Mendelssohn a Serious Derby Contender Despite Euro History

Kevin Stott

Sunday, April 15, 2018 5:06 AM UTC

Sunday, Apr. 15, 2018 5:06 AM UTC

No winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai has ever won the Kentucky Derby, but this year there's a special 3-year-old who could be tough to beat in the Run for the Roses.

Kentucky Derby Top Contenders Preview: Mendelssohn

There are several extremely talented 3-year-old thoroughbreds who have already qualified and will be heading to the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on May 5. One of those is maybe the most promising European hopeful in years if not ever in Mendelssohn (5/1 to win Kentucky Derby, Bovada), an American-bred bay colt trained by Aidan O’Brien who romped to a 18¾-length victory in the UAE Derby on March 31.

Mendelssohn instantly became the favorite in the Kentucky Derby futures book until Justify (4/1 to win Kentucky Derby) won the highly impressionable Santa Anita Derby last weekend, edging Bolt d’Oro (10/1 to win Kentucky Derby) at Santa Anita Park. As a yearling in the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Mendelssohn topped the public auction with a $3 million price tag, making him the most expensive yearling sold in North America that year.

Mendelssohn’s first big win came last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (pictured below) as a 2-year-old at Santa Anita Park in Santa Anita, California.

After the purchase — Mendelssohn has always been owned by a combination of Coolmore partners Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Sue Magnier — he was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Ballydoyle Stables in Ireland to train with Aidan O’Brien. In his racing debut last year as a 2-year-old, Mendelssohn, ridden by Wayne Lordan, finished 8th in the 7-furlong maiden race at The Curragh in Ireland on July 15, 2017, and went off at odds of 10/1, so, you can’t judge a horse by his (or her) first race. As a 3-year-old, Mendelssohn made his the Patton Stakes on March 9 of this year where he went off as the even-money betting favorite and winning by three-quarters of a length, instilling enough confidence in the 48-year-old O’Brien to enter him in the high-profile UAE Derby.

In his first start on a natural dirt surface and in a race of more than a mile, Mendelssohn grabbed the lead in the UAE Derby and never looked back, pushing down the homestretch away from the pack and breaking the Meydan Racecourse record by more than a second (106 Beyer Speed Rating) and finishing 2.27 seconds faster than the next-closest time since the UAE Derby went to dirt in 2015. Afterwards, jockey Ryan Moore said his emerging colt was still a "bit green in places,” still learning and could still get better. A scary thought. After the UAE Derby, Mendelssohn went down from 20/1 to 5/1 odds to win the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

Breakaway Speed Keys Mendelssohn

Like fellow blazer Justify (107, 104, 101 Beyer Speed Ratings), Mendelssohn is still a little young maturity-wise but looks like he has the raw speed and talent to deal with even a solid 20-horse field, trip depending of course. In his BC Juvenile Turf win last fall, jockey Moore did a tremendous job hooking Mendelssohn out off of the rail and free down the homestretch where the then 2-year-old could unleash his breakaway speed. But getting or expecting the kind of trips Mendelssohn had in the BC Juvenile Turf, Patton Stakes or UAE Derby is irrational in an embarrassment of riches, 20-horse field which will likely include potential legends themselves like Florida Derby winner Audible (+650 to win Kentucky Derby), Blue Grass Stakes winner Good Magic (12/1 to win Kentucky Derby), Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon and Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy (20/1 to win Kentucky Derby), all ready and capable of stealing the muddy spotlight in The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.

But anyone watching the performances in the UAE Derby and the BC Juvenile Turf can’t help but be impressed with Mendelssohn, and thoughts of just tossing a horse out because no other thoroughbred who won at Dubai has ever won at Churchill Downs is just foolish in this particular case, even with this killer field which will also include Bolt D’Oro (102, 101 Beyer Speed Ratings), Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso (16/1 to win Kentucky Derby), 2nd-place finisher Enticed (25/1 to win Kentucky Derby) and potentially underrated talent like Arkansas Derby 2nd-place finisher Quip and 3rd-place finisher Solomini (15/1 to win Kentucky Derby) who earned 20 points for his show result at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, moving him up to 54 qualifying points and a shot at The Run For The Roses, edging out 4th-place finisher Combatant (32 points) who desperately needed a Top 3 finish to make it to Churchill Downs.

Mendelssohn’s 106 Beyer Speed Rating — eclipsed only by Justify this calendar year of current male 3-year-olds headed to the Kentucky Derby — is serious stuff and jockey Moore seems like the perfect rider on the perfect horse at the perfect time. Not getting jammed in the 20-horse field or out too fast, too early will be important for Mendelssohn who won’t know that he will have the weight of the European equestrian world on his strong shoulders on that approaching first Saturday in May in the famous 11⁄4-mile (10 furlongs) race and first leg in horse racing’s Triple Crown. Mendelssohn has a strong dirt pedigree, and avoiding drawing the 1 ,2, 19 and 20 posts at Churchill Downs could end up being important.

Justify Tops Poll

The April 9 Kentucky Derby Media Poll had undefeated Justify its new No. 1, Bolt d’Oro falling to No. 2 and Audible (+650 to win Kentucky Derby) at No. 3. Mendelssohn was No. 3 in the poll on April 2 after his impressive UAE Derby win in Dubai.

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Mendelssohn's in. ✅

Watch the incredible performance that gave him 100 points and a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. pic.twitter.com/dXrRZDEjmP

— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) March 31, 2018
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Current Kentucky Derby Winner Futures Price: Mendelssohn 5/1 (Bovada)

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