Pedigree Insights: Mendelssohn

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Mendelssohn after winning the Juvenile Turf | Breeders’ Cup/Eclipse Sportswire

By Andrew Caulfield

The two male Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners have never quite met, despite playing starring roles at the same venues. Friday’s Juvenile Turf winner, the progressive Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy), had drawn a sale-topping bid of $3,000,000 on the last day of Book 1 at Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale. And Good Magic (Curlin), Saturday’s impressive winner of the twice-as-valuable Juvenile, had topped the opening session of Book 2 by a sizeable margin, his price of $1,000,000 being $375,000 higher than that of the next-most popular colt.

There is now an enticing possibility, though, that these two high-class colts may eventually meet on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs. Although Mendelssohn has yet to tackle dirt, or even all-weather, in his five racecourse appearances, his pedigree suggests that he will prove at least as effective on the main track.

Mendelssohn’s achievement of topping KEESEP by the considerable margin of $1,000,000 owed a lot to his being the subject of a battle between two major forces. Each party had enjoyed tremendous success either with the colt’s sire, Scat Daddy, or his dam, Leslie’s Lady, who was named Kentucky Broodmare of the Year for 2016 this April.

The winning combatant, M.V. Magnier, was motivated by Scat Daddy’s achievements during his all-too-short residency at Coolmore’s Kentucky branch at Ashford Stud. Winner of the 2006 GI Champagne S. and 2007 GI Florida Derby, Scat Daddy is already represented on the Coolmore stallion roster by No Nay Never. This colt won the G3 Norfolk S. at Royal Ascot before becoming a G1 winner in the Prix Morny. Magnier wasn’t to know it at the time, but No Nay Never was one of the stand-outs at this year’s European yearling sales, with his first crop selling so well (at up to 850,000gns) that his fee has been raised to €25,000 before he has even had a runner.

What Magnier did know was that Scat Daddy was also responsible for two of the fastest two-year-olds seen in Europe in 2016. The filly Lady Aurelia had trotted up by seven lengths in the G2 Queen Mary S. at Royal Ascot before becoming Scat Daddy’s second winner of the Prix Morny. And Caravaggio had won his first four starts for the Coolmore partners, including the G2 Coventry S. at Royal Ascot and the G1 Phoenix S. by four lengths.

This year’s Phoenix also fell to another Coolmore-owned Scat Daddy colt, with Sioux Nation following up his G2 win in Royal Ascot’s Norfolk S. Caravaggio will shortly be joining the Coolmore stallion team at a fee of €35,000, having added another G1 victory to his tally when he defeated the very fast Harry Angel (Dark Angel {Ire}) in Royal Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup.

The other protagonist in the battle for Mendelssohn was B. Wayne Hughes, who was motivated by having seen his colors carried to major victories by two of Leslie’s Lady’s previous foals.

The first, her Harlan’s Holiday colt Into Mischief, had cost only $180,000 as an OBS March 2-year-old, but repaid his price more than three times, notably winning the GI CashCall Futurity and finishing second in the GI Malibu S. Into Mischief’s earnings on the track are almost incidental compared to the money maker he has become as a resident of Spendthrift Farm. Having started out at $12,500–and having once been available for as little as $7,500–Into Mischief is scheduled to stand the 2018 season at $100,000.

Even Into Mischief’s achievements pale against the record of his half-sister Beholder, whose career is neatly summarized by her feat of winning Eclipse Awards at the ages of two, three, five and six. Beholder, also a $180,000 purchase at KEESEP, yielded earnings of more than $6,000,000, which explains why Hughes was willing to battle so hard for Beholder’s younger half-brother.

I have described Mendelssohn, Into Mischief and Beholder as half-brothers and half-sister, but they share more than just their dam Leslie’s Lady. Into Mischief was sired by a grandson of Storm Cat and so was Beholder, while Mendelssohn is by a great-grandson. Beholder’s sire Henny Hughes is a son of Hennessy, who also sired Scat Daddy’s sire Johannesburg.

Johannesburg was yet another Royal Ascot Group winner as a 2-year-old before developing into a top-level winner in Ireland, France, England and the U.S., where he surprised many by adapting so well to dirt that he won the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park. However, he proved much less effective at three, managing only eighth place when returned to the U.S. for the GI Kentucky Derby.

After losing out at the sales, Hughes commented to the TDN that Mendelssohn “was the perfect horse for us. He was a very, very nice horse. You can see what he went for. He’s what we are all hoping for, a yearling looking like that. He had Beholder’s head.”

But there was one slight flaw in this picture of perfection–the colt’s late birth date of May 17. European buyers tend to recoil when they see such a late birthday, but numerous high-class American-breds have been born in May, including winners of Triple Crown events. I long ago concluded that the much warmer climate in America helps the late-born youngsters catch up more quickly than their European counterparts. Beholder wasn’t born until May 9, but that didn’t stop her winning the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

I doubt whether Mendelssohn’s owners ever expected a May 17 foal to become another Royal Ascot Group winner for Scat Daddy. They did, after all, have a more likely candidate in Sioux Nation, a Scat Daddy with a Jan. 25 birthday.

Aidan O’Brien asked Mendelssohn to make his debut July 15. Perhaps the colt was mentally immature, if not physically backward, as he looked fairly clueless in finishing eighth, beaten by two shorter-priced stablemates. It wasn’t until his fourth start, when blinkered for the first time, that Mendelssohn began to fulfill expectations by finishing second to U S Navy Flag (War Front) in the G1 Dewhurst S. Now he has gone one better when blinkered again in the Juvenile Turf. I’m sure the blinkers have played their part in his improvement, but the possibility exists that he is only now beginning to mature.

There’s a good chance that he will continue to progress next spring, when his connections will have to decide whether to pursue glory on dirt or turf. With such strength among the 2-year-old Ballydoyle colts, I suspect they will be tempted by the dirt option. If Mendelssohn can shine on dirt, he will become a very valuable stallion prospect, with the potential to step into Scat Daddy’s shoes at Ashford.

One thing they will have to consider is whether Mendelssohn has the stamina for a fast-run mile and a quarter on dirt. Scat Daddy won the Florida Derby over a mile and an eighth but faded to finish in the rear in the Kentucky Derby. It emerged that he had suffered a slight tendon injury in the Derby and he was promptly retired. Although he has made his name primarily as a sire of superbly fast horses, he has also sired the occasional Graded winner over a mile and a quarter or more. Among them are the fillies Lady of Shamrock (GI American Oaks and GII Santa Barbara H.), Dacita (GII New York S.) and Harmonize (GIII Glens Falls S.).

There is also some encouragement to be drawn from Beholder’s record. Although her sire Henny Hughes was speedier than Scat Daddy, Beholder won the GI Pacific Classic in one of her few attempts at a mile and a quarter.

With three GI winners now to her credit, Leslie’s Lady has already achieved a great deal more than most mares, and her story isn’t over yet. She has a 2017 Medaglia d’Oro colt, born Apr. 4, and was then bred to American Pharoah. Although she will be 22 in 2018, her owners at the Mitchells’ Clarkland Farm must be tempted to breed her for as long as she is healthy. But even if she never produces another foal, she owes no one anything. Clarkland bought her for only $100,000 in November 2006, nearly 20 months after she gave birth to Into Mischief. In addition to the $3,000,000 earned through Mendelssohn, her 2013 Curlin filly was sold for $1,100,000.

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