Powell: Thoughts on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby
by DICK POWELL
The European version of the Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) took a delayed path through the United Kingdom and Ireland last week and we got to see a few horses that might make it to Churchill Downs.
First up was the $67,500 Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park last Wednesday night. The field was pretty strong going in for the one-turn, right-handed mile race on the synthetic track.
Phoenix Thoroughbreds has been an emerging force in buying horses in international markets and have spent upwards of $20 million the past few years. GRONKOWSKI cost $401K at the Tattersalls Breeze-Up sale last April and had won his last two starts on synthetic tracks.
The aptly named big colt was sent off as the 6-4 favorite with John Gosden's COURT HOUSE second wagering choice at 5-2. Like his namesake, Gronkowksi was hard to control and after Jamie Spencer had him near the rear early, he was allowed to go outside and run going into the turn.
Racing very greenly, he passed horses willingly and seized command in the stretch while lugging towards the rail. Court house was briefly compromised but was no match as Gronkowski's official margin of victory was three-quarters of a length but it seemed longer. He earned 20 Kentucky Derby eligibility points and there was talk after the race of coming to America for one of the major prep races.
Last Friday was the $89,500 Patton Stakes on the synthetic track at Dundalk in Ireland. Also run at a mile but this one was over a left-handed course unlike Kempton. The field was head by Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner MENDELSSOHN as well as two others from Aidan O'Brien and two from his son Joseph's yard.
At the start, THREEANDFOURPENCE gunned to the front and stayed off the rail to give Ryan Moore and Mendelssohn plenty of room. There was no movement in the first five furlongs and when they hit the top of the stretch, Seamie Heffernan aboard Threeandfourpence conveniently left the inside open for stablemate Mendelssohn. Ryan Moore shot through the hole and took control of the race.
The final time of 1:38.80 was a bit slow but I give him credit that he was able to maintain his focus through the long stretch. He should get a lot out of the race and be much fitter from here.
Aidan O'Brien runners finished first, second and third, and now it's on to the $2 million U. A. E. Derby (G2) on March 31 at Meydan in Dubai for Mendelssohn, where he will meet GOLD TOWN, who has been dominating the three-year-old races there this season. With 20 points from the Patton Stakes, Mendelssohn will have plenty of opportunity in Dubai since that race is a 100-40-20-10 race.
A win on synthetic is a plus and a good performance on the dirt at Meydan will be even better. What sets Mendelssohn apart from other foreign horses trying American racing is his ability to break sharply. He overcame post one in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf when he broke running and was able to get a perfect pocket trip. Having Ryan Moore aboard is a huge help but he's not going to get the dream trip set up by his stablemates again like he did last week in Ireland.
The Coolmore ownership group paid $3,000,000 for Mendelssohn as a yearling and even though he is a half-brother to grade one dirt stakes winners Into Mischief and Beholder, they took him to Ireland to race him on turf where he was second in the Dewhurst (G1) as well as the win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Now, the plan is to get to the Kentucky Derby which is what he was bred for all along.