David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Could Japan’s young ‘American’ stallions bring the Kentucky Derby into reach?

Mind Your Biscuits was an international star for Chad Summers and the ten-year-old and his old Stateside rival Drefong were leading freshman sires in Japan the last two years; each has a Kentucky Derby candidate this spring.

Japan’s one-two-three-four in last weekend’s G2 UAE Derby looks like being the springboard for at least a two-horse Japanese raid on the G1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6, and it has also thrown the spotlight on a pair of former US-trained dirt stars now making their names as young sires at Shadai Stallion Station.

Derma Sotogake took the spoils in the 1800 metre contest with an impressive win that cried out ‘Kentucky Derby’, and he is a first-crop son of Mind Your Biscuits, whose two greatest wins were achieved over 1200 metres in the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at the same Meydan venue. His dam, the Shadai homebred Amour Poesie, is by Neo Universe, a Derby-winning son of the great Sunday Silence.

Meanwhile, third-placed Continuar is by the North American champion sprinter Drefong, an old rival of Mind Your Biscuits, whose own first crop included last year’s G1 Satsuki Sho hero Geoglyph, a Classic winner, no less.

Drefong was Japan’s leading first season sire in 2021 and Mind Your Biscuits followed him as the top freshman in 2022. The two big-name sprinters are among the high-profile stallions imported in the past few years to Japan with North American dirt track profiles, and, importantly, devoid of Sunday Silence blood: Bricks And Mortar, California Chrome, Animal Kingdom, and the most recent import Hot Rod Charlie among them.


Drefong ahead of the 2017 Breeders' Cup at Del Mar. (Photo by Horsephotos)

Bricks And Mortar wins the 2019 Breeders Cup Turf. (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images)

Mind Your Biscuits is by Posse – resident at Haras Rapetti in Uruguay – from the Deputy Minister branch of the Northern Dancer line, while his dam, Jazzmane, is by the G1-winning juvenile, Toccet, who also traces through Deputy Minister. Drefong is by the North American turf champion Gio Ponti, from the Storm Cat branch of the Northern Dancer line and his dam, Eltimaas, is by the dirt track champion Ghostzapper, another grandson of Deputy Minister.

Chad Summers trained and co-owned Mind Your Biscuits before the sale to Shadai, which came after the horse’s second Golden Shaheen victory in 2018, but he recalls the initial Japanese interest came a year earlier.

“It was when we took him to Dubai for the first time and he won the Golden Shaheen without Lasix, that’s when the Japanese started to show an interest; they’re very big on no Lasix,” Summers says.

“He ran from two to five and danced every dance we pointed him to and he was very sound throughout his career, he retired sound, and I think that was important to the Japanese as well.”

Once Mind Your Biscuits was on the radar of Japanese breeders – most notably the Yoshida family – they went through a thorough process of patient observation over the course of a year.

“They began kind of ‘kicking tyres’ after that first time in Dubai and got somebody to look at him at Saratoga that summer; we had a couple of their farms take a look at him, but nothing really serious, it seemed. Then during the winter from four to five, Eugenio Colombo, who has worked for the Yoshida family for 30-odd years, he started hanging around and looking at the horse, he’d come and watch him breeze.”

Mind Your Biscuits and Joel Rosario after winning the first of two consecutive Golden Shaheens in 2017. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

After the second Golden Shaheen, the Shadai interest intensified and by the end of April a deal was done. Summers would continue training, Shadai would join the ownership partnership and the horse would carry the Shadai silks though the rest of his five-year-old campaign before a full handover at the end of the year.

Mind Your Biscuits retired to Shadai with three G1 wins to his name – he won the Malibu Stakes at three – a pair of G2 scores and multiple G1 placings, including runner-up to Drefong in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and a nose defeat in the G1 Met Mile. He even stretched to 1800 metres to win the G3 Lukas Classic.  

“Sunday Silence was really good at getting a horse over a distance of ground, so they wanted to bring some new speed into those pedigrees,” Summers says. “Even though ‘Biscuits’ was able to stretch out a little bit, they saw the brilliance. He was a six-furlong track record holder at Meydan for a while when he won the Shaheen in 2018 and they wanted to bring that speed into the stamina and the staying power of all of these Sunday Silence (line) mares they have accumulated over the last 20 years. It was the same with them acquiring Drefong the previous year.”

