Author: Michele MacDonald
Who would have thought on that sultry afternoon of 31 March that we would have witnessed the best the stunning colt had to give as he blazed through a record shattering performance that fired dreams of so much more? Yet for Mendelssohn, Coolmore’s son of Scat Daddy who ripped through the UAE Derby as no colt had done in history, winning by 18½ lengths in track record time, there would be no more victories as promise morphed into a sentiment akin to disappointment based on how high he had raised expectations at Meydan. His brief symphony in racing concluded on 1 December when he could not muster a strong challenge and finished fourth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap won by Patternrecognition at Aqueduct.
That race marked Mendelssohn’s sixth competition after the UAE Derby, with his best finish in that period a second to Catholic Boy in the prestigious Grade 1 Travers Stakes. While Patternrecognition, yet another outstanding trainee in the barn of Chad Brown, could advance on to the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes at Gulfstream Park next month, Mendelssohn will journey to duty at Ashford Stud near Lexington, where he will stand for $35,000. His taxing international campaign and travel schedule could have taken more out of Mendelssohn than he showed, leaving him without much fight in the stretch run of the Cigar Mile, suggested T J Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O’Brien.
Yet the colt, who had arrived at Aqueduct neighing vociferously to other horses, just as he did at Meydan and other locations at which he competed, came out of the race in fine fettle. “He’s grand. He’s a hearty devil,” Comerford quipped. Even though the vicissitudes of breeding are at least as equally mercurial as those in racing, Mendelssohn already has far more potential of succeeding at stud than most young horses. As the half-brother to the incredibly successful young sire Into Mischief and to multiple champion Beholder, he will offer breeders superior genetics from both his dam, the Tricky Creek mare Leslie’s Lady, and sire.
The nearly 16.1h colt is by one of the world’s most successful international sires, who tragically died at age 11 the year Mendelssohn was born, and he demonstrated his inheritance of the best of his sire’s special gift of superior capability on dirt and turf, a prized dimension in contemporary racing. While Scat Daddy’s offspring include top Group One grass runners such as Caravaggio, No Nay Never and Lady Aurelia and an extraordinary dirt performer in Triple Crown winner Justify, Mendelssohn proved to be the rare individual who came through on both surfaces. He capped his juvenile season with a brilliant effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, stalking the pace and then surging to victory under Ryan Moore.
Time and reflection have polished that effort into a sparkling jewel as the 13 rivals he defeated that day on firm turf at Del Mar included Godolphin’s eventual Epsom Derby winner Masar, British Champions Sprint Stakes victor Sands Of Mali and the aforementioned Catholic Boy, the Travers hero who also won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes on grass. Beginning the 2018 season in early March, Mendelssohn showed he could also handle an all-weather track when he won the listed Patton Stakes at Dundalk before travelling to Dubai for his devastating UAE Derby victory, a run that propelled him ahead as one of the strong favourites for the Kentucky Derby.
As fate would have it, nature unleashed a driving rainstorm on Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, creating a mudbath of the racing surface and a nightmarish scene for a young colt who had not yet reached his actual third birthday of 17 May. Fans’ plastic raincoats whipped against a biting wind and agitated rivals in the 20 horse field chafed with agitation. In a drastic reversal of fortunes from his UAE Derby conquest, Mendelssohn was eased by Moore and cantered across the finish line in the Kentucky Derby, with trainer Aidan O’Brien reflecting the following day that no one on this team, including the colt, had been ready for the challenging conditions. “I’d been to the Kentucky Derby before but I have never experienced anything like yesterday.
I was a bit shellshocked,” O’Brien said. “We won’t expect anything different ever again. “American dirt racing is very aggressive at the best of times but when the weather goes like that, the aggression turns nearly into savagery,” O’Brien declared. “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’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,” he said.
Mendelssohn returned to Ireland to recover but flew back to the United States several more times, racking up the equivalent of more than 40,000 frequent flyer miles. He finished third in the one mile, Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park, second in the 1 ¼-mile Travers, third in the 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup behind older runners Discreet Lover and Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow, and then was fifth after setting the pace in the 1 ¼-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic won by likely American champion Accelerate at Churchill Downs on 3 November. The Cigar Mile, the last major race of the year on America’s east coast, offered Mendelssohn the opportunity to achieve a Grade One win on dirt against a relatively less accomplished group of runners than he had been facing.
The race could also have been a launching pad to the Pegasus. Instead, the Cigar Mile became Mendelssohn’s swan song, and now we are left with only the dreams stoked by his marvellous Meydan masterpiece. Yet this is far from the end of Mendelssohn’s story. With the support of Coolmore, which paid $3 million for the colt to top the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, and his pedigree crossing Scat Daddy with the genes that produced Into Mischief and Beholder, he has every right to be a strong sire. His fee will also make Mendelssohn available to American and international breeders who may not be willing to meet Justify’s $150,000 rate.
And Mendelssohn has the looks to go with his pedigree; Ashford manager Dermot Ryan described the colt as having developed into a ‘magnificent looking horse’. Much like his namesake, German composer Felix Mendelssohn, the colt and his reputation may have endured some less than smooth interludes in the practicing of his talent, but history, especially considering what could come from the breeding shed at Ashford, could one day be very kind to him. We will have to wait several years, but now the dreams Mendelssohn stirred at Meydan will take flight in the form of sons and daughters. The music of their feats will continue to shape his place on the racing stage.
Award winning International Journalist