Audible Was Good, Mendelssohn Was Great

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Mendelssohn | Horsephotos

By Bill Finley

The G2 UAE Derby has always been the world’s richest afterthought. Worth $2 million, it has been overshadowed by the G1 Dubai World Cup and, when it comes to the 3-year-old division, the GI Florida Derby. From the UAE Derby, we usually get horses that run 16th in the GI Kentucky Derby or are never seen on American soil. That will not be the case this year.

About nine hours before they broke from the gate for the Florida Derby, it was already known who would be the star of the day among 3-year-olds. Nothing could happen in Hallandale Beach that would trump the dazzling performance turned in by Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy) in the UAE Derby, an 18 1/2-length, jaw-dropping, you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it victory by the $3 million Keeneland yearling buy who is a half-brother to the great Beholder (Henny Hughes).

There is, of course, the cliché that he probably didn’t beat much in Dubai, and there’s certainly some truth to that. But in the American-based Reride (Candy Ride {Arg}), we do have something to compare Mendelssohn to. While no superstar, he did win the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park, earning a 91 Beyer Speed Figure-and Mendelssohn beat him by 21 1/2 lengths.

We already knew Mendelssohn was a good horse. From the Ballydoyle team, he came over here last year and won the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and since then won a small stakes on the synthetic surface at Dundalk in Ireland. What we didn’t know was whether or not he could handle the dirt. After what he accomplished yesterday in Dubai, it’s not hard to conclude that what this horse wanted all along was the dirt. He is bred for it and he ran like a freak yesterday when trying it for the first time.

Depending on what happens in what’s left of the major preps for the Derby, he’ll likely be in the 5-1 range in the Kentucky Derby, lower in the odds than the Florida Derby winner Audible (Into Mischief). That a UAE Derby winner could be a lower price in Kentucky than a Florida Derby winner once seemed inconceivable, but Mendelssohn was that good.

It’s not that Audible did anything seriously wrong or left any questions unanswered, but his victory lacked the electricity that Mendelssohn’s did. It was a lot better than “workman like,” but this was a race, with the way it developed, he almost could not lose. When Strike Power (Speightstown) and Promises Fulfilled (Shackleford) set out on a suicide mission from the gate that resulted in an opening quarter mile of :21 4/5, two main contenders were done with seven furlongs left to run. That essentially left only two top contenders in with a chance, Audible and Catholic Boy (More Than Ready), both of which were getting perfect trips. Catholic Boy, as NBC commentator Jerry Bailey so aptly said, “laid an egg on the day before Easter.” A major disappointment, he didn’t fire. That, more or less, turned this into a one-horse race, which Audible won by three lengths over recent maiden winner Hofburg (Tapit), another who benefitted from the torrid pace. There’s also the matter of Audible drifting out in the stretch, not exactly something you want to see with any horse in any race.

But I’m nitpicking. This is a good horse and he will arrive at Churchill Downs as one member of what looks like a strong Todd Pletcher team. After years of struggling in the Derby, it appears that Pletcher has figured this out. His big three, Audible, Magnum Moon (Malibu Moon) and Noble Indy (Take Charge Indy), all seem to be getting better with each start and it’s quite possible none have peaked yet. Team Todd won’t be embarrassed at Churchill. Neither will WinStar Farm, which own pieces of Audible, Noble Indy, Justify (Scat Daddy) and Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip (Distorted Humor).

The Derby picture took another turn off the track yesterday when Bob Baffert announced that McKinzie (Street Sense) was going to miss the GI Santa Anita Derby with an unspecified injury. Baffert didn’t have much else to say, but it’s hard to imagine that the colt can make the Derby now. It also means that the very exciting prospect Justify (Scat Daddy) may instead represent Baffert at Santa Anita rather than running in the GI Arkansas Derby.

Even with McKinzie now presumably out of the Derby, most believe that the California horses represent the strongest group in the U.S. If Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) and Justify indeed square off in the Santa Anita Derby, the winner of that race will likely be the betting favorite on May 5.

But they’ll have Audible to deal with. And they’ll really have Mendelssohn to deal with. It looks like it’s going to be an exciting Kentucky Derby.

 

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