O’Brien pursues historic Kentucky Derby success with Mendelssohn
Good start from stall 14 could be crucial to big Irish hope in Lousville
Kentucky Derby hopefuls, Ryan Moore and Aidan O’Brien: Mendelssohn is one of the favourites for the 20-runner “Run for the Roses”. Photograph: PA
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.
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.
O’Brien is in Kentucky and said on Friday: “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.