Five Kentucky Derby prep races this weekend, including the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway

·5 min read

The stakes are about to increase significantly on the road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby.

Five prep races are lined up this weekend around the world with three of them providing 100 qualifying points to the winner for the first time on this year’s Derby trail.

The UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park in Florence on Saturday will distribute points on a scale of 100-40-30-20-10 for the top five finishers in each event.

Also this weekend are the Fukuryu Stakes on Saturday in Japan (40-16-12-8-4) and the Sunland Park Derby on Sunday in New Mexico (50-20-15-10-5).

With all of that in mind, here is a closer look at this weekend’s five qualifying races.

UAE Derby

When: 8:50 a.m. EDT Saturday (FS2)

Where: Meydan Racecourse in Dubai

Points distribution: 100-40-30-20-10

Purse: $1 million (Group 2)

Distance: 1 3/16 miles (dirt)

Morning-line favorite: Cairo (5-2)

Bred in Ireland and trained by Aidan O’Brien, Cairo has won three of his five career starts and finished second in the other two, all in his home country, and sits atop the European leaderboard for the Kentucky Derby.

With Ryan Moore aboard, Cairo will face a field of 12 others Saturday, a group that also includes Worcester (9-2), Dura Erede (8-1) and Goraiko (8-1).

Perriere (20-1), the points leader in Japan, will also try to find a path to Kentucky through Dubai. Dura Erede, another contender from Japan, most recently won the Group I Hopeful Stakes at 1 ¼ miles on the turf in Japan, where he’s also won on dirt.

Worcester is ineligible to claim qualifying points because Bob Baffert is serving a suspension from Churchill Downs, and Worcester has not been transferred to another barn like some of the Hall of Fame trainer’s other contenders this spring.

Louisiana Derby

When: 6:42 p.m. EDT Saturday (FanDuel TV)

Where: Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans

Points distribution: 100-40-30-20-10

Purse: $1 million (Grade 2)

Distance: 1 3/16 miles (dirt)

Morning-line favorite: Instant Coffee (2-1)

Brad Cox trainee Instant Coffee has won his two most recent races — the Grade 2 Lecomte at Fair Grounds and the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill — since finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last October.

He’s ninth on the Derby leaderboard with 32 qualifying points and will face a field of 11 other 3-year-olds in New Orleans.

The field also includes Kenny McPeek’s Sun Thunder (5-1) and Todd Pletcher’s Kingsbarns (6-1), who is undefeated in two starts but is in graded stakes company for the first time.

Cox is also running Tapit’s Conquest (10-1) and Jace’s Road (12-1). McPeek also has Denington (12-1). Steve Asmussen will also saddle a pair in Disarm (10-1) and Shopper’s Revenge (12-1).

Jeff Ruby Steaks

When: 6:25 p.m. EDT Saturday (FanDuel TV, CNBC, Peacock)

Where: Turfway Park in Florence

Points distribution: 100-40-30-20-10

Purse: $700,000 (Grade 3)

Distance: 1 1/8 miles (synthetic)

Morning-line favorite: Major Dude (5-2)

Todd Pletcher-trained Major Dude is one of eight 3-year-olds in this seasoned 12-horse field to have made at least five career starts.

Major Dude’s seven starts include victories in the Grade 2 Pilgrim Stakes at Aqueduct last fall and in the Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream Park in his most recent race on Feb. 4. He was ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland last November.

Two Phil’s, the 7-2 second choice on the morning line trained by Larry Rivelli, also has three wins from seven career starts, including the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last October.

Congruent (5-1) will be making his 10th start in the Jeff Ruby and is coming off his third career win in this month’s John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway.

Fukuryu Stakes

When: 2:10 a.m. Saturday

Where: Nakayama Racecourse in Chiba, Japan

Points distribution: 40-16-12-8-4

Purse: 18,000,000 yen/about $137,000

Distance: 1,800 meters/about 1 1/8 miles (dirt)

Probable favorite: Curren Alcantara

Trainer Koichi Shintani, who saddled Crown Pride to a 13th-place finish in last year’s Kentucky Derby, will try to make it back with Curren Alcantara, who already has two wins at a mile-and-an-eighth in three career starts.

Mokku Mokku has won both of his career races and is also expected to be a threat, along with Hero Call in a field of 14 contenders.

Sunland Park Derby

When: 6:45 p.m. EDT Sunday (FanDuel TV, FS1)

Where: Sunland Park (N.M.) Racetrack

Points distribution: 50-20-15-10-5

Purse: $600,000

Distance: 1 1/8 miles (dirt)

Morning-line favorite: Hard to Figure (2-1)

The favorite is a Bob Baffert trainee who most recently was runner-up in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 4. Hard to Figure has compiled zero Kentucky Derby qualifying points and will collect none here because of Baffert’s suspension from Churchill Downs.

Second choice in the field of seven is Todd Fincher’s Henry Q at 3-1. Henry Q has won the most recent two of his four career starts but will be making his graded stakes debut.

Fort Bragg (4-1) ran third in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity for Baffert before being transferred to the barn of Tim Yakteen, then was fifth in the Grade 2 San Felipe.

Steve Asmussen’s How Did He Do That is the 9-2 fourth choice, having won twice in eight career starts but making his graded stakes debut.