CRAWFORD | Kentucky Derby contender Mendelssohn (loudly) announc - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Kentucky Derby contender Mendelssohn (loudly) announces his presence at Churchill Downs

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Mendelssohn gallops on the Churchill Downs track (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Mendelssohn gallops on the Churchill Downs track (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)
Aidan O'Brien, Mendelssohn's trainer. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Aidan O'Brien, Mendelssohn's trainer. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)
WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford
WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Mendelssohn is here. The $3 million dollar colt, the 5-star recruit who has run like one, made his second trip to the Churchill Downs track on a 70-degree, humid Kentucky Oaks morning.

Like the cool kid in school, he has an entourage around him, four other horses. His exercise rider, Dean Gallagher, has kept him pretty tightly in hand, but it hasn’t dampened his, let’s just say, enthusiasm to be in the surroundings.

Mendelssohn is a loud runner, whinnying and screaming his way around the track, even at a canter. He has put on a show for the approving crowds along the backside at Churchill Downs. What he’s saying, who knows? We’d ask some horses who have run with him, but they can’t answer, and even if they could, they were 18 lengths or more behind him by the end of his last race, the $2 million United Arab Emirates Derby in Dubai, so they might not know.

He finished that race looking like a Superhorse, beating Rayya, who is on the Churchill Downs premises for the Kentucky Oaks on Saturday, and eight others.

His last three victories have come on three different continents, on three different racing surfaces: The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar last fall, The Patton Stakes at Dundalk in Ireland, on a synthetic surface over one mile, then in Dubai on the dirt at 1 3/16 miles, just a furlong short of the Kentucky Derby distance.

His sire, the late Scat Daddy, has turned out some excellent progeny, including Mendelssohn’s chief Kentucky Derby competition, morning line favorite Justified. His dam, Leslie’s Lady, was the 2016 Kentucky broodmare of the year.

After watching his colt’s demeanor on the grounds Friday morning, his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, was satisfied that he’s ready for the challenge.

“We were really just showing him around the place and showing him the track,” O’Brien said. “We’ve been very happy with him. We haven’t overdone him. He had a good, strong race in Dubai. He’s here, we think, fresh.”

O’Brien is one of the world’s top trainers. He won 28 Grade I stakes last year, a world record. He’s won major stakes in Ireland, his home, Australia, Canada, France, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Italy, UAE and the United States, where he has won four Breeders’ Cup races and twice won the Arlington Million.

He acknowledges, he has had his eye on the Kentucky Derby with this colt. He’ll bring in Ryan Moore, considered by some to be the world’s top jockey, to ride him.

“Coming up to last year’s Breeders’ Cup, the lads always thought he could be a Kentucky Derby horse,” O’Brien said. “And we felt he was a colt that had a chance of winning on the dirt. So we had a choice to make, whether to stay on grass with him or moving to the group for the Breeders’ Cup. . . . So we decided to give him a chance to win a Group 1 on the turf, with the view that we could train him over the winter with the Kentucky Derby in mind.”

Now, the Kentucky Derby is in Mendelssohn’s sights. O’Brien transitioned Mendelssohn to dirt with a race on a synthetic track, then sent him to Dubai for a true dirt track and 1 3/16 miles.

“He’s always showed plenty of pace,” O’Brien said. “Obviously he got the mile in at Dundalk, and we were delighted that he got the 9 ½ furlongs on the dirt. So, for us, he has progressed nicely. He has passed the tests that we’ve asked him to pass, so far.”

Most of the attention at Churchill, has been on Mendelssohn’s vocal demeanor when he’s on the track. Whether he’s talking trash, who knows? Whatever the case, he was spirited when he exited the quarantine barn, and has been ever since.

“He has a big personality,” O’Brien said. “We always try to encourage in horses to develop a personality, and he has developed a big one. Even though he’s vocal, he cries out and calls to horses, but he doesn’t draw or he doesn’t show, so it’s more a mental thing that anything. As we were training him last year, when we put on blinkers, it totally focused his mind. An inch on either side of his eye totally changes his focus, and that’s how he’s been so far.

“What you’ve seen here, he was the same in Dubai before he raced, and we saw last year, the minute the blinkers went on him, he was totally focused. We don’t want to change too much. He’s slowly growing up, mentally and physically, so that’s where we are. . . . He seems very happy.”

That’s all may bettors at Churchill will need to hear.

We’ve seen several great ones not progress from the sales ring to the track. Not this one. He was a blue-chipper when he was purchased in a bidding war that Coolmore Stud won over Spendthrift Farm, and he has performed like he was worth it, and he’s earned better than $1.9 million on the track so far.

“He’s a very special looking horse, physically and with his pedigree,” O’Brien said. “He came to us a top-rated horse. And usually those horses, if things go right, they have a big shot.”

As for his own shot to add the Kentucky Derby to his Grade 1 resume, O’Brien said he’s happy for the opportunity.

“It would be some something that we couldn’t really dream of, really,” O’Brien said. “This would be something that we couldn’t ever dream of happening. We feel so privileged to be here and have a horse to compete. To even dream of something like this would be hard.”

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