Men­delssohn books place in Ken­tucky with easy win

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - GREG WOOD

HOW do you fol­low not just the best sea­son of your train­ing ca­reer, but the best of any­one’s train­ing ca­reer? For Ai­dan O’Brien, the an­swer could be with a vic­tory in one of the few his­toric races that has eluded him thus far, af­ter Men­delssohn’s as­ton­ish­ing suc­cess in the UAE Derby on Satur­day set him firmly on a path to­wards the Ken­tucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5.

Ryan Moore, who also har­bours a long-stand­ing am­bi­tion to win the Run for the Roses, rode a copy­book dirt race on Men­delssohn, set­ting off at sprint­ing pace through the first fur­long to se­cure the lead and then set­tling down to set the ideal frac­tions for his mount, who was mak­ing his first start on dirt.

Men­delssohn ap­peared to be trav­el­ling well within him­self, and the first hint that he was about to spread­ea­gle his field came around the fi­nal turn, as Moore’s lead be­gan to ex­tend with the jockey still mo­tion­less against hard-rid­den ri­vals. De­spite his early ex­er­tions, Men­delssohn gal­loped fur­ther clear all the way to the line to win in a track-record time by 18-and-ahalf lengths — also a new record for any race at Mey­dan.

O’Brien had al­ready over­taken Bobby Frankel’s all-time mark for Group One or Grade One win­ners in a sea­son when Men­delssohn pro­vided the 27 th of his 28 top-level vic­to­ries in 2017, in the Breed­ers’ Cup Ju­ve­nile Turf. The trainer made it clear im­me­di­ately af­ter that suc­cess that his pure dirt pedigree — he is a Scat Daddy half-brother to the 2016 Distaff win­ner Be­holder — made the Ken­tucky Derby a re­al­is­tic tar­get, and he is now as short as 5-1 favourite for Amer­ica’s great­est race.

Just five horses have made the trip from Bal­ly­doyle to Louisville to date, in­clud­ing Jo­han­nes­burg, who fin­ished eighth in the Ken­tucky Derby af­ter win­ning the Breed­ers’ Cup Ju­ve­nile the pre­vi­ous sea­son. Mas­ter Of Horse’s run into fifth in 2011 is as close as O’Brien has been to the frame.

“We knew he had lots of dirt in his pedigree,” O’Brien said, “and he’s a horse with a lot of speed, though we weren’t sure how far his speed would carry him.

“He’s a very good horse ob­vi­ously, and the lads [in the Cool­more Stud syn­di­cate] paid a lot of money for him [$3m at Keeneland in 2016], he’s very well bred and that was his first taste of the dirt and go­ing fur­ther than a mile, so we couldn’t be hap­pier re­ally.”

Moore de­scribed his first ex­pe­ri­ence of the Ken­tucky Derby in 2012 as “the best day’s rac­ing I have ever ex­pe­ri­enced”, and he seems sure to be in Louisville on 5 May rather than at New­mar­ket for the 2,000 Guineas.

“He’s a very fast horse,” Moore said. “It’s the first time he’s been in front to­day and he’s still a horse that’s learn­ing, so he was still a bit green in places. Next time it’s go­ing to be a far tougher ques­tion but we’re very happy with what he’s done and I still feel he will get bet­ter. He’s got the pedigree and looks to go with the form he’s pro­duc­ing, so he’s a very ex­cit­ing horse.”

Men­delssohn’s per­for­mance in the third race on world’s rich­est card was a tough one to fol­low, though O’Brien’s great ri­vals in the Godol­phin oper­a­tion en­joyed an out­stand­ing night over­all at their “home” meet­ing, in­clud­ing a tre­ble in the day’s three most valu­able races.

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