Mendelssohn has statistical mountain to overcome in Kentucky Derby

Aidan O’Brien rated 14-1 to pull off historic classic hat-trick in the United States

Aidan O’Brien is rated a 14-1 shot to pull off a historic classic hat-trick this weekend although for it to happen his Kentucky Derby hope Mendelssohn has a statistical mountain to climb on Saturday night.

O’Brien has completed the Newmarket Guineas double three times before so that automatically encourages hopes that he can repeat the feat again this weekend.

Gustav Klimt is clear favourite for Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas and is joined by three stable companions, Saxon Warrior, US Navy Flag and Murillo, among 17 left in the colts classic after Monday’s five-day entry stage.

The Ballydoyle trainer has five to pick from for Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas with the dual-Group winner Happily topping the betting to give O’Brien a third win in a row in the mile highlight and a fifth success in all.

However, if the Irishman has dominated the Newmarket classics over the last two decades it is his tilt at America’s greatest racing prize which will dominate weekend attention.

No European-trained horse has ever won the ‘Run for the Roses’ at Churchill Downs. Clive Brittain’s Bold Arrangement came closest when runner-up to Ferdinand in 1986. There have been 36 overseas attempts without success since then including Arazi who was eighth as a 4-5 favourite in 1992.

It’s almost half a century since a Kentucky Derby winner had his previous race out of the US. That was Canonero who prepared up for the 1971 renewal in Venezuela.

Mendelssohn put up a visually stunning performance to win the UAE Derby on his first try on dirt a month ago. He left Ireland for the US on Monday and is expected to clear quarantine and experience the famous Louisville track on Thursday.

However of the 13 previous horses who ran in Kentucky after competing in the UAE Derby the best position achieved has been fifth.

The best placing by O'Brien's five previous runners was the fifth achieved by Master Of Hounds in 2011. The following year, Lines Of Battle was seventh for Ryan Moore, the jockey's sole previous ride in the race.

Big race specialist

It all points to the scale of the task facing Mendelssohn when the gates open at Saturday night’s scheduled 11.34 ‘off’ time. What gate the Irish runner will break form will be revealed on Tuesday.

If the statistics suggest the Irish raiding party are up against it, one of America’s top trainers Todd Pletcher, who trained Mendelssohn’s sire, Scat Daddy, said recently: “I’d say if there’s any man that can do it it’s Aidan. He’s a big race specialist.”

Mendelssohn cost $3 million as a yearling and Pletcher added: “He was in high demand, beautiful horse, impeccably bred and now to win a Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf and then put on a display in the UAE Derby you have to respect him.

“This race is unique. It’s difficult for everyone. But sometimes talent trumps all other factors. It will be one of the intriguing aspects of this Derby for sure.”

In other news, the At The Races channel will be rebranded Sky Sports Racing in 2019. It will be available to every Sky customer in Ireland at no extra cost.

Earlier this year Ireland’s 26 racetracks voted to transfer their picture rights to Racing UK starting in 2019. However both Chester and Bangor tracks in Britain will move to Sky Sports Racing next year.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column