LOUISVILLE, Ky. — No horse from Europe has won the Kentucky Derby. But then few horses have matched the globe-trotting credentials of Mendelssohn, the 5-1 second choice for America’s greatest race on Saturday.
Perhaps Mendelssohn, based in Ireland, will give the first leg of the Triple Crown an international flair.
He’s loaded with talent and a robust personality. Stepping onto the Churchill Downs dirt for the first time on Thursday morning, Mendelssohn let out a holler to announce his arrival. There’s nothing shy about this boy.
It was Mendelssohn’s public debut after two days in quarantine to ensure that he and three stablemates trained by Aidan O’Brien showed no signs of illness following their overseas flight.
“He just did a very gentle exercise around the track,” Pat Keating, O’Brien’s traveling assistant, said. “We couldn’t be happier with him. We just wanted to get him out and stretch his legs. No problems. All good.”
And that could be bad news for the competition. Mendelssohn has already shown the ability to handle challenges around the globe.
After posting a modest 1-for-4 record to start his career in Europe, Mendelssohn headed to California in November to capture the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar.
Then it was back to Europe with the long-range goal of preparing for the Derby and the shift from turf to dirt. His first race this year was a victory over a synthetic surface in Ireland.
And then came a resounding triumph in the UAE Derby in Dubai in March where Mendelssohn romped by 18 1/2 lengths to earn a trip to Kentucky, where he was bred.
Returning from the desert, Mendelssohn completed his Derby preparations at the famed Ballydolyle training center in County Tipperary.
Now he’s back in the U.S. sporting an impressive record supported by a powerful pedigree. His sire was the late Scat Daddy, who has four sons in this year’s Derby. He is a half brother to the retired mare Beholder, a four-time Eclipse Award winner.
The combination of good looks and golden bloodlines are the reason Mendelssohn brought a sales-topping $3 million at the 2016 Keeneland Yearling Sales from the trio of Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor.
“They looked so much alike, Mendelssohn and Beholder,” said Fred Mitchell, who bred both at his Clarkland Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. “They weren’t big foals and they didn’t start maturing until we started prepping them for the sales. He had such a gorgeous eye on him, he was unbelievable. He looked like a classy horse.”
And perhaps a bargain, if Mendelssohn notches another win Saturday in his latest travelogue.
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