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Mendelssohn (Coady Photography)

Kentucky Derby Thoughts from John Mucciolo

The European-based colt enters the Kentucky Derby off one of the finer prep runs of the season – an 18-length tour-de-force at Meydan in the UAE Derby (UAE-G2). Sent to the lead by pilot Ryan Moore, the well-bred colt was never headed and put on a dazzling display for the crowd in Dubai.

Mendelssohn was a $3 million purchase at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The half-brother to multiple champion and future Hall of Fame mare Beholder got off to a slow start in his debut, but rebounded with a nice score in a second start.

An uplaced stakes debut came next, followed by a fine second in the Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-G1) behind his talented stable companion U S Navy Flag. In his juvenile finale, Mendelssohn powered home best to take the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar. And his connections have pointed towards the Kentucky Derby (G1) ever since.

Son of Scat Daddy was victorious in his sophomore bow over a synthetic oval at Dundalk, but he saved his best for a most recent outing. His comprehensive tally over what was considered a solid UAE Derby field was second to none and it makes Mendelssohn a prime Kentucky Derby contender. 

But I have my concerns, leading off with his travel. Mendelssohn has already taken a Europe-to-Dubai round trip this season, and will embark on a second Europe-to-United State voyage coming soon. He is racking up quite a number of frequent flier miles for a young athlete.

A second concern is that he will not get much time, if any, training on the grounds at Churchill Downs. I have kept tabs in recent years as to which horses have thrived, or flopped, in the days and weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby. And more often than not, an affinity for the ground in the morning has translated to race day. With Mendelssohn, I have no idea.

My last major concern is the surface at Meydan that he cruised home upon. The main strip in Dubai was grossly biased to front-running types during the Carnival, especially on Dubai World Cup Day. I still hold a measure of belief that Mendelssohn’s winning margin was as much a product of the racing oval, as it was his ‘freakish’ ability.

And, while it is possible for a horse to be good enough to win a Grade 1 race on turf at two, as well as the Kentucky Derby on dirt at three, I’ll have to see it happen first. Can Mendelssohn really be THAT good?
Something I will be watching with much interest is the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on Friday, especially the performance of Rayya. The filly finished a distant in the UAE Derby last time. A strong showing from Rayya bolster’s the chances of Mendelssohn, in my opinion.

I think Mendelssohn is immensely talented and could win the Kentucky Derby. He might simply be THAT good.
But with a stellar field awaiting him, a few concerns that I shed light upon, as well as likely low odds to work with, I am going to risk having ‘egg on my face’ by tossing the colt out of my wagers on May 5. 

Mendelssohn Career Statistics                                                                  

Starts: 7
Win: 4
Place: 1
Show: 0
Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings: $1,947,299
Last Update: April 2018

Owner: Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Ryan Moore
Pedigree: Scat Daddy – Leslie’s Lady, by Tricky Creek
Recent Finish: 1st, UAE Derby, Group 2 (3/31/18)
Notable Wins: UAE Derby, Patton Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1)
Approx. Odds to Win Kentucky Derby: 7-1
Mendelssohn won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar last November in his only start in the U.S., but any issues about shipping for the Kentucky Derby should not be a concern. He raced six times on the turf and then made a jaw-dropping dirt debut in a track-record UAE Derby winning by 18 lengths. Mendelssohn will try to become the first European shipper to win the Kentucky Derby, and jockey Ryan Moore is making his second Derby start after finishing 7th in 2013.

Mendelssohn was the highest-priced American yearling in 2016, a $3 million purchase at the Keeneland September sale. Yearlings do not sell for that high of a price unless they are essentially flawless physically and mentally and boast a promising pedigree. Scat Daddy is his sire, and Mendelssohn is out of the 2016 Broodmare of the Year, Leslie’s Lady.  

In his stakes debut, Mendelssohn finished 7th but was then 2nd in the Group 1 Dubai Dewhurst Stakes. Trainer Aidan O’Brien decided to ship him to the U.S. for the Breeders’ Cup, and he won the BC Juvenile Turf with an 86 Beyer Speed Figure. Brisnet gave him a 91 speed figure.

Mendelssohn finished more than 3 lengths in front of Derby runners My Boy Jack and Flameaway.   
BRIS speed measures how fast a horse ran a particular race and is comparable across distance, surface, and location. Class measures competition within each race.

Mendelssohn won the Patton Stakes at Dundalk in his 2018 debut, and then running for the first time on dirt, Mendelssohn displayed dominance in winning the UAE Derby by 18 lengths in a track-record time of 1:55.18. The 106 Beyer Speed Figure is the 2nd fastest awarded to a winner on the Road to the 2018 Triple Crown.

Key Speed Figures and Stats for Mendelssohn

  • Final 3/8 mile time in the UAE Derby :37.59 seconds
  • Record time in UAE Derby with 106 Beyer Speed Figure
  • Trainer Aidan O’Brien is considered one of the best in the business, but he is 0-for-5 in the Kentucky Derby with a best finish of 5th place

O’Brien notes that Mendelssohn is naturally quick with a lot of early tactical speed. He should be able to use it to his advantage to gain early position in the Kentucky Derby, and can certainly settle into a stalking position just off the pace on dirt as he has done in his turf races, depending upon how the pace scenario unfolds. Jockey Ryan Moore feels there is more physical improvement and strengthening ahead, and note that he carried 126 pounds in the UAE Derby and went longer in the 1 3/16 mile race than other Derby horses that just ran 1 1/8 miles races in their final prep.

The M&M combination of Mendelssohn and Moore are a good bet to make history and money for their backers in the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

Learn more about Mendelssohn

REILLY: Tales from the Crib - Mendelssohn

REILLY: Road to the Kentucky Derby UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn

BULL: Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Winner Mendelssohn

BRISNET: Mendelssohn

Kentucky Derby Profile: Mendelssohn

Watch Mendelssohn's workout videos