When Mendelssohn makes the walk over to the paddock on Saturday, his connections will hope he can overcome more than a grueling 1 ¼ miles and 19 opponents: the overseas-prepped runner will also be facing statistical improbability. Since 1940, 45 horses have prepared for the Derby abroad, with two winners and one second place finisher.
The two winners were Bold Forbes in 1976, who came to the race from Puerto Rico and Canonero II, who famously represented Venezuela with his win in 1971.
Mendelssohn has made starts in the U.S., UAE, England, and Ireland. Derby stats are less encouraging for hopefuls prepping in those countries: together, the three nations have seen 41 starters, zero wins, one second, zero thirds.
The most successful horse from either Europe or the UAE was Bold Arrangement (GB), who finished second in 1986. The Clive Brittain-trained son of Persian Bold (IRE) did come to Louisville with some previous experience on dirt, having finished third in the then-Grade 1 Blue Grass. Before that, Bold Arrangement had two Group 1 placings in the Grand Criterium and Prix de la Salamandre (both in France), and a win in the Glen International Solario at Sandown Park. He had also placed against older horses in the Racing Post Mile at Doncaster to kick off his 3-year-old season.
Punters saw Bold Arrangement in something of an uphill battle as he prepared for the Blue Grass: although he had an impressive record coming in, one Chicago Tribune article pointed out he was a sizable fish in a smaller pond in England. He had also run primarily in sprints, not stretching out to a mile until his second season and not debuting as a 3-year-old until March.
At the time, quarantine regulations only permitted a horse to stay in the U.S. for 30 days, which Brittain told the Tribune's Neil Milbert made it challenging to get both the Derby and a prep race into a horse. Bold Arrangement was just the second horse to ship to the Derby from Europe, following Sir Tristram, who finished eleventh in 1974.
“'If he wins, or even runs well,” co-owner Anthony Richards told the New York Times at the time, ”we'll be remembered as the ones who started it all. You'll have top Europeans coming over every year. Of course, if we don't, maybe we've mucked it up for everyone.”
It's true the majority of European-based runners in the Derby came after 1986, but it wasn't exactly as though the floodgates opened. Some editions of the race had multiple foreign-based runners, particularly 1995, which included Eltish, Citadeed, In Character (GB), and Ski Captain, as well as 2002, which saw Johannesburg, Essence of Dubai, Castle Gandolfo, and Ocean Sound (IRE) all ship stateside for the race.
But how good were the majority of those runners, really? Horseplayers seemed to answer “not very.” Only two foreign-based runners have ever been favorites in the Derby: Mister Frisky, who hailed from Puerto Rico and finished eighth in 1990, and Arazi, who was also eighth in 1992.
Like Mendelssohn, Arazi won a Breeders' Cup race — in Arazi's case it was the Juvenile; Mendelssohn won the Juvenile turf. Arazi had just one prep before the Derby, a win in the Prix Omnium II Stakes at Saint Cloud. At the time the Francois Boutin trainee stepped onto the track for 'My Old Kentucky Home' he had lost just once in his life – a second place effort in his maiden start. There was Triple Crown buzz surrounding the chestnut before he had even run in the Derby and he had already been dealt the worst Derby curse of all: he had been compared to Secretariat before Boutin had even saddled him for the Derby.
After finishing eighth behind Lil E. Tee, Arazi ran four more times and got just one more win, in the G2 Prix du Rond-Point back in France. His subsequent return to America for the G1 Breeders' Cup Mile would result in a disappointing eleventh place.
The majority of European-based Derby runners have been 11-1 or greater, with poor Keats starting in 2001 at odds of 95-1 despite having won the G2 Lexington Stakes in 2001. (His only other victories came at maiden and allowance levels). Of course, it's hard to say how much post time odds reflect the strength of a Derby runner's resume as opposed to bettors' familiarity with it.
Some, like Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko, switched over completely to American racing as 2-year-olds, while others like Johannesburg made a start Stateside at 2 and completed Derby prep across the Atlantic before shipping back again. Still others, like Keats and Went the Day Well (2012), ran a single Derby prep in America before heading to Louisville, with mixed results.
Besides Johannesburg, the most recent European-based runner to grab attention in his Derby bid was arguably The Deputy (IRE), who broke his maiden in England but won the G2 Santa Catalina and G1 Santa Anita Derby for trainer Jenine Sahadi and Team Valor/Gary Barber. The son of Petardia (GB) was 14th in his Run for the Roses, the final race of his career.
By Scott Jagow
As I've written recently, the ratio of the time spent analyzing the Kentucky Derby compared to the length of the two-minute event is astronomical. I created a mathematical formula which adds together things like the time it takes to drive across country, the time spent studying for the bar exam, the amount of time invested in reading War and Peace and the duration of half a bowling season versus the time of the race, which is pretty much the same as microwaving a burrito.
But all those hours spent thinking about the Derby could be worth it if you make a big score, right? The question is, how do you do that?
For many years, from 1979 to 2011, the Derby was overwhelmingly won by non-favorites, notably 50-1's Giacomo and Mine That Bird but many other longshots. Beginning in 2013, we've had a streak of five consecutive post-time favorites win the Derby. So, what does that mean for betting the Derby this year?
If the pattern stays the same, then a favorite is likely to win the Derby. Even going back to the turn of this century, 12 of the 18 winners of the Derby were victorious in their final preps and four more finished 2nd. Even the two that didn't finish first or second, Giacomo and Mine That Bird, were 2-3 lengths from the winner in their last race, so form coming into the race matters.
