In one corner is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) hero with the form in the book, but venturing into terra incognita on the dirt, his leading rival’s home court. In the other corner is the dirt specialist with an affinity for the track, but venturing against far more serious opponents. That’s the basic storyline of the Mendelssohn versus Gold Town, aka Coolmore versus Godolphin, heavyweight brawl in Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby (G2), both testing their Kentucky Derby (G1) mettle with the windfall of 100 points going to the winner.
One test that the two have in common is the about 1 3/16-mile trip of the UAE Derby. Mendelssohn has seen out the mile very well on two surfaces, following up his Breeders’ Cup score at Del Mar with a workmanlike success in the March 9 Patton S. over the Dundalk Polytrack. Giving stablemate Threeandfourpence five pounds and a beating in his reappearance, Mendelssohn became the pro tem points leader on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby (pending the Burradon S. at Newcastle on Friday). The Aidan O’Brien trainee surely will come on a bundle in this second start off the bench, where he can earn his Derby spot by scoring on the main leaderboard. If half-sister Beholder could stay 1 1/4 miles as a daughter of Henny Hughes, this $3 million son of Scat Daddy is eligible to handle the stretch-out. O’Brien noted that Mendelssohn travels strongly through his races, a quality that theoretically could imply distance limitations. But it’s at least as likely that he’s got a high cruising speed that he can carry over a classic distance.
Charlie Appleby’s Gold Town shouldn’t have stamina doubts as a son of Street Cry from the family of Dank, Eagle Mountain, and Sulk. The sire can take all the credit for his dirt proficiency. Regarded highly enough to try the Coventry (G2) at Royal Ascot, Gold Town was disappointing until a gelding operation. The switch to dirt at Meydan really set him alight, however, and he’s rolled in both starts by a combined margin of nearly 15 lengths. While it’s easy to dismiss the caliber of the opposition, it’s less easy to ignore the objective evidence of the clock. Gold Town’s time of 1:37.77 for the metric mile of the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) is solid on this track, especially since he was geared down nearing the wire. If he can withstand pressure from classier rivals, and not just the type who gets emboldened versus lesser, Gold Town may be a match for Mendelssohn.
Of course, this boxing match could turn into a rugby scrum with several others eligible to jump up, including Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender Rayya. The Doug Watson filly threatens to reprise her front-running heroics from the course-and-distance UAE Oaks (G3), especially after drawing the rail once again. Even if inside speed isn’t as lethal this time, her forward placement while saving ground, and getting a weight break from the boys, is her dream scenario – if she’s good enough to maximize it. Rayya will reportedly leave Dubai to take up residence stateside with Bob Baffert, so this is serving as her final stepping stone to the Kentucky Oaks.
Yulong Warrior, like Gold Town a son of Street Cry who was made a late Triple Crown nominee, has also upped his game on the Meydan dirt. But the Satish Seemar trainee rode the rail bias in his 11 1/2-length conquest of the Al Bastakiya over this track and trip Super Saturday. Flashing speed from post 7, against a far deeper cast, is another matter. Well worth following in the future, he shapes as more of a place chance here.
A similar comment applies to O’Brien’s two supporting characters, Seahenge and Threeandfourpence. Seahenge, the Champagne (G2) winner, hasn’t had a fair chance when a troubled third behind U S Navy Flag and Mendelssohn in the Dewhurst (G1) and most recently a slow-starting third in the Patton. A clean passage can put the Scat Daddy colt in a better light. Threeandfourpence, fourth in the Dewhurst and a much-improved second at Dundalk, is uncertain to take to dirt as a full brother to juvenile turf stand-outs Hit It a Bomb and Brave Anna.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Reride provides an informative tie-in with American form, as the sixth in the productive Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and recent hero of the Mine That Bird Derby. Typically that would have set the Candy Ride colt on the Sunland Derby (G3) path, but he skipped it in favor of World Cup night. Reride was flattered in absentia when Runaway Ghost, the Mine That Bird Derby runner-up, rolled at Sunland. A repeat of his last would put the Winchell homebred squarely in contention.
The Japanese pair, Taiki Ferveur and Ruggero, were dismissed by Sumahama in the concluding leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, the February 18 Hyacinth. Sumahama has politely declined his Derby invitation as the Japan points leader. Cattleya Sho scorer Ruggero would be next in line to receive it. He doesn’t appear the type to improve on the stretch-out, so the UAE Derby may help decide his plans. Taiki Ferveur will be better suited to this trip than the Hyacinth, where he got rolling too late. But the one-run closer may be disadvantaged if Meydan continues to be speed-conducive, unless new rider Joao Moreira gets him into the game earlier.
Here is the complete field after Monday’s draw, via emiratesracing.com: