Japan-based Lani headed to Kentucky Derby

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Lani is about to embark on a 7,380-mile journey back to his old Kentucky home for a chance to Run for the Roses.

The gray colt earned the trip to the Kentucky Derby with a come-from-way-behind victory in the UAE Derby on Saturday in Dubai. The win was worth 100 Derby qualifying points, and Lani will be on his way to America in the next few days.

“Of course, we will go to the Kentucky Derby,” said Koki Maeda, the son of Lani’s owner, Yoko Maeda, “and I’d like to get the first prize.”

Lani moves into the AP’s latest Run to the Roses Top 10 Derby contenders at No. 9. The biggest jump was made by Gun Runner, who won the Louisiana Derby by 4 1/2 lengths and is up to No. 6.

Unbeatens Nyquist and Mohaymen remain 1-2 heading into their showdown in the Florida Derby on Saturday.

Lani was bred in Kentucky out of the Sunday Silence mare Heavenly Romance but is based in Japan. A son of Tapit, Lani won two of five starts in Japan before his victory in Dubai.

Ski Captain is the only Japan-based horse to run in the Derby, finishing 14th in 1995. As fate would have it, the jockey who rode Ski Captain – Yutaka Take – is also the rider for Lani.

Take nearly fell off when Lani stumbled at the start and dropped well back in the field. But the colt regained his balance, raced on the outside and began making up ground. In the stretch, Lani pulled ahead of the leaders with about 100 yards to go and won the nearly 1 1/4-mile race by a half-length.

Trainer Steve Asmussen has himself a strong Derby contender in Gun Runner, who now has wins in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds and sits atop the points standings with 151.

“The good thing is he’s very easy to manage,” said Gun Runner’s jockey, Florence Geroux. “He has so many gears.”

To have a Derby horse, “it’s great,” he added. “I was in the Derby last year (with Stanford), but my horse was scratched. Hopefully we can make a nice run the first Saturday in May.”