There could be another Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Café Pharoah, a son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, captured the Group 3 Unicorn Stakes in Japan, securing enough points on Japan’s Road to the Kentucky Derby to earn a spot – should his connections claim it.

Cafe Pharoah-Derby Eligible
The bloodline is strong in this one. Cafe Pharoah, the son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, qualified for the Kentucky Derby out of Japan’s Road to the Kentucky Derby. (Image: Yuki Shimono)

Cafe Pharoah took home 40 points for his five-length victory. His 70-point total gives him an insurmountable lead with one Japanese prep race – the July 8 Japan Dirt Derby – remaining. Noriyuki Hori, Cafe Pharoah’s trainer, notoriously keeps his charge’s future plans close to the vest. He declined to comment about Cafe Pharoah’s next race.

But Cafe Pharoah is Triple Crown-nominated and has a spot waiting for him in the Sept. 5 Run for the Roses.

As for the Unicorn, Cafe Pharoah performed a credible impression of his sire. He let the pacesetters do their pacesetting, took the lead on the turn, and then pulled away in the deep stretch. His 1:34.90 time for the 1,600 meters (roughly a mile) set the Unicorn Stakes record.

First Graded Stakes Win for an American Pharoah Progeny

That credible impression of American Pharoah gave the sire his first graded-stakes victory by one of his offspring. Cafe Pharoah is unbeaten in three races, banking $580,000 already, and his presence in the Derby would bring more than the usual intrigue surrounding foreign runners.

Usually, those runners from Europe, the UAE, and Japan are outclassed, and the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby has never ended in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle. Last year, Master Fencer took Japan’s slot in the Derby after the top three points-earners passed. The first Japanese-bred horse to run the Derby, Master Fencer wound up seventh and moved to sixth with Maximum Security’s disqualification. Master Fencer then finished fifth in the Belmont Stakes.

Master Fencer’s credible outings opened the gates. As of February, 20 Japanese horses were Triple Crown-nominated. While only one is assured of a Derby starting post, the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes looms as a possibility for nominated horses. Four years ago, Lani finished third in the Belmont Stakes after missing the board in the first two Triple Crown legs.

Cafe Pharoah’s Pieces are in Place

Bred in Kentucky and sold for $475,000 last March, Cafe Pharoah could figure more prominently. He certainly has the pedigree, and the distance isn’t an issue. Whether the relatively weak competition he’s facing in Japan factors in is another matter.

In the meantime, the Derby Trail trail lengthened on Wednesday when Churchill Downs officials added two more stops. Those are the July 16 Peter Pan Stakes and the Aug. 8 Travers Stakes. Both races are at Saratoga, and both were added when the New York Racing Association finalized its stakes schedule late last week.

The 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 Peter Pan offers 50-20-10-5 Derby qualifying points. The 1 ¼-mile Grade 1 Travers offers 100-40-20-10 points. The Travers, the July 11 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, and the July 18 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park are the three most lucrative points opportunities remaining for Derby hopefuls.

The next Derby Trail stop is Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Ohio Derby from Thistledown. It offers a modest 20-8-4-2 point breakdown to the top four finishers.