O’Brien pur­sues his­toric Ken­tucky clas­sic with Men­delssohn

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - BRIAN O’CON­NOR

Even by Ai­dan O’Brien’s record-break­ing stan­dards vic­tory for Men­delssohn in Satur­day night’s Ken­tucky Derby would rep­re­sent a land­mark mo­ment in rac­ing his­tory.

No horse trained in Europe has ever won US rac­ing’s most cov­eted prize but the 144th re­newal at the fa­mous Churchill Downs track has the po­ten­tial to be mo­men­tous.

Men­delssohn is one of the favourites for the 20-run­ner “Run for the Roses” – due off at 11.34 – which is worth $2 mil­lion in prize­money and fea­tures the cream of Amer­ica’s clas­sic crop.

They in­clude the Santa Anita Derby win­ner Jus­tify and the east coast con­tender Audible who won the Florida Derby on his last start.

Noth­ing, how­ever, has taken a more cir­cuitous route to Louisville than Cool­more Stud’s $3 mil­lion year­ling pur­chase Men­delssohn.

The Ir­ish colt won on grass at last Novem­ber’s Breed­ers’ Cup in San Diego, re­turned to ac­tion with a win at Dun­dalk in March and later that month had a spec­tac­u­lar first out­ing on a dirt sur­face in Dubai.

Men­delssohn won the UAE Derby by over 18 lengths in track-record time un­der Ryan Moore who skips Europe’s first clas­sic of 2018 – Satur­day af­ter­noon’s New­mar­ket 2,000 Guineas – to ride in Ken­tucky.

Clos­est

The clos­est a Euro­pean-based horse has come win­ning what has been dubbed “the most ex­cit­ing two min­utes in sport” came 32 years ago when the English hope Bold Ar­range­ment fin­ished run­ner-up to Fer­di­nand.

This will be O’Brien sixth run­ner in the race and the clos­est he has got pre­vi­ously was fifth in 2011. It will be just Moore’s sec­ond “Durby” ride.

The scale of the Ir­ish horse’s task is im­mense and much is ex­pected to de­pend on how he breaks from his stall 14 po­si­tion. If the hu­man Men­delssohn fa­mously prayed for the wings of a dove, O’Brien and Moore are likely to be keep­ing their fin­gers crossed his equine name­sake can trap like a grey­hound.

The colt made all the run­ning to win in Dubai but has never faced dirt kick­back in be­hind horses. How he might re­act to that should he break slowly from the gates is one of the big ques­tion marks of the race.

De­ci­sion

O’Brien is in Ken­tucky and said yes­ter­day: “I would imag­ine he will be some way for­ward. There’s pace on his in­side. He made it (the run­ning) in Mey­dan. I wouldn’t be sure he’ll make it here. But that will be Ryan’s de­ci­sion when the gates open.”

On Satur­day af­ter­noon O’Brien has two prime fan­cies for the New­mar­ket 2,000 Guineas in Gus­tav Klimt and Saxon War­rior. He also runs four, in­clud­ing the favourite, Hap­pily, in Sun­day’s 1,000 Guineas. It is just 14-1 O’Brien pulls off an un­prece­dented clas­sic hat-trick this week­end.

There will be other Ir­ish in­ter­est in the Ken­tucky Derby as jockey James Gra­ham rides in the race for the first time aboard the 50-1 out­sider Lone Sailor.

The 38 year old from Fin­glas in Dublin has rid­den over 2,000 win­ner in North Amer­ica and breaks from stall eight on the Louisiana Derby run­ner up.

Ryan Moore: takes part in his sec­ond Ken­tucky Derby tonight

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