By Kaitlin Free (@kaitlinefree on Twitter)
Jockey : Ryan Moore
Trainer : Aidan O’Brien
Mendelssohn comes into the Kentucky Derby with 100 points sitting at #8 on the current
leaderboard. He secured his Derby points with an unbelievable performance in the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse. He powered home in record time by 18 ½ lengths over top Kentucky Oaks contender Rayya in his dirt debut.
Mendelssohn first appeared on our radar when he won the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar, defeating fellow Derby contenders My Boy Jack and Flameaway. Mendelssohn also has a victory on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, scoring in the Patton Stakes at Dundalk. Those points do not count towards his total due to rules separating the different leaderboard divisions.
Mendelssohn is the most well-traveled colt in the Derby picture, securing all four of his wins at different tracks in three different countries. While travel seems to be no issue, a switch to dirt has come even easier for Mendelssohn. Considering those factors on Derby day, Mendelssohn should have no problems making the adjustment to Churchill Downs.
When it comes to pedigree Mendelssohn’s is that of an equine God. By Scat Daddy out of the great Tricky Creek mare Leslie’s Lady, his pedigree is head and shoulders above his competitiors. His sire Scat Daddy was a top colt in the deep 2007 Derby class with several dominant prep wins, but unfortunately faltered in the Derby and finished a disappointing 18th. The late Scat Daddy has gone on to become one of the top sires of his generation before his premature death in 2015.
Scat Daddy is represented by 4 of the 20 Derby starters this year, including the two possible favorites (Mendelssohn, Justify, Flameaway, and Combatant). Mendelssohn’s dam Leslie’s Lady needs no introduction. Crowned Broodmare of the Year in 2017, Leslie’s Lady is the La Troienne of the 21st century. Aside from her Derby bound son, Leslie’s Lady is also the dam of the great Beholder, top sire Into Mischief, and Daisy Mason, dam of 2014 Kentucky Derby participant Harry’s Holiday.
Leslie’s Lady herself was a respectable racehorse, winning 5 of 28 starts including a stakes at Hoosier Park. When analyzed on TrueNicks, Mendelssohn’s pedigree rates an A. Taking pedigree into account Mendelssohn already has a leg up on everyone else vying to wear the roses on Derby Day.
Mendelssohn’s chances to win the Derby far outweigh his risks to fail. When examining the risks, two that stick out are his age and consideration of his monster UAE Derby performance. Mendelssohn is the youngest horse in the field – born on May 17. Should he win the Derby, he would still technically be 2 years old!
Another factor some consider is his massive performance in the UAE Derby. That performance was so overwhelming that some believe a “bounce” could be imminent. If Mendelssohn was to have a bounce performance, that bounce could still prove good enough to win or finish on the board if some horses like Justify and Magnum Moon don’t quite run to their projected potential. If he duplicates his UAE Derby performance at Churchill Downs, the other horses will have to run their career best to beat him.
Aside from pedigree and travel history, Mendelssohn has a couple other factors that stand out from the rest of the field. He will receive a huge weight break on Derby Day, as weights carried in Europe are far higher than that in America. While winning the Patton Stakes at Dundalk, Mendelssohn carried a whopping 9.8 stone – or 137 pounds. He will carry 12 pounds less in the Derby. One other factor in Mendelssohn’s pocket is his gate skills. He is a very quiet gate horse and above average breaking from the gate.
He has enough tactical speed to put a couple lengths on his fellow competitors in the first 100 yards, but can relax and sit just off of the pace or set it after establishing a clean break. This important advantage will give Mendelssohn a cushion should he draw a bad post position.
Without question Mendelssohn and Justify are the two best gate horses in the Kentucky Derby field.
One question mark that remains is Ryan Moore’s capability to guide Mendelssohn to the wire first. Named 2017 World Champion Jockey, Ryan Moore’s skills as a jockey on the turf are rock solid. Moore is somewhat lacking in dirt experience but has been aboard Mendelssohn in nearly every start and the pair have a great rapport together.
Ryan Moore has appeared in the Kentucky Derby one other time and finished 7th with a less capable horse in Lines of Battle.
When looking at Mendelssohn’s resume, this horse is the best international hope to try for the Derby since the great Arazi in 1992. He may not wind up as the favorite like Arazi did, but he is definitely worthy of being the second choice.
Chance to finish in Kentucky Derby superfecta on a scale of 1-10 : 9/10
photo by Holly M. Smith (@kyholmarie on Twitter)