Aidan O'Brien will be trying to claim one of the few prizes that has eluded him on Saturday, a victory in the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic. The Coolmore entrant Mendelssohn with make his trainer's 16th starter in the 1 1/4-mile dirt contest, to be held this year at Churchill Downs.
The colt, a $3 million yearling by Scat Daddy and out of Broodmare of the Year Leslie's Lady, dam of both Beholder and Into Mischief, flashed his talent on the turf course last fall at Del Mar, winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He then put in a breathtaking performance to win the UAE Derby by over 18 lengths. Mendelssohn did not handle the Kentucky Derby crowd in May, however, and also struggled with traffic in the early part of the race; jockey Ryan Moore eased him to finish last in the 20-horse field.
Following the Derby, O'Brien set a course for the Breeders' Cup Classic. It was unlike any he'd tried in the past: Mendelssohn made three flights across the Atlantic for starts on the dirt, building with each effort.
First, the colt ran a considerably dull third in the G3 Dwyer Stakes, then improved to run a much better second in the G1 Travers at Saratoga. That was intended to be Mendelssohn's final start before the Classic, but he was training so well that O'Brien decided to send him back to Belmont for the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
There, Mendelssohn pressed Diversify through a frighteningly quick early pace, and was overtaken by Thunder Snow and Discreet Lover in the stretch. Still, he fought on to finish third, beaten just two lengths on the wire.
“It's a different preparation than we've ever done before,” O'Brien told drf.com. “Obviously, it was a fast, strong pace, which was good preparation for here, but he didn't wilt at the line. He kept coming, so we thought it went great. But you're never sure because they have to come back and they have to come out of their races well. He came back and had an easy time for a while and freshened up very quick, and his work gradually built up. We were very happy with his last two bits of work, and we felt that he has come forward again.”
While Mendelssohn's own preparations for the Classic are just about complete, jockey Ryan Moore is setting about thinking through the right plan for the race. O'Brien said Moore intends to talk to Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey for advice on the Classic scenario.
On Thursday, the first day O'Brien's trainees hit the track at Churchill Downs, Mendelssohn was ridden by the trainer's son, jockey Donnacha O'Brien, for his morning exercise. The entire 16-horse O'Brien Breeders' Cup contingent set out at the same time shortly after 8:00 a.m., with Mendelssohn second in line behind regular traveling companion Seahenge.
O'Brien accompanied the string on a pony, as did three additional riders on ponies, making for a 20-strong group to take over the sloppy Churchill Downs surface. They walked for a circuit and a half of the track before jogging back round to the gap and headed back to the barn.
“I am happy with them all,” O'Brien told media upon returning to the quarantine barn. “They have been in the barn for two days so it was nice to get them out. Hopefully the rain will stop and the ground will dry out. This track dries out quickly here at Churchill Downs.”
O'Brien has twice managed to finish second in the Breeders' Cup Classic, with Giant's Causeway in 2000 and with Henrythenavigator in 2008. He also ran third with Declaration of War in 2013.
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