BOZICH | The pick is in; The Kentucky Derby pick is Mendelssohn
Mendelssohn has won on three continents and on three different types of racing surfaces and appears primed to become the first UAE Derby winner to score in the Kentucky Derby.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The pick is in. I’m not giving it to Roger Goodell or Mel Kiper Jr. I’m giving it to you.
The pick is Mendelssohn.
Mendelssohn is one of the best of the 20 horses in Kentucky Derby 144. I understand that qualifiers are not accepted at the Churchill Downs betting windows. A horse is either the winner or he isn’t.
Let’s be reasonable. There are 8-to-10 horses than can win Saturday at Churchill Downs. Mendelssohn brings a formidable racing record that shows he belongs in that group.
That gets him to the starting gate. The racing gods have to take it from there.
The best horse often loses the Kentucky Derby. Curlin, Point Given, Skip Away and Holy Bull were all the Horse of the Year without being the Horse on the First Saturday of May.
Reasonable rail birds can disagree on Derby picks, but we can all agree on that.
The pick is Mendelssohn because of his racing credentials, which matter most.
He’s also in the hands of the finest European trainer, Aidan O’Brien, and jockey, Ryan Moore.
“Aidan O’Brien is a genius,” said Neil Howard, a veteran Churchill Downs trainer. “And, trust me, I don’t use that word lightly. He has a sixth sense about horses. It’s scary.”
Mendelssohn is also a story that will resonate beyond The Daily Racing Form because this is a colt who was bred by Fred Mitchell, a 78-year-old Kentucky farmer who has raised pigs, cattle, sheep and, of course, horses on his 400-acre Clarkland Farm off Bryan Station Road near Lexington.
“I never thought I’d breed a horse that would run in the Kentucky Derby until I saw this one,” Mitchell said. “On the day he was born, I told my daughter (Marty Buckner), ‘I don’t know about this one.’ “
The horse is the son of Scat Daddy and a half-brother to world champion filly Beholder. Those are bloodlines that can win the Kentucky Derby. Buckner never worried.
“He’ll be fine, Daddy,” she said.
“She was right,” Mitchell said. “He had a special look in his eyes.”
Wall Street Journal readers will enjoy this note: Mendelssohn was the top seller at the prestigious 2016 Keeneland September Sale.
He entered the sales ring as Hip 454. Bidding began at $25,000. The final gavel came down after Michael B. Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith offered $3 million.
“I’d always dreamed of breeding the top seller at Keeneland,” Mitchell said. “But in 40 years, I’d never sold a horse for more than $1.1 million.
“I was standing three feet away from one of the bidders. When it got to $2 million, I got goose bumps.”
The pick is Mendelssohn because of the way the colt has run in his last three races — winning on turf, synthetic and dirt surfaces in California, Ireland and Dubai by a combined margin nearly 20 lengths.
Nobody in this 20-horse field can match those credentials, including his dazzling 106 Beyer Speed Figure in Dubai.
The victory that moved Mendelssohn directly into the Derby buzz was the last one the colt won, his 18-length score in the UAE Derby in Dubai March 31.
I’ve already raised my gloves to block your comeback: Nobody has won the Derby by prepping overseas. Expensive horses with world-class connections have tried. UAE Derby horses are 0-for-13 in the Kentucky Derby. Got it.
A year ago the talented colt, Thunder Snow, tried it and gave up after eight steps. Here are the official Equibase chart footnotes about Thunder Snow’s effort in Derby 143:
“THUNDER SNOW (Ire) was extremely rank and bucked hard nearly unseating his rider in the opening sixteenth, was pulled up and walked off.”
Not good. Not encouraging for anybody making an argument for Mendelssohn.
This is different because Mendelssohn already has enough frequent flyer miles for Platinum Medallion status. He started his racing career with two turf races in Ireland, ran twice on the turf in Great Britain and then shipped to San Diego last November to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
Then it was back to Ireland for another win. Over to Dubai to make it three in a row in a race worth $2 million
Neil Howard, 69, won the 1990 Preakness with Summer Squall. Mineshaft, the 2003 Horse of the Year, was developed in Howard’s barn. He is a Churchill Downs mainstay who has raced at the highest levels of the game. I asked him about Mendelssohn. His eyes danced as if the colt was stabled in his barn.
“Love him,” Howard said.
But horses based in Ireland are 0-for-9 in the Derby. Since 1967, only two of 45 horses have won the Kentucky Derby after racing overseas — Bold Forbes (1976, Puerto Rico) and Canonero II (1971, Venezuela). O'Brien has been part of the foreign struggle. He is 0-for-5 in the Derby, finishing seventh with Lines of Battle in 2013, his last appearance.
“Doesn’t matter,” Howard said. “If Aiden O’Brien thinks he can win the race, the horse can win the race. He’s an incredible trainer. Trust me.”
Neil Howard believes. So does Fred Mitchell. And so does O’Brien.
“We’ve been very happy with him,” he told a group of reporters outside Barn 17 Friday morning. “We haven’t overdone him.
“It’s only been five weeks since Dubai and, of course, four weeks with the travel. He had a good strong race in Dubai. He’s here fresh, rather than (having been) hard on him, if you know what I mean.”
I know what he means. The pick is in. The pick is Mendelssohn.
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