I hear Thunder

This Saturday, Helmet's hugely exciting son Thunder Snow bids to become the latest winner of one of the world's most coveted races, the Kentucky Derby
Thunder Snow strides out at Churchill Downs earlier this week

The Kentucky Derby, also known as ‘The Run for the Roses’, has been run at Churchill Downs since 1875, making it the United States’ longest-running continuous sporting event.

Described locally as ‘the most exciting two minutes in sport’, each year the ten-furlong dirt contest sees 20 top-class three-year-olds bid to win the first leg of America’s Triple Crown and the $2million winner’s prize – not to mention the famous garland of red roses which adorns the winner.

The Darley stallions have a strong association with the race, with Smarty Jones (Elusive Quality) becoming the first ‘official’ Darley-sired winner back in 2004, although Quiet American, who stood as a Darley stallion until his retirement in 2013, was the sire of Real Quiet who took the race in 1998.

Giacomo (Holy Bull) was victorious in 2005, two years before Street Cry’s son Street Sense made history when becoming the first horse ever to win both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby. More recently, Animal Kingdom and Nyquist, both now standing as Darley stallions, have taken the honours on the first Saturday in May.

This year, hopes for both Team Godolphin and young Darley stallion Helmet rest firmly on the shoulder of Helmet’s hugely exciting son Thunder Snow.

Thunder Snow as a foal in 2014

Born at Sheikh Mohammed’s Woodpark Stud in Ireland on 24 March 2014, Thunder Snow was the fourth foal out of Eastern Joy, who by then had already produced a G1 performer in Ihtimal (Shamardal). Eastern Joy is also the dam of G2 May Hill winner Always Smile (Cape Cross) who finished second in the G1 Sun Chariot, plus G3 Oh So Sharp Stakes heroine First Victory (Teofilo). Another homebred for Sheikh Mohammed, Eastern Joy hails from the family of great racemare Balanchine.

Joining Saeed bin Suroor’s stable in early 2016, Thunder Snow made his racecourse debut on 31 May last year and duly won, readily seeing off 11 rivals over six furlongs at Leicester. A swift step up in class followed and two starts later he added his first Black type when second in the G2 Vintage Stakes at Goodwood.

Next time out, Thunder Snow was beaten just a head in the G2 Champagne Stakes, before finishing a creditable fourth in the G1 Dewhurst Stakes.

Lining up in the G1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud later that month, Thunder Snow could not have been more impressive when becoming his first-season sire’s very first winner at the highest level, producing a devastating turn of foot two furlongs out to skip clear of his rivals and win by a full five lengths.

Thunder Snow returned at three in the UAE 2,000 Guineas and soon answered any doubts as to whether he could replicate his form on the dirt as he romped to a five-and-three-quarter-length victory at Meydan. He then threw himself into contention for the Kentucky Derby with a fast-finishing win in the G2 UAE Derby.

Thunder Snow storms to victory in the 2017 UAE 2,000 Guineas

When he lines up at Churchill Downs at 6.34pm local time this Saturday, Thunder Snow will bid to become the first European-bred horse to win since Tomy Lee in 1959.

Tomy Lee, bred by Sir David Wills, was himself born at Hadrian Stud in Newmarket, which was purchased by Sheikh Mohammed in 1986 and has since been the birthplace of fellow G1 winners Buzzword, Lyric Of Light, Mandaean, Monterosso, Question, West Wind and Zahrat Dubai.

Tomy Lee in the winner's circle after his victory in the 1959 Kentucky Derby

Thunder Snow will also aim to be just the second son of an Australian-bred stallion to take the race, the first being Dark Star who famously defeated the great Native Dancer in 1953. Dark Star’s sire Royal Gem draws another parallel with Helmet – they both triumphed inthe G1 Caulfield Guineas during their own illustrious racing careers. 

Helmet wins the 2011 G1 Caulfield Guineas

While the Kentucky Derby undoubtedly represents the biggest challenge yet for this outstanding son of Helmet, Thunder Snow is in fine form and arguably provides one of the best chances for some time for a horse trained outside of the US to land this time-honoured contest come Saturday.