Two cousins could meet up in the 150th Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 4 at Churchill Downs. In a rarity, FOREVER YOUNG, undefeated winner of the UAE Derby (G2) is set to head from Japan to Kentucky for the Derby where he will compete against his cousin, SIERRA LEONE, winner of the Risen Star Stakes (G2) who will start in this Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland.

Forever Young (Real Steel – Forever Darling by Congrats) is a son of Santa Ynez Stakes (2) winning mare Forever Darling, bred by Debby Oxley and raced in part by Katsumi Yoshida. Sierra Leone’s dam is Forever Darling’s half-sister, Heavenly Love (Malibu Moon), winner of the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes in 2017 for Oxley and dam of Sierra Leone.

Both Forever Darling and Heavenly Love were produced from Debbie Oxley’s multiple stakes winner Darling My Darling, a daughter of Ontario bred star and top sire Deputy Minister.



Forever Young put Japan on the board on Dubai World Cup night under a take-no-risks ride from Ryusei Sakai, who sat off the fence in fifth, looping the field on the home turn before running down Auto Bahn.

In doing so he gave the country’s most recognizable and popular international racing ambassador, trainer Yoshito Yahagi, the chance to pay tribute to his father, who had died back in Japan just hours before the race.

“My teacher, mentor and father passed away this morning and I want to dedicate this win to him,” Yahagi told the international press in an emotionally charged media conference.

Pandagate finished best of those coming from off the pace in third but the writing was on the wall for those hoping to derail Forever Young’s chances when Sakai took a long look to his inside 400 metres from the line.

A son of 2016 Dubai Turf hero Real Steel, Forever Young came into World Cup night as arguably the banker for the large Japanese challenge.

In contrast to his victory in the G3 Saudi Derby (1600m) – when traffic issues and the shorter trip meant he left it desperately late in sealing the deal – Forever Young looked the near-certain winner from a long way out.

In pulling two lengths clear of Auto Bahn, Forever Young secured 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and a certain place in the line-up come the Run for the Roses, a challenge both Yahagi and owner Susumu Fujita are keen to take up.

The time for 1 3/16 miles was 1:57.89

“Of course it will be very difficult to manage the horse’s condition [travelling] from Dubai to Kentucky but I really believe my team will be able to get him in good order,” Yahagi said.

Kentucky Derby points can be viewed here.

Explaining the improvement from his win in the Saudi Derby, Yahagi explained: “He did not travel well from Japan to Saudi Arabia so he was not in great condition but he still performed very well. After travelling from Riyadh to Dubai he improved and he has so much potential, I always have a lot of confidence in him.”

The 26-year-old said: “His condition improved from the Saudi Derby and so I was very confident that the horse would perform for me. I really trust the horse and it was a great performance.”

On the challenge to come at Churchill Downs, Sakai added: “This horse is yet to be beaten and I feel he’s the champion three-year-old in Japan. I will do everything to prepare for Kentucky.”

Fujita added: “I was a little concerned before the race but this horse has shown great ability.

“This is only my third season as an owner with the Japan Racing Association and I have already found a champion racehorse. He continues to attract international attention for the Kentucky Derby, which tells me that he should have a good chance. Looking forward I would like to underline that I would like to win the Dubai World Cup.”

Dubai World Cup

Juddmonte Farms’ LAUREL RIVER took it to his rivals in the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1), streaking to a front running, 8 1/2 length romp for trainer Bhupat Seemar and jockey Tdhag O’Shea.

Previously trained in California by Bob Baffert and winner of the Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2) in 2022 with a 108 Beyer Speed Figure for seven furlongs in 1:21.37. The 2018 foal by the great Into Mischief did not race in 2023 and instead, was sent to Dubai.

To say things were off to an inauspicious beginning would be an understatement of monumental proportions, as Laurel River faded tamely to finish seventh in the G3 Al Shindagha Sprint (1200m) in late January, but he bounced back to post an equally emphatic victory in the G3 Burj Nahaar (1600m) on Super Saturday to punch his ticket to World Cup night.

Conventional wisdom dictates that winning the Burj Nahaar leads to a start in the Godolphin Mile over the same course and distance on the big night, but Seemar and the Juddmonte braintrust called an audible and routed the six-year-old to the Dubai World Cup instead: a race 12 times as valuable, but incrementally more challenging on a few levels, not least the 2000-metre distance of the race.

After drawing 12 of 12 at Wednesday’s barrier draw at the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, many would have downgraded the chances of Laurel River.

Trainer Bhupat Seemar said: “I’m still coming to terms with what’s happened. I think it’ll probably sink in in another day or two. It’s absolutely amazing. Tadhg said this morning ‘we’re drawn 12, I’m not going to be two-minded about it, I’m going to go forward.’

“He’s got so much natural pace. He comes out of the gate and this is why we ran him over six furlongs (in the Al Shindagha).

“Tadhg was able to get some easy fractions and then I saw Defunded coming on his outside but he just kept on going further. I expected to see all the closers flying at him but he kept going.

“I was a small kid when I was watching these colours winning some of the biggest races in the world. What the late Prince Khalid Abdullah has done for racing is amazing, I couldn’t believe I was going to be training the horse for that farm and in those colours. And now to win one of the world’s great races for them is unbelievable.”

Laurel River has won seven of 10 races and $7.4 million. His dam, Calm Water, by Empire Maker, is the dam of two other winners and she is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Emollient.

The horses who finished in Laurel River’s wake Saturday amplified just how impressive his victory was. Last year’s winner Ushba Tesoro raced far back for the opening 1600 metres, but wound up with his customary late run to finish second, just beating out recent Saudi Cup winner Senor Buscador for the US$2.4 million second prize. Senor Buscador added to his US$10 million payday in Riyadh with a nifty cheque for US$1.2 million.

The Daily Racing Form reported that it was unlikely that Laurel River would race again in 2024 and point to next year’s desert classics.