03/27/2017 11:56AM

Japanese runner in Kentucky Derby unlikely

Mathea Kelley/Dubai Racing Club
Epicharis (right) finishes second to Thunder Snow in the United Arab Emirates Derby.

It is increasingly doubtful that a Japanese-based runner will compete in this year’s Kentucky Derby on May 6. Epicharis, the runner-up in the United Arab Emirates Derby on Saturday, has been removed from consideration by his connections, and the only other two prospects who could be invited by Churchill Downs are unlikely to participate, according to the Japan Racing Association.

Churchill Downs this year carved out a separate Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby series to try to get a Japanese-based horse into the Derby, as betting on the Derby would be allowed in Japan only if a Japanese-based runner participates. The two-race series, separate from the 35-race Road to the Kentucky Derby series, has Epicharis on top, with Mont Saint-Legame second and Adirato third based on points earned in the two races, one in November, the other in February.

Churchill Downs, in its rules for the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, said one position would be awarded in the Derby starting gate to the horse with the most points, and, if that horse declined, invitations would go to the second- and third-highest point-earners, in that order, but that no invitations would be extended beyond the top three.

At least two persons connected with Epicharis sent out notices on Twitter following the UAE Derby that the colt might be considered for the Preakness and/or Belmont, but that the Derby was out.

Mont Saint-Legame has not competed since the second race on the list, the Hyacinth.

Adirato finished 12th in the UAE Derby. As with Epicharis, he returned to Japan following the race and must clear quarantine there. That presents an additional complication: Horses returning to Japan must spend a week in isolation, then another three weeks in quarantine, which would mean travel to the United States could not happen, at the earliest, until two weeks out from the Derby.

Last year, Lani came to the United States immediately after the UAE Derby. He did not have to go into quarantine in Japan until after he had competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown.