Both New and Familiar Connections with Japanese Derby Contenders

For U.S. expatriate Kate Hunter, the GI Kentucky Derby is about relationships. Hunter, who is based in Japan when she’s not traveling the globe, is the founder of Marugai Racing. She represents the Japan Racing Association and, among other American racing organizations, Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.

Her journey with the connections of Derby contenders Derma Sotogake (Jpn)(Mind Your Biscuits) and Continuar (Jpn) (Drefong) began early this year as she traveled with them from Japan to Saudi Arabia in February, then on to Dubai in March, and finally to Kentucky, where they arrived at Churchill Downs on April 8.

Over the past two weeks, the horsemen who traveled with this Derby-bound pair have been busy with training every morning and they return to the track each afternoon for feeding, but the crew still finds time to put on their sightseeing caps for a few hours each day. Hunter has served as their tour guide. They have frequented the track kitchen and toured the museum at Churchill Downs, but also made several trips to Lexington. They’ve watched races at Keeneland and visited a good portion of the major stallion farms. Japanese-bred Yoshida was the obvious favorite at WinStar and 2022 Horse of the Year Flightline stole the show at Lane’s End.

“One of the most important things when you’re bringing people from Japan who rarely get to make it all the way to Kentucky is that you want them to get the full experience,” Hunter explained. “That’s what is so wonderful about horse racing all over the world is that if you work in racing, you’re probably a fan. To see the fanboy come out in all of these guys who are hard horsemen and have been riding for their whole lives, to see them smiling like little children has been super neat.”

It has been a rewarding past few years for Hunter as Japanese runners have stamped their presence on the international stage. 2021 was an unforgettable year as Loves Only You (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) and Marche Lorraine {(Jpn) (Orfevre {Jpn}) both claimed victories at the Breeders’ Cup in Del Mar, but Hunter said that helping her Japanese associates make it to the winner’s circle in the Derby would be a dream come true.

“Personally, the Kentucky Derby is what go me into horse racing,” she said. “Being able to help someone win the Kentucky Derby is basically my goal in life now. There’s always something special about the Derby.”

As Hunter has traveled the globe with Continuar and Derma Sotogake for the past three months, she has become more than familiar with their stories. Here she tells us more each horse and their connections.


Derma Sotogake on the track at Churchill Downs | Sara Gordon

DERMA SOTOGAKE (Jpn) (Mind Your Biscuits – Amour Poesie {Jpn}, by Neo Universe {Jpn})

After two unsuccessful tries on turf, Derma Sotogake broke his maiden in his second dirt race, capping off his juvenile season with three straight wins culminating in the two-turn Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun as part of the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby. He took to the international stage this year with a third-place finish in the G3 Saudi Derby, where he stalked the pace but couldn’t catch up to the two leaders. He changed tactics for the G2 UAE Derby, showing speed to claim the lead early. He won by 5 ½ lengths under Christophe Lemaire, going 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.81.

“Derma Sotogake was always impressive from the time I saw him in Saudi through Dubai,” Hunter said. “He is a beautiful horse and he moves really well. He has a fun personality. He’s really sweet, but he’s also full of fire. To see him win [the UAE Derby] that impressively was super exciting. I wasn’t expecting him to go to the lead because he didn’t do that when he won the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, but he did it effortlessly.”

Will Derma Sotogake seek the lead on the first Saturday in May as he did in Dubai?

“I kind of keep that between the trainer and the jockey, but if Derma Sotogake is able to set his own pace and take things the way he wants to with no one challenging him, he might,” Hunter said. “They will do whatever the horse wants to do.”

Derma Sotogake’s sire Mind Your Biscuits was a multiple graded stakes winner in the U.S., with career highlights including scores in the 2016 GI Malibu S. and the 2017 and 2018 G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen. The son of Posse was sold to Japan to Teruya Yoshida’s Shadai Farm after retiring from racing and he was the leading freshman sire there in 2022. Derma Sotogake was his first group winner.

Trainer Hidetaka Otonashi

Hunter explained that while Hidetaka Otonashi has been a prominent name in Japanese racing for many years, he has rarely ventured onto the international stage. In 2020 he had Chrysoberyl (Jpn) (Gold Allure {Jpn}), the 2019 Japanese champion dirt horse, perform in the G1 Saudi Cup. Hunter said that Derma Sotogake is his first runner in the U.S.

“Mr. Otonashi is nearing the end of his career and he hasn’t really traveled abroad very much,” she explained. “He’s a very talented trainer in Japan and it’s nice to see him finally taking on the rest of the world because he’s got too much talent to keep home.”

Owner Hiroyuki Asanuma

Derma Sotogake’s ownership is a family affair. The fiery chestnut is campaigned by Hiroyuki Asanuma, whose daughter is married to the son of Teruya Yoshida–the owner of Shadai Farm, where Mind Your Biscuits stands. Yoshida was represented as the owner of Crown Pride (Jpn) (Reach the Crown {Jpn}) at last year’s Kentucky Derby and his Shadai Farm is the breeder of Derma Sotogake.

“For Mr. Asanuma, this is his first really good horse,” Hunter noted. “He’s had an owner’s license for 30-some years and he has had horses that have won a couple of races, but he’s never had a horse of this caliber before.”

Hunter shared that all of Derma Sotogake’s owner and breeder connections will be attending the Derby, adding that, “We’re going to have a very full box.”

Training Assistant Masatoshi Segawa

Hunter is close friends with the family of Derma Sotogake’s training assistant, Masatoshi Segawa. Segawa’s wife is the daughter of Katsumi Yoshizawa, whose homebred Master Fencer (Jpn) (Just A Way {Jpn}) competed on the 2019 Triple Crown trail.

Segawa, who is both the rider and the groom of Derma Sotogake, said he is enjoying his first trip to Kentucky. When asked what a Derby victory would mean to him, he responded through a translator and said, “I don’t think it would have as much meaning to me because for me, the most important thing is Derma Sotogake. So I hope he shows his ability at the races and that he shows his value and that he is able to do it. That is very important for us.”


Continuar’s rider Kazunari Yoshida was also the training assistant for Breeders’ Cup champ Loves Only You | Sara Gordon

CONTINUAR (Jpn) (Drefrong – Pan de Ring {Jpn}, by King Kamehameha {Jpn})

After breaking his maiden on debut at two, Continuar ran second by a nose to Derma Sotogake in an allowance at Hanshin. He then claimed the first leg of the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby  in the Cattleya S. in November. Continuar has failed to find the winner’s circle this year, finishing fifth in the Saudi Derby and third in the UAE Derby. The sophomore had outside trips in both races, traveling especially wide in the Saudi Derby. Hunter said his connections are hoping the race shakes out for him differently in Louisville.

“He has always been there in each race,” Hunter said. “It would be pretty exciting to see him rebound off that lower performance and pick it up here in the Derby.”

While Derma Sotogake is the more spirited member of the pair, Hunter said that Continuar is one of the most easygoing horses she has been around.

“Continuar is wise beyond his years,” she explained. “He’s such a calm 3-year-old that you would think he is five or six. That calmness and collectiveness will really come in handy on Derby day.”

Continuar is from the second crop of 2016 Eclipse Champion Sprinter Drefong (Gio Ponti), who was also a champion first-crop sire in Japan for Shadai Stallion Station.

Trainer Yoshito Yahagi

Yoshito Yahagi is no stranger to the international spotlight. He was the trainer of Breeders’ Cup superstars Loves Only You and Marche Loraine, as well as this year’s G1 Saudi Cup victor Panthalassa (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}), 2016 G1 Dubai Turf winner Real Steel (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) and last year’s G2 Dubai Gold Cup victor Stay Foolish (Jpn) (Stay Gold {Jpn}). In Japan, another one of his more recent high-profile performers is 2020 Japanese Triple Crown winner Contrail (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}).

“Mr. Yahagi has always been a trainer who has a lot of ambition to go out and conquer the world,” Hunter said. “I’m so happy that he’s been able to do that successfully and it’s been a pleasure to be able to help in any way to give him the opportunities to get out there and go to the Breeders’ Cup and come to the Derby. He’s probably one of the more internationally minded, ambitious trainers in Japan right now, so if any tracks out there are looking for a horse, call Mr. Yahagi.”

Owner Lion Race Horse Co. Ltd.

While there are many high-profile racing clubs in Japan, Hunter noted that Lion Race Horse Co. is a much smaller organization. One of their current performers Unicorn Lion (Ire) (No Nay Never), a multiple Group 3 winner in Japan, ran fifth this month in the G1 Longines Queen Elizabeth S.

“It’s really great to have these guys have an opportunity to participate in a big race like this because horse racing is for everyone,” said Hunter.

Training Assistant Kazunari Yoshida

Kazunari Yoshida was the rider and groom of Loves Only You and he returns to the States this year with Continuar. He has worked with Continuar since the colt first began training as a juvenile.

Through a translator, Yoshida reflected on his trip to the Kentucky Derby and said, “I won the Breeders’ Cup with Loves Only You in 2021. That was the most exciting experience, but this is my second greatest experience in my life. Winning the Kentucky Derby would change my life.”

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