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2018 Kentucky Derby - Can Mendelssohn Do The Unthinkable

Can Irish colt Mendelssohn do the unthinkable and win the Kentucky Derby? It’s the question every US racing fan is asking and the fear they all hold days out from America’s most famous classic at Churchill Downs.
The Kentucky Derby is one of America’s great institutions, rivalling events such as the NFL Super Bowl, baseball’s World Series and car racing’s Indianapolis 500 as cultural phenomena that crosses socioeconomic lines and filters into the minds of millions come the first Saturday each May.
Dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sport”, its 143 winners have featured only two “interlopers” from outside the US – Canonero II from Venezuela in 1971 and Bold Forbes from Puerto Rico in 1976.
However it is Ireland’s Mendelssohn, representing owners Michael Tabor, Sue Magnier and Derrick Smith, trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore, that may well be the biggest game changer for US racing should he master the dirt oval on Saturday.

His task is monumental, considering the past Derby failures of European stars like Johannesburg, trained like Mendelssohn at Ballydoyle by O’Brien, Arazi, Dr Devious and Bold Arrangement.
However a blueprint does exist as there similarities between Mendelssohn, Canonero II and Bold Forbes.
All three colts were bred and sold at auction in Kentucky, raced overseas before returning to the US as 2YOs, raced overseas again and were brought back for the opening jewel of the US Triple Crown.
However Mendelssohn’s $3 million yearling price tag at the 2016 Keeneland September Sale stands in stark contrast to the $1200 that Canonero II brought in 1969 or the $15,200 paid for Bold Forbes in 1974.
The winner of the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile at Del Mar last November on his first US visit, he’s a half-brother to multiple US champion Beholder and top sire Into Mischief and arrives off a remarkable performance in the G2 UAE Derby at Meydan.
Canonero II and Bold Forbes also brought intrigue to their respective Derbys.
The former started his career in Venezuela before two starts at Del Mar as a two-year-old. He then returned home to finish the 1970 season and won six of nine starts leading up to the 1971 Kentucky Derby.
Daily Racing Form’s American Racing Manual called the early part of his career “the stuff of legends” and his three and three-quarter-length victory in Louisville turned heads in the
The son of Pretendre proved it was no fluke by adding the Preakness Stakes two weeks later before a close fourth trying for the Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes.
Bold Forbes also started his career overseas, winning five starts in Puerto Rico and the US in 1975 before being turned over to legendary Hall of Fame trainer Laz Barrera for a US campaign as a 3YO.
He won the Kentucky Derby, finished third in the Preakness and rebounded to win the Belmont.
Europe’s best attempt came in 1986 when Clive Brittain brought Bold Arrangement from England, prepped with a third in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and finished second 11 days later in the Kentucky Derby.
The best finish since then was a fifth by Master Of Hounds, who represented O’Brien and Coolmore in 2011 after finishing second in the UAE Derby.
Mendelssohn will be the fourth straight UAE Derby winner to run in the Kentucky Derby and the seventh overall. The best finish came from Godolphin’s China Visit, sixth in 2000.
Mendelssohn is a late arrival, being flown from O’Brien’s base at Ballydoyle on Monday. He has to serve 48 hours in a quarantine facility in the Churchill Downs stable area after his arrival and is expected to work on the track on Thursday.
Mendelssohn’s rivals include the undefeated colts Justify and Magnum Moon, along with the once beaten Audible.
Justify, the Santa Anita Derby winner from five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert’s barn, is the expected favourite despite trying to become the first winner of the race not to race as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882.
Magnum Moon also didn’t race at two and brings a four from four record to Louisville.
Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby with Always Dreaming and in 2010 with Super Saver, trains Magnum Moon and also Audible, the winner of the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
Magnum Moon and Audible are just half of the extremely strong hand Pletcher brings to Churchill Down as he also has Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy and Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso.
The revered Andy Beyer speed ratings certainly rank Mendelssohn with the best of the US colts.
Mendelssohn was assigned a Beyer rating of 106 after his 18 lengths demolition of the UAE Derby, a number only surpassed this year by Justify’s 107 in the Santa Anita Derby.
However there was an obvious on pace/rail bias suiting the leaders at Meydan and there are several other intangibles Mendelssohn needs to overcome, not the least being the very poor record of O’Brien-trained runners on dirt in the
Since bringing his first runners to the US in 1996 O’Brien has started 56 horses in dirt races and won just twice (Johannesburg in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Man Of Iron in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Marathon) with three seconds and two thirds.
Mendelssohn also faces not having raced for five weeks, not being on the lead, kickback and other intangibles such as post position and a wet track.
His late sire Scat Daddy has also lacked his biggest successes on dirt, especially at the classic distance.
That said Mendelssohn appears to provide the best chance of any UAE Derby winner to run well in the Kentucky Derby.


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