Top-rated Mendelssohn installed as favourite for Kentucky Derby

However Ireland’s senior handicapper believes O’Brien’s charge still faces uphill task

Mendelssohn is officially top-rated among the contenders for next month's Kentucky Derby but the man who has given him that rating reckons the hugely exciting Irish star faces an uphill task if he's to become the first European-trained winner of America's most famous race.

On his first start on dirt, Aidan O’Brien’s potential superstar put in a spectacular performance to win Saturday’s UAE Derby in Meydan, making most of the running and spread-eagling his opposition to win by over 18 lengths in a track record time.

He has been installed a 5-1 favourite for Louisville’s historic ‘Run for the Roses’ by European layers on the back of that display and Mendelssohn’s rout has resulted in a 6lb hike in his official rating to a heady mark of 122.

However Ireland’s senior handicapper believes taking on America’s best in their own backyard will be a very different proposition for the talented colt.


“In terms of raw talent he’s right up there in terms of being able to win the race. 122 is very high for this juncture and would win an average Kentucky Derby. He won’t lack for ability.

“But what he might lack for is seasoning and proper dirt experience. He has never had dirt in his face and I can’t see him being able to adopt a similar running style in America,” said Garry O’Gorman on Tuesday.

"Saturday's race was not easy to rate and given the history of the dirt track in Dubai I would be wary about getting too carried away.

“It looked an up to scratch field for the UAE Derby and 122 is the highest awarded to a winner in recent times. The American horse in third [Reride] has had his form flattered and the filly in second has decent levels of form.

“But like the World Cup winner [Thunder Snow] I think Mendelssohn might have been flattered by being in front on his own on the rail, as has been the case all Spring there.

“I can’t see him getting to the front in Kentucky. Some horse is bound to go 46 seconds for the first four furlongs so chances are he’s going to have experience dirt in his face and that will be the acid test.

Very exciting

“I’d be quite amazed if he looks as brilliant with dirt in his face coming from behind in the Kentucky Derby. Here’s hoping, and it’s all very exciting, but I think he’s going to have to slum it a bit and we’ll see how good he is in those conditions. He’s got an uphill task,” O’Gorman added.

O’Brien has run five horses previously in the Kentucky Derby and Master Of Hounds did best of them when fifth in 2011. The nearest a European-based horse has come to winning the race remains Clive Brittain’s Bold Arrangement – runner-up to Ferdinand in 1986.

“The draw is going to be key. In a field of 20 a high draw would mean not as much dirt in his face. The start will be key too. Aidan has one of those US bells to get them to break with the bell and the history of his horses in the Breeders Cup is that it’s not a question of if they’ll miss the break but by how much.

“I hope I’m not being pessimistic but more than raw ability will be required to win the race and he’s behind the eight-ball when it comes to experiencing dirt in his face which could come against him,” O’Gorman predicted.

The handicapper also predicted this Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby in California may establish Mendelssohn’s main dangers in the US.

“There are three horses I’d have in the high teens, Bolt Doro, McKinzie and Audible, and it wouldn’t take much of a jump for one of them to win a Derby.

“Audible won the Florida Derby at the weekend but if there’s a clear-cut winner at Santa Anita they would look to have a favourite’s chance. It’s a good crop in America. Mendelssohn’s ahead on ratings. But if he wasn’t after an 18-length romp there’d be something wrong,” added O’Gorman.

Larchmont Lad ultimately lost last October's Knocakire Stakes to Making Light on appeal and the cross-channel based horse is set to return to Leopardstown on Wednesday for the Listed Heritage Stakes.

It’s noticeable that David O’Meara has also left Larchmont Lad in Sunday’s Gladness Stakes at Naas where a rerun with Making Light could take place.

The Irish Derby and English Leger hero Capri is the potential star attraction at Naas in the Alleged Stakes although Aidan O’Brien warned on Tuesday: “The ground would be a concern at the moment so we’ll have to see what happens with the weather.”

Conditions are sure to be testing at Leopardstown's first flat fixture of 2018 and when it comes to grit there are few to compare with the veteran Brendan Brackan who can get the better of Larchmont Lad in the Heritage.

The Grade One-winning jumper Jer’s Girl won a flat maiden at Roscommon last September and should successfully warm up for the Punchestown festival in a four-runner conditions event.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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