With that in mind and based on recent results, I look to find a top contender to win and then sprinkle in a closer longshot among the first three or four, mixed with mostly favorites. For example:
In 2013, favored Orb won, followed by closer Golden Soul at 34-1, then single-digit contenders Revolutionary and Normandy Invasion. The $2 superfecta paid $57,000 and the $2 trifecta came back nearly $7,000 – again, with three of the top four finishers being single-digit favorites.
The next year, favored California Chrome won at 2-1, followed by Commanding Curve at 37-1, then two logical single-digit contenders in Danza and Wicked Strong. The tri payout exceeded $3,400; the super hit for $15,000.
Last year, with the favorite Always Dreaming on top, the $2 trifecta paid more than $16,000 and the $1 super was a whopping $75,000 with logical closer 33-1 Lookin at Lee in second and in third, 40-1 Battle of Midway, representing the on-the-pace type who keeps going. There is often one of those. 6-1 Classic Empire was fourth.
My point is: don't overthink the results of the Derby. A top contender is likely to win, one closer is likely to pick up pieces possibly at huge odds and one stalker/frontrunner will probably hang on for a share. Identifying those contenders is by no means easy, but there are ways to narrow down the contenders in each category. Often the results are logical, even if difficult to discern before the race without serious study.
In this year's field, based on the model I've just described, I favor Mendelssohn or Justify to win.
I like Vino Rosso, Hofburg, and Flameaway as stalkers/mid-packers who could hit the board or even shock.
I consider My Boy Jack, Lone Sailor, and Combatant as longshots to hit the board as closers underneath.
By Ray Paulick
Each day this week, I'll take a look at the pedigrees of four Kentucky Derby starters. Yesterday, we looked at the horses at the bottom of the leaderboard, numbers 17 through 20. Today's Pedigree Corner examines numbers 13-16.
LONE SAILOR (16): Sire Majestic Warrior is a son of A.P. Indy whose lone stakes win came at 2 in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at seven furlongs. Majestic Warrior's dam is Dream Supreme, winner at 3 of Saratoga's two G1 seven-furlong sprints for fillies and mares, the Test for 3-year-olds and the Ballerina for fillies and mares, 3 and up. Majestic Warrior's best runner to date is Princess of Sylmar, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama (all G1), a filly certainly able to race around two turns. LONE SAILOR is out of Ambitious, a non-winning mare by Mr. Greeley, the latter of whom was best sprinting and proved to be a good sire of milers. The third dam of Ambitious is Courtly Dee, a Kentucky Broodmare of the Year, and dam of Althea, among others.
FREE DROP BILLY (15): If any horse in the field is bred top and bottom for 10 furlongs or more, it's this Dale Romans runner. He was sired by G1 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, who was precocious enough at 2 to win the G1 Champagne Stakes but determined enough at 3 to gut out a neck victory at 12 furlongs in the Triple Crown's final leg. Union Rags is by the Dixieland Band stallion Dixie Union and may have gotten his stamina from his female family, including his long-fused second dam, Terpsichorist, by Nijinsky II. FREE DROP BILLY's dam, Trensa, is a stakes-placed daughter of the “iron horse” Giant's Causeway, a champion racehorse and outstanding sire who died last month at 21 years old. Giant's Causeway excelled at distances of up to 10 furlongs. Trensa is the dam of Hawkbill (by Kitten's Joy), G1 winner on turf going 10 and 12 furlongs for Godolphin.
PROMISES FULFILLED (14): Sire Shackleford was a fighter who led for the first nine furlongs of the 2011 Kentucky Derby before fading to fourth. He came back two weeks later to win the Preakness at 1 3/16 miles and would take the G1 Metropolitan Handicap the following year going a mile. Shackleford is by the Storm Cat stallion Forestry out of an Unbridled mare. PROMISES FULFILLED is from his second crop of foals. Marquee Delivery, dam of PROMISES FULFILLED, is by Marquetry, a fast and durable son of Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo whose G1 victories for trainer Robert Frankel included the 10-furlong Hollywood Gold Cup.
MY BOY JACK (13): Stretch-running colt is from the second crop sired by Creative Cause, a gray-coated Giant's Causeway stallion out of a G1 stakes-winning mare by Siberian Summer. A G1 winner at 2, Creative Cause finished fifth in the 2012 Kentucky Derby behind I'll Have Another and third in the Preakness behind that same rival. MY BOY JACK's dam, Gold N Shaft, was unraced but was produced from a graded stakes winner and is by Horse of the Year Mineshaft, a multiple G1 winner by A.P. Indy who won several G1 races, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 10 furlongs. Though a longshot with a blue collar pedigree who was sold for only $20,000 as a yearling, MY BOY JACK looks to be a horse who can get the Derby's 10-furlong distance.
Raymond Lyle, longtime hotwalker for trainer Jinks Fires:
“2011 was my favorite Derby, because after twenty-odd years (I've been with Jinks almost 30 now) that was my first Derby we had a horse in. Name was Archarcharch. When you work back here you put up with a lot. In the middle of the night you get sick horses, you get horses shipping in at one, two o'clock in the morning and you're out here waiting on 'em, you go to another track where they have night racing. It finally paid off. People can say what they want to, but that's the ultimate, ultimate dream. Win, lose or draw, I can honestly say that's something nobody can take away from me. I didn't like the end result [he finished 15th] but hey, we made it. That's something a lot of people can't say. You know how many people dream of making that race? A lot.”
Trainer Dale Romans
“Walking over for the first time in my first Kentucky Derby with Sharp Humor. When you turn that corner and the first time that cheer hits you in the face and I knew half the people in the grandstands all yelling down at me. It was overwhelming.”
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