After Mendelssohn annihilated the field in the UAE Derby, he was made second choice in the 20-horse field for the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby. Super-trainer Aidan O'Brien and his top jockey Ryan Moore both made the trip to Louisville for Saturday's race, skipping out on the 2,000 Guineas in order to do so (O'Brien-trained Saxon Warrior won the British Classic).
Unfortunately, not much went right for Moore and the 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy, a half-brother to champion Beholder and top sire Into Mischief. With nearly three inches of rain hitting the track on Derby day, the surface was a muddy mess and the 150,000 fans were all adorned in clear plastic rain gear, making for an even louder crowd than O'Brien expected.
“I'd been before but I have never experienced anything like yesterday. I was a bit shell-shocked,” O'Brien told racinguk.com. “It was mad. There were so many people, so many cultures, I saw a preacher at one stage. It's the crowd of two Cup finals all together. Go into the middle of it – feel it to believe it. We won't expect anything different. Ever again.”
The agitated Mendelssohn did not break particularly well, and was slammed into by Magnum Moon just a few strides out of the starting gate. From there, Moore hustled the colt up to about sixth position, but Mendelssohn was throwing a fit about the muddy kickback flying into his face and was bumped again nearing the clubhouse turn.
Moore wrapped up, cruising home behind the field to finish last, 73 lengths behind the winning Justify.
“American dirt racing is very aggressive at the best of times but when the weather goes like that the aggression turns nearly into savagery,” said O'Brien. “Everyone knows if you miss a millimetre at the start it's over. So everyone wants to hit the front, everyone wants to make the running. The pressure and the intensity steps up tenfold.
“We had never really experienced it. We'd experienced dirt racing and we were prepared for that – but we weren't prepared for the different level of intensity.
“And because we weren't prepared, the horse wasn't prepared. So ultimately the horse and the jockey paid the price.”
Nonetheless, O'Brien believes that he and the team walked away from the experience having learned a lot more about what to expect in the future. As for Mendelssohn, the undeniably talented colt will definitely be returning to the United States – O'Brien plans to aim him for the Breeders' Cup Classic beneath the Twin Spires in November.
Read more at racinguk.com.
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