-place finish at the Saudi Derby. His 100 points are seventh-most on the Derby points leaderboard and more than enough to run at Churchill Downs. Derma Sotogake closed at 10-1 in Churchill Downs’ final futures pool, which closed April 1.

What has intrigued the horse racing world is Derma Sotogake’s winning time in the UAE Derby. His 1:55.81 is the fastest since Mendelssohn in 2018. It was also faster than the Louisiana Derby-winning time of Kingsbarns (1:57.33). Kingsbarns only had to run 11 meters more.

His Japanese runningmate, Continuar, made the podium at the UAE Derby, coming in third. The performance convinced Kentucky Derby officials to extend an extremely rare invite to participate in the Run for the Roses on May 6. So far, no horse has ever exercised an invite to run in the Derby via the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby circuit. Continuar, should his team accept, would be the first. It appears his connections will, after shipping Continuar to Churchill Downs.

Mandarin Hero, another colt out of Japan, stands 25th in Derby points. That’s outside the top 20 needed to run in the Kentucky Derby. He has 40 points (45 is inside the cutoff) and needs five horses above him not to run to get into the gate. However, should his connections enter him and horses drop out before race weekend, Mandarin Hero could still run. (Editor’s note: Mandarin Hero will run.)

Crown Pride (2022)

Last year, Crown Pride became the second horse from Japan to run in the Kentucky Derby. He closed at 16-1 out of Gate 7 and finished 13th in the race. Crown Pride also had won the UAE Derby, a common denominator among international horses looking to run in the Kentucky Derby. He’s also a grandson of Sunday Silence, the 1989 Kentucky Derby victor.

Without Beyer Speed Figures (BSF) from international races, handicapping international horses is a difficult task. Instead, punters must rely on race splits and overall performance.

The other Japanese-bred horse to run in the Derby was Master Fencer, who finished in sixth in 2019. In 2016, Lani was bred in the U.S. but ran in Japan. He won the UAE Derby and ran ninth in Kentucky.

Will A Japanese Horse Win The Kentucky Derby Soon?

The emergence of Japanese horses in the Kentucky Derby will not come as a surprise to many in the horse breeding industry. A feature in the New York Times in 2015 suggested this may be coming, as that country’s breeders and trainers are developing horses for classic race distances

“They’re buying global pedigrees and breeding them for two-turn classic distances,” said Craig Bernick, the head of Glen Hill Farm in Florida, “and we’re breeding for the 2-year-old market. When they run these international races, you can see the difference between their horses and ours. After 30 years of this, we’re paying the price. Japan knows what they’re doing.”

Two-year-old horses in the United States run shorter distances than those run in the Triple Crown races and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

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2023 Kentucky Derby Odds

Post Position NumberHorse NameKentucky Derby OddsMorning Line OddsClosing Line OddsTrainerJockey
1.Hit Show25-130-124-1Brad CoxManny Franco
2. Verifying15-115-114-1Brad CoxTyler Gaffalione
3. Two Phil’s8-112-19-1Larry RivelliJareth Loveberry
4. Confidence Game17-120-121-1Keith DesormeauxJames Graham
5.Tapit Trice9-25-19-2Todd PletcherLuis Saez
6.Kingsbarns10-112-111-1Todd PletcherJose Ortiz
7.Reincarnate13-150-114-1Tim YakteenJohn Velazquez
8. Mage17-115-115-1Gustavo DelgadoJavier Castellano
9.SkinnerSCRSCRSCRJohn ShirreffsJuan Hernandez
10.Practical MoveSCRSCRSCRTim YakteenRamon Vazquez
11.Disarm24-130-127-1Steve AsmussenJoel Rosario
12.Jace’s Road31-150-133-1Brad CoxFlorent Geroux
13.Sun Thunder30-150-133-1Kenny McPeekBrian Hernandez Jr.
14.Angel of Empire4-18-14-1Brad CoxFlavien Prat
15.ForteSCR3-1SCRTodd PletcherIrad Ortiz Jr.
16.Raise Cain31-150-133-1Ben ColebrookGerardo Corrales
17.Derma Sotogake8-110-17-1Hidetaka OtonashiChristophe Lemaire
18.Rocket Can27-130-128-1Bill MottJunior Alvarado
19.Lord MilesSCRSCRSCRSaffie Joseph Jr.Paco Lopez
20.ContinuarSCRSCRSCRYoshito YahagiRyusei Sakai
21.Cyclone Mischief29-130-129-1Dale RomansTBA
22.Mandarin Hero20-120-117-1Terunobu FujitaKazushi Kimura
23. King Russell31-150-132-1Ron MoquettRafael Bejarano