Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Mendelssohn aced his dirt debut in Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby (G2), trouncing them by 18 1/2 lengths while smashing the track record by well over a second. With 100 points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1) in hand, the Aidan O’Brien colt will head to Churchill Downs on a mission to become the first European-trained winner of the American classic.
Mendelssohn was hustled early by Ryan Moore to outfoot rail-drawn filly Rayya for the early lead. Given O’Brien’s comments this week regarding the about 1 3/16-mile distance being a test, that move by Moore revealed some confidence that not only would he stay, but see out the trip in a strongly run race. Mendelssohn began to stride away from the field rounding the far turn, and then it was just a matter of how much he’d pad the margin.
Widening down the lane, the $3 million Keeneland sale-topper looked value for the money as he clocked 1:55.18. The previous track record was 1:56.61, set by Mizbah carrying 117 pounds in a handicap on January 4, 2017. Mendelssohn toted 126 pounds, the same weight he’ll shoulder in the May 5 Kentucky Derby.
UAE Oaks (G3) winner Rayya kept on for a clear second in her finale for Doug Watson. Although she earned 40 Kentucky Derby points, she’s going into the Kentucky Oaks (G1) once she joins Bob Baffert. The Steve Asmussen-trained Reride rallied for third, three lengths behind the filly, and scored 20 points. Godolphin’s Gold Town, who had been dominant on this track, was only fourth, good for 10 points but ending his chances of contemplating Churchill.
Mendelssohn’s stablemate Seahenge broke slowly again, and in the circumstances recovered reasonably in fifth. Next came Japan’s Taiki Ferveur; Yulong Warrior, who attended Mendelssohn early but retreated; Ruggero; and the third O’Brien, Threeandfourpence.
Mendelssohn had prepped with a victory in the March 9 Patton S. at Dundalk, a scoring race on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby that put him on top of that leaderboard. But his Coolmore connections always had their eyes on Dubai World Cup night, and Mendelssohn exited the European Road, leaving Gronkowski to earn the invitation in Friday’s Burradon S. at Newcastle.
Now the winner of three straight, the half-brother to Beholder and Into Mischief hasn’t lost since his runner-up effort in the Dewhurst (G1), in first-time blinkers. Their dam, the stakes-winning Tricky Creek mare Leslie’s Lady, keeps adding to her legacy.
His late sire, Scat Daddy, has two high-profile Derby hopefuls, along with Justify set for a stakes debut in the Arkansas Derby (G1).
Quotes from Dubai Racing Club
Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier: “To win by nearly 20 lengths in track record time is something that nobody could imagine.”
Trainer Aidan O’Brien: “We are over the moon. He came forward lovely from his run at Dundalk a few weeks ago. He is bred to handle the dirt, being by Scat Daddy. But that was an unbelievable performance. We weren’t sure how he would handle the distance but you have to say he saw it out pretty well! He is naturally quick and has a lot of tactical early speed. He did it the hard way, but he did it so easily. He is very well bred, he has a great physique and you can see why he cost the lads a lot of money at the sales. We will look forward to going to Kentucky with him now. He is a terrific horse, really very exciting. “
Jockey Ryan Moore: “He’s a high-class horse, a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner, and now he’s done it here. You’d have to go a long way to see a better performance than that. He’s a horse with a lot of speed, he still feels like there’s more physical improvement in him, there’s more strengthening to come, he’s going to get better. He’s grown up a lot, but he’s still learning and he’s trained by a genius.”
On Mendelssohn’s chances in the Kentucky Derby: “He’s got a beautiful pedigree, he’s got the form, he races forward and there’s plenty of experience now. But that’s a different thing, a hard race with more runners, you can’t compare it to today.”
Jockey Pat Dobbs on runner-up Rayya: “She travelled around super in behind the leader. I saw William (Buick on Gold Town) was struggling halfway round the bend and I thought there might be a chance of getting second. She stuck to her guns well as she got very tired up the straight, but she’s very honest.”
Owner Ron Winchell on third-placer Reride: “It could have been better, but it could have been worse.”
Jockey Richard Mullen on the seventh Yulong Warrior, describing what Mendelssohn did to him: “I followed Mendelssohn down the back and he just extended away from us. He probably sickened my horse just my horse a little bit because he couldn’t go with him and in the end, he took the turn around the bend and other horses came around and swept by him. He’s better than that, but still a baby. He kind of got discouraged by racing against a man today.”