Mendelssohn steals the Thunder

Mendelssohn steals the Thunder

April 03, 2018 3:00 AM


While the main attraction in horse racing on Saturday, March 31, presumably was Thunder Snow’s victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, that performance was overshadowed by the 3-year-old Mendelssohn’s victory in the $2 million UAE Derby on that same racing card.

Fact is, Mendelssohn’s performance also dwarfed the impression made by Audible’s Florida Derby triumph a few hours later at Gulfstream Park. That’s because Mendelssohn’s 18.5 length victory in the 1-3/16 UAE Derby not only earned a 106 Beyer Speed Figure – the best by a 3-year-old this year – it stamped this son of (the deceased) Scat Daddy as the horse to beat in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

For sure, Thunder Snow’s victory in the 1-1/4 mile Dubai World Cup over a strong field of older horses that included Bob Baffert’s West Coast and Mubtaahij earned a terrific 111 Beyer Seed Figure. Yet, Mendelssohn’s sensational UAE performance that earned a 106 Beyer demonstrated he is at least as good on dirt – if not better – than he has shown as a star turf specialist.

This after all, this was Mendelssohn’s first start on a dirt racing surface after he previously had won a moderate stakes on a synthetic track in Ireland three weeks earlier. Prior to that this colt – who has been trained by Aidan O’Brien since he was purchased for a cool $3 million in the Sept. 2016 Keeneland Yearling Sale – was building a stellar career as one of the world’s top grass specialists.

Keep in mind, this well-proportioned colt with a smooth, lengthy stride, shipped from Great Britain to Del Mar last November to win the Grade-1, 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf! It also should be pointed out Mendelssohn’s UAE Derby score has set him up to be the only probable contender for the 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby with a winning race beyond 1-1/8 miles! Yet, even with all of his excellent credentials, it would be a mistake to concede him a victory in the world’s most famous race.

After all, trainer Todd Pletcher has several good Derby colts on the road to Louisville, including Audible. The same is true for Bob Baffert. Moreover, during the next few weeks most of this year’s top 3-year-olds pointing for the 144th Kentucky Derby will run in rich prep races at Aqueduct, Santa Anita, Oaklawn Park and Keeneland.

For just one example, horseplayers should be ready to see just how good Baffert’s undefeated and untested Justify proves to be in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 14. While it may be a coincidence Justify also is a son of the aforementioned Scat Daddy, he has earned 101 and 104 Beyer Figures in his only two starts.

This Saturday there will be three more rich Derby prep stakes, all at 1-1/8 miles – the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Santa Anita Derby, and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

In the Blue Grass, the 2017 Juvenile Champion Good Magic seems ready to improve the form he displayed when he finished a modest third in the March 3, Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. This year’s Blue Grass field also seems likely to attract Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip and several others who have hinted they are ready to advance their Kentucky Derby credentials.

In New York, the field for the Wood Memorial is likely to give Baffert’s Solomini the test he needs to prove he deserves to run at Churchill on the first Saturday in May. After all, this colt had a very rough trip in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, March 17. Running him in New York – after a good series of workouts – also gives Baffert the opportunity to keep Solomini away from the aforementioned Justify.

On the same day at Santa Anita, the principal contenders for the Santa Anita Derby seem likely to be the consistent Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie, while Instilled Regard will be looking to recover his best form after a poor outing in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 17.

Then on April 14, we not only will see the Arkansas Derby but Keeneland will host the final major Derby prep race – the Lexington Stakes at 1-1/16 miles. Frankly, it is hard to know at this point which horses other than Mask and Telekinesis will be given the opportunity in that final Derby prep to prove they belong in the Kentucky Derby.

Added Note: Thunder Snow – the 4-year-old colt who won the $10 million Dubai World Cup, ran in the 2017 Kentucky Derby after he won last year’s UAE Derby. But, he had a brutal trip in Louisville and has subsequently demonstrated he is one of the top horses in the world via his two victories and two seconds in his four starts this year.