To drum up interest, every big race needs some sort of narrative, and the 2024 Kentucky Derby has several.

Most notably, there is a debate over the two market leaders, Fierceness and Sierra Leone. Pundits and, importantly, sportsbooks are split over the pair, and with good reason.

One leads the Road to the Kentucky Derby points race by a wide margin, and the other is a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and was crowned champion two-year-old.

That’s not to say that all of the focus is on the leading pair, of course. But it’s safe to say that the big story going into May 4th is trying to separate those betting favourites.

There is, however, an interesting candidate, currently trending 3rd in the Kentucky Derby odds. Forever Young is priced somewhere around 8/1 (+800) with several sportsbooks, and several pundits have put him up as a smart money bet.

Certainly, there are compelling reasons to back him, which we will get to in a bit, but there is also a sense of the unknown about a Japanese horse that has never run in North America before.

Unbeaten Forever Young Dazzled in Saudi Arabia

Forever Young is unbeaten over five starts. Three of those came in his 2YO season, where he finished with a rating of 113 – a record for a 2YO dirt racing horse in Japan.

That got him noticed, but it was his performances in 2024 in Saudi Arabia and UAE that put him (literally) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The Grade 3 Saudi Derby win stood out most of all, as it saw Forever Young recover from a shaky start to beat the highly-rated Book‘em Danno in the $1.5 million Grade 3 event. He smashed the course record in the process.

The horse booked his place at Churchill Downs with another superb effort in Dubai in late March. Both performances caused US sportsbooks to significantly cut his odds, and he is now ensconced firmly in 3rd in the betting markets behind Fierceness and Sierra Leone.

His odds seem fair at 8/1 for a horse that has looked every inch the superstar in his previous outings while taking into account the fact this level is a step up.

A word about his trainer, Yoshito Yahagi. He has won across the board in his native Japan, but American bettors should have no hesitation when looking at his credentials in big races abroad.

Yahagi became the first Japanese trainer to train a Breeders’ Cup race when scoring with Loves Only You in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf in 2021.

He also won the ultra-prestigious Cox Plate in Australia with Lys Gracieux in 2019. The bright lights and big crowds at Churchill Downs will not faze Yahagi.

An Uphill Battle for Foreign Stars

Of course, we should note that it can be difficult for international horses to come and plunder America’s most prestigious horse race.

There’s been a smattering of foreign-trained horses who have won in the past, including mercurial one-offs like Canonero II (trained in Venezuela) who shocked the world in 1971. But those are exceptions to the rule of American dominance.

Forever Young will be fighting both history and practical hurdles: The likes of Brad Cox and Todd Pletcher would have been planning for this one for months, perhaps as early as last winter as Fierceness and Sierra Leone began to stand out.

Yahagi and Forever Young will be in unfamiliar territory. But if you go back and watch how he ran in Saudi, you’ll see that this is a special horse.

The only question is, how special? We’ll soon find out.