Sport Horse Racing

Monday 20 May 2019

Mendelssohn books place in Kentucky with easy win

Ryan Moore rides Mendelssohn to the finish line. Photo: Reuters
Ryan Moore rides Mendelssohn to the finish line. Photo: Reuters

Greg Wood

How do you follow not just the best season of your training career, but the best of anyone's training career? For Aidan O'Brien, the answer could be with a victory in one of the few historic races that has eluded him thus far, after Mendelssohn's astonishing success in the UAE Derby on Saturday set him firmly on a path towards the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5.

Ryan Moore, who also harbours a long-standing ambition to win the Run for the Roses, rode a copybook dirt race on Mendelssohn, setting off at sprinting pace through the first furlong to secure the lead and then settling down to set the ideal fractions for his mount, who was making his first start on dirt.

Mendelssohn appeared to be travelling well within himself, and the first hint that he was about to spreadeagle his field came around the final turn, as Moore's lead began to extend with the jockey still motionless against hard-ridden rivals. Despite his early exertions, Mendelssohn galloped further clear all the way to the line to win in a track-record time by 18-and-a-half lengths - also a new record for any race at Meydan.

O'Brien had already overtaken Bobby Frankel's all-time mark for Group One or Grade One winners in a season when Mendelssohn provided the 27th of his 28 top-level victories in 2017, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. The trainer made it clear immediately after that success that his pure dirt pedigree - he is a Scat Daddy half-brother to the 2016 Distaff winner Beholder - made the Kentucky Derby a realistic target, and he is now as short as 5-1 favourite for America's greatest race.

Just five horses have made the trip from Ballydoyle to Louisville to date, including Johannesburg, who finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile the previous season. Master Of Horse's run into fifth in 2011 is as close as O'Brien has been to the frame.

"We knew he had lots of dirt in his pedigree," O'Brien said, "and he's a horse with a lot of speed, though we weren't sure how far his speed would carry him.

"He's a very good horse obviously, and the lads [in the Coolmore Stud syndicate] paid a lot of money for him [$3m at Keeneland in 2016], he's very well bred and that was his first taste of the dirt and going further than a mile, so we couldn't be happier really."

Moore described his first experience of the Kentucky Derby in 2012 as "the best day's racing I have ever experienced", and he seems sure to be in Louisville on 5 May rather than at Newmarket for the 2,000 Guineas.

"He's a very fast horse," Moore said. "It's the first time he's been in front today and he's still a horse that's learning, so he was still a bit green in places. Next time it's going to be a far tougher question but we're very happy with what he's done and I still feel he will get better. He's got the pedigree and looks to go with the form he's producing, so he's a very exciting horse."

Mendelssohn's performance in the third race on world's richest card was a tough one to follow, though O'Brien's great rivals in the Godolphin operation enjoyed an outstanding night overall at their "home" meeting, including a treble in the day's three most valuable races.

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