One of the major story lines on the Kentucky Derby trail this past week was whether a foreign contender coming off a four-month layoff could stamp himself as a legit threat to claim this year's blanket of roses.
The answer was a definitive yes. The response, however, came from a bit of an unexpected source.
While Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vale of York finished a disappointing fifth in his 3-year-old debut, the $250,000 Al Bastakiya at Meydan on Thursday, English invader Awesome Act was anything but dull as he surged to a 11/4 -length victory over nine rivals in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct Saturday.
An Eclipse Award finalist, Vale of York was thought by some to be Sheikh Mohammed's best chance at having a Derby contender this year, only to be soundly beaten by stablemate Mendip, who won the Al Bastakiya by 61/4 lengths.
Saeed bin Suroor, trainer for Godolphin, said the son of Invincible Spirit needed the race and would be pointed for UAE Derby on March 27, but one isn't getting the feeling right now this will be the year Sheikh Mohammed adds the Kentucky Derby trophy to his collection of hardware.
Like Vale of York, Awesome Act also hadn't run since Breeders' Cup weekend, having finished fourth behind Pounced in the Juvenile Turf.
That only served to make Saturday's effort by the Jeremy Noseda-trained colt — who only shipped in from England on Wednesday — more impressive as he charged to the front following a four-wide move in his first career start over the dirt.
"We had the discussion about him possibly being a Derby horse after the Breeders' Cup," said Noseda. "I stood up and said, 'I believe I can do it from Europe.' Now, he's been in America and we can move forward."