UAE Derby sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (Group 2) winner and Kentucky Derby (Group 1) candidate Mendelssohn made his first appearance on the track on Thursday morning after clearing quarantine at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
He did so again on Friday morning, again drawing a sizable crowd, as he prepares for Saturday’s US $2 million Kentucky Derby (Group 1). The son of Scat Daddy is the 5-1 morning-line second choice in the 2000m American classic behind Justify, who is trained by three-time Dubai World Cup winner and four-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert. A win would make him the first to pull off the UAE-Kentucky Derby double.
Mendelssohn breaks from post 14 of 20 sophomores, which is the outside barrier in the main gate. Posts 15 through 20 are part of the auxiliary gate, which means that there is about a three-meter gap between Mendelssohn and the next horse, Instilled Regard (post 15).
As a 2-year-old, he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (Group 1) over the grass to cap his season. So far in 2018, he is undefeated in two starts, having won the Listed Patton Stakes at Dundalk in Ireland prior to the UAE Derby. He has thus won his last three races on three different kinds of surfaces.
“Coming up to last year’s Breeders’ Cup, when he was second in the (Group 1) Dewhurst (Stakes), ‘The Lads’ (owners Tabor, John Magnier and Smith) always thought that he could be a Kentucky Derby horse and we felt he had a chance of acting on the dirt, so we had a decision to make of whether we would stay on the grass with him or switch him to dirt,” O’Brien said.
“At the time, we had US Navy Flag and he had won two Group 1 races on the grass and obviously Mendelssohn hadn’t, so rather than make too big a change, we decided to give him a chance to win a Group I on the turf with the view that we could train him over the winter with the Kentucky Derby in mind.
“Obviously he’s a horse with a lot of pace and he got a mile well at Dundalk,” O’Brien continued. “We were delighted he got the nine and a half furlongs at Meydan over the dirt. He has progressed nicely and has passed every test we have asked him to pass so far and that’s why we are here today.”
A vocal horse with plenty of personality, Mendelssohn has been singing his song during both of his trips to the Churchill Downs main track this week.
“He has a big personality, we always try to encourage our horses to develop a personality, and he has developed a big one,” O’Brien explained. “Even though he’s vocal and cries out and calls to other horses, he’s not coltish and doesn’t draw or show. It’s more a mental thing than anything.
As we were training him last year, when we put the blinkers on him, it totally focused his mind. It’s amazing how an inch on either side of his eye totally changes his focus.
The minute you put those on, he totally focuses, so we don’t want to change him too much. He’s slowly growing up mentally and physically, so that’s where we are, really.
“He just did a gentle canter yesterday and just did a little bit quicker today, but it’s really just showing him around the place and the track,” O’Brien continued.
“We’ve been very happy with him. We haven’t overdone him. It’s only been five weeks since Dubai and of course four weeks with the travel. He had a good, strong race in Dubai. He’s here fresh, rather than (having been) hard on him, if you know what I mean.”
Mendelssohn was the most expensive yearling of his generation sold at auction in 2016 at US $3 million, courtesy of Keeneland’s September Sale in Kentucky. This week is his first trip back to the ‘Bluegrass State’ since.
“He’s a very special-looking horse physically and with his pedigree, he came to us as a top-rated horse. Usually those horses, if things go right, they have a big shot,” O’Brien said. “Meydan is a proper dirt surface and (exercise rider) Dean was very happy with how he went over this surface. It would be something we couldn’t really dream of, to win this race. We feel so privileged to be here and have a horse who can compete.”
Three of Mendelssohn’s yard-mates have tagged along with him to Kentucky: Threeandfourpence, Seahenge and Deauville. All three are Meydan alumni, as Seahenge and Threeandfourpence finished behind Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby and Deauville ran in the 2017 Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (Group 1). Threeandfourpence competes in the American Turf (Group 2), Seahenge is in the Pat Day Mile (Group 3) and Deauville is one of the serious contenders in the Old Forester Turf Classic (Group 1).