Breeders Cup win for Mendelssohn could prove O’Brien’s finest hour
Enable bids to become first Arc winner to double up in Breeders Cup Turf
Ryan Moore riding Mendelssohn wins the UAE Derby in Dubai, UAE. He will be O’Brien’s 18th Breeders Cup Classic starter.
Mendelssohn will be Aidan O’Brien’s 18th Breeders Cup Classic starter and maybe finally the one to give Ireland’s champion trainer something of a coming of age success in the $6 million highlight on Saturday night.
Giants Causeway was the Irishman’s first Classic runner all of 18 years ago, coming within a whisker of translating outstanding European turf form to US dirt at American racing’s showpiece event.
It began almost two decades of O’Brien pitching some of his greatest turf stars into an end of season, shot to nothing attempt at beating America’s best on their own dirt in their own backyard.
Rolling the dice with superstar names such as Galileo and Hawk Wing didn’t work. Another, George Washington, even sustained fatal injuries on the dirt in 2007. A year later Henrythenavigator finished runner-up but that was on a rare synthetic surface.
Declaration Of War was close too in 2013. But there’s still been no Classic cigar for O’Brien. Last year’s dual-Guineas hero Churchill became just the latest turf star to find it too big an ask to front up first time of asking on an alien surface.
“As long as we’re alive we’ll keep trying,” O’Brien once said of the elusive Classic. “We’ll just keep trying to find the right horse.”
It’s not just O’Brien and Coolmore Stud who have tried to identify a singular horse capable of successfully traversing the codes. Godolphin almost got their Arc winner Sakhee to win the year after Giant Causeway, only he too ran into Tiznow.
Both of world racing’s most powerful operations are back for another try when the highlight of US racing’s $30 million showpiece is run at 9.44 Irish-time.
Thunder Snow joins Mendelssohn in the 14-runner event which also includes Europe’s top three year old colt of 2018, Roaring Lion.
His tilt at the dirt resembles so many European tries of the past. Maybe Qatar Racing’s grey will prove singular enough to make light of the dirt kickback just a fortnight after winning on Ascot’s mud. But the evidence and the odds suggest he faces a monumental task.
Instead it is the contrary path taken to Churchill Down by the two other horses bidding to become the first Europeans to win the Classic on dirt since Arcangues 25 years ago which suggests hard-earned lessons have been learned.
Mendelssohn’s tilt at last May’s Kentucky Derby ended in brutal failure on a sloppy track. A year previously Thunder Snow hated the ‘Durby’ experience so much he had to be pulled up. But rather than any end of campaign afterthought this Classic is one both horses have been pinpointed at.
They even clashed at Belmont last month when placed behind Discreet Lover. On Saturday there are top local runners from both the west and east coast in Accelerate and Catholic Boy but hardly an outstanding US rival to overcome.
O’Brien has eight other runners on Saturday. They include Magical who has the unenviable task of trying to beat the dual-Arc heroine Enable in the Turf (8.56 Irish-time.)
Another couple of Ballydoyle fillies, Magic Wand and Athena, are joined in the Filly & Mare (6.04) by Dermot Weld’s Eziyra and Gavin Cromwell’s Princes Yaiza. Weld has never won at the Breeders Cup. Cromwell’s never had a runner. In contrast O’Brien has one of the event’s finest record. But should Mendelssohn emerge on top it will be the culmination of years of effort to find the right horse, and also perhaps represent O’Brien’s finest hour.