Drefong was a US$400,000 yearling from Gio Ponti’s first crop and was trained by Bob Baffert to win six of only nine starts, including the G1 King’s Bishop Stakes and the G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at three and the G1 Forego Stakes as a four-year-old.

“The thing with Drefong that’s interesting to me is that he’s a son of Gio Ponti and Gio Ponti hasn’t experienced the most success here as a stallion. Even though he was second in a Breeders’ Cup Classic, it was run on Tapeta that year: he’s more grass based.

“Drefong never tried the grass but you’d think there’d be more (affinity for) grass there. So it’s funny when you see a horse like Geoglyph running on dirt in Saudi, he looked completely like a grass horse and he ran well, he ran fourth in the Saudi Cup, but I do think Drefong’s horses are built more for grass than dirt. ‘Biscuits’’ horses, I feel like they can do a little bit of everything.”

Drefong defeats Mind Your Biscuits at Santa Anita Park. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Turf G1-winner Geoglyph (red cap) finished fourth behind Panthalassa in the Saudi Cup at his first start on dirt. (Photo by Francois Nel)

Mind Your Biscuits never raced on grass either but he did gallop on it at times and plans were considered to run him in the G1 Woodbine Mile on turf, and there was even a leftfield consideration of contesting the G1 Japan Cup as an introduction to Japanese breeders. Those plans never came to fruition.

Summers has been keeping tabs as much as he can on Mind Your Biscuits’ progeny – 39 winners of 51 races from 88 individuals to have raced so far – and he believes the chestnut is stamping a lot of them in his physical image.

“From the pictures we’ve seen and the horses that are running, watching the videos, the ones at the sales, he’s stamped a lot of them very similar to himself and so I think they’re going to continue to get better as they get older,” he says.

“Derma Sotogake is a chestnut but he doesn’t have the same look as ‘Biscuits’, but he has a similar eye and two socks behind. What is similar though is that he’s growing into his body: ‘Biscuits’, from the time we bought him until he became a stallion as a six-year-old, every year he would fill out a bit more and just grow into his frame.”

Summers and his partners purchased Mind Your Biscuits as a yearling for a snip at US$47,000 after he went unsold in the ring – a pinhooking failure – at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale; the pinhook failed again when he was unsold at the following year’s OBS two-year-old sale.

“When we bought him, the joke was he was all head and no body, he needed to grow into his body,” Summers recalls. “Derma Sotogake, seeing him in Saudi and then Dubai recently, you can see him thriving and getting better, and putting more muscle on and more weight on at the right time.”

Derma Sotogake wins the UAE Derby at Meydan. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

Mind Your Biscuits winning at the same meeting six years prior. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

The last time Summers saw Mind You Biscuits in the flesh was January 2019 in Hokkaido, Japan, upon escorting him to Shadai Stallion Station. His intention was to return to see the horse, but three Covid pandemic-affected years robbed him of that opportunity.

A visit could be on the cards now that the world is leaving behind that difficult period, but in the meantime, Summers is looking forward to the prospect of seeing Derma Sotogake in the ‘Run for the Roses’, a tougher assignment than Meydan, but one the horse has earned.

“I wouldn’t say that he’s without a shout, I think he should be taken very seriously,” Summers says, pointing to the tactical versatility the horse has shown in his races: coming from behind, settling mid-pack and racing on the lead.

Victory in the first leg of the Triple Crown, on the dirt surface Americans have always dominated, would be some jolt to the sport in the US, much more so than the Breeders’ Cup wins of Loves Only You and Marche Lorraine at Del Mar in November 2021. But it would be in keeping with the way Japanese racing is progressing.

“Ever since Del Mar people have been asking me, why are the Japanese kicking our ass?” Summers adds. “And I think the answer is patience and sound fundamental breeding.”  

1989 Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence changed horse racing in Japan. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

When the Yoshidas bought Sunday Silence back in the 1990s, American breeders did not want their nation’s Horse of the Year. Under Shadai’s watch, he went on to be a breed-shaping phenomenon in Japan, so it should not be a surprise if the mares he and his storied sons have sired, mixed with speedy, high-performing US dirt stallions, produce offspring to rival the best America can muster. 

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe has long been the Japanese horsemen’s prime overseas aim. But their confidence has grown in recent times; enough, perhaps, to make Kentucky in May a serious target too. 




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