by Jon White
April 4, 2018
Talk about running up the score.
Racing on the dirt for the first time, Mendelssohn streaked home in last Saturday’s Group I UAE Derby in Dubai. He kept widening…and widening…and widening. When he reached the finish, no one else was in the same zip code. He won by such a large margin that there is some confusion as to how far he actually won by.
In Marcus Hersh’s UAE Derby recap for Daily Racing Form, he wrote that Mendelssohn won by 18 3/4 lengths. Thoroughbred Daily News’ byline-less recap said it was 18 1/4 lengths. Racing Post’s Lewis Porteous wrote that it was 18 1/2 lengths. A byline-less story in Sporting Life said it was 18 lengths.
When is the last time you saw four different margins reported for the winner of a race?
I decided to check out the Dubai Racing Club website to see if I could find out what margin was listed there, if any. In the UAE Derby recap in the media section on the website, it says “Mendelssohn separated himself from the other eight 3-year-olds in the field and drew away down the lane to win by an ever-widening 18.5 lengths.”
I believe the correct margin is 18 1/2 lengths. But any way you slice it, whatever the actual number is, there was a Grand Canyon-like gap back to runner-up Rayya, the lone filly in the field. Reride finished third, three lengths behind Reride. Gold Town ended up fourth, 23 1/4 lengths behind Mendelssohn.
Those were not slobs that Mendelssohn demolished. Rayya had won the Group III UAE Oaks by 3 3/4 lengths on March 1. Reride had won the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park by 2 1/2 lengths on Feb. 25. Gold Town had been two for two on the dirt in Dubai this year, winning by 4 1/4 lengths on Jan. 25 and 10 1/2 lengths on Feb. 15.
But Rayya, Reride and Gold Town were no match for Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby.
Mendelssohn showed the way early way while getting away with setting a rather moderate pace on a surface that seemed to play quite favorably to the inside part of the track and/or horses with early speed, as has been the case for the most part at Meydan this season. But even if a track bias helped Mendelssohn, his UAE Derby was nothing short of a scintillating performance that vaults him into the higher echelon of this year’s Kentucky Derby candidates.
Indeed, Mendelssohn moves onto my Top 10 list this week all the way up at No. 3, behind only Justify and Bolt d’Oro.
Justify and Bolt d’Oro meet this Saturday in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. I have installed Justify as the 4-5 morning-line favorite, with Bolt d’Oro at 6-5. I made Instilled Regard 5-1. Everyone else in the field of seven is 20-1 or higher.
Here is my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week:
2. Bolt d’Oro
5. Magnum Moon
6. Good Magic
10. Instilled Regard
In the UAE Derby, Mendelssohn completed 1,900 meters (about 1 3/16-mile) in a track-record 1:55.19. Granted, it was a lightning-fast track. But Mendelssohn’s final time of 1:55.19 was outstanding because (a) it was his first race on dirt, (b) it was his first race going farther than a mile, and (c) it was so much faster than any previous UAE Derby.
Thunder Snow won last year’s UAE Derby in 1:57.76. That clocking was one of 12 reasons I listed here at Xpressbet.com as to why I picked Thunder Snow to win last year’s Kentucky Derby. I noted that the UAE Derby had been run at 1 3/16 miles at Meydan Racecourse for seven straight years through 2017, the first four of those on synthetic footing, the last three on the dirt. Thunder Snow’s final time was faster than all seven of those UAE Derbies.
That meant Thunder Snow’s final time was faster than Lani, Mubtaahij and Toast of New York. Lani was good enough to finish third in the 2016 Belmont Stakes. Mubtaahij finished fourth in American Pharoah’s 2015 Belmont Stakes, second to California Chrome in the 2016 Dubai World Cup and third in this year’s Dubai World Cup. Toast of New York finished second in Shared Belief’s 2014 Pacific Classic and second in Bayern’s 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Pegged at 20-1 on the Kentucky Derby morning line, Thunder Snow went off at 16-1. He broke slowly, then became extremely rank and tried his very best to buck off jockey Christophe Soumillon. Thunder Snow became a bucking bronco, so to speak, something that is believed to have never happened before in the history of the Kentucky Derby. Soumillon somehow managed to stay on, which did prevent the possibility of an accident occurring due to a riderless Thunder Snow. But Thunder Snow never made it to the finish line the first time, let alone the second time when it counted.
To be perfectly honest, I felt embarrassed that I had picked Thunder Snow to win the Kentucky Derby. To this day, each time I see a replay of that race, I want to throw up.
And, yes, that was the same Thunder Snow who last Saturday won the Group I Dubai World Cup by 5 3/4 lengths. (Everyone seems to agree on this margin.) His final time for 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) was 2:01.38, another track record at Meydan, serving as further proof that it was an especially fast track at Meydan last Saturday.
To Soumillon’s credit, he proved last Saturday that it literally pays not to hold a grudge. He rode Thunder Snow to victory in the $10 million World Cup, a race in which the colt this time earned big bucks instead of trying to buck his rider off.
SNAZZY BEYER FOR UAE DERBY WINNER
Speed-figure gurus Andrew Beyer and Randy Moss collaborated to come up with figures for Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby and Thunder Snow in the World Cup. Any Beyer Speed Figures previously calculated for races in Dubai had come with the caveat that they were “unofficial,” such as Arrogate’s 115 when he won the 2017 Dubai World Cup.
On Monday morning, Beyer was on Steve Byk’s radio program At The Races. Beyer said he felt so confident in the figures for this year’s UAE Derby and World Cup that they should be considered “official” Beyer Speed Figures. The confidence in the figures, Beyer explained, stemmed to a large extent from so many U.S. horses running in the World Cup. It provided a good gauge to calculate figures for that race. And with Beyer and Moss being so confident in their figures for the World Cup, they felt that made it plausible to calculate legit figures for the UAE Derby, mainly because they both were two-turn races at distances that were not significantly different.
Thunder Snow was assigned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Dubai World Cup, with Mendelssohn getting a 106 for his W in the UAE Derby.
Mendelssohn’s 106 is the highest Beyer recorded by any of the 20 leading point-earners for this year’s Kentucky Derby. Here is the list of those among the 20 to have ever earned a triple-digit Beyer:
106 Mendelssohn (won UAE Derby on March 31)
104 Justify (won Santa Anita maiden race on Feb. 18)
103 Bolt d’Oro (won FrontRunner at Santa Anita last Sept. 30)
101 Bolt d’Oro (won San Felipe via DQ at Santa Anita on March 10)
101 Justify (won Santa Anita allowance/optional claimer on March 11)
100 Good Magic (won BC Juvenile at Del Mar last Nov. 4)
McKinzie recorded a 101 Beyer Speed Figure when he finished first in the San Felipe, a race in which he was disqualified and placed second for fouling Bolt d’Oro in deep stretch. However, trainer Bob Baffert has said there will be no Kentucky Derby for McKinzie due to a hind leg injury. McKinzie had been No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top all year until this week.
As for Mendelssohn, his big Beyer in Dubai is yet another indication that he is a serious racehorse. But something to keep in mind is the dismal record of Kentucky Derby starters to have run in the UAE Derby:
Year Horse (Kentucky Derby finish)
2017 Thunder Snow (did not finish)
2016 Lani (9th)
2015 Mubtaahij (8th)
2013 Lines of Battle (7th)
2012 Daddy Long Legs (did not finish)
2011 Master of Hounds (5th)
2009 Regal Ransom (8th)
2009 Desert Party (14th)
2003 Outta Here (7th)
2002 Essence of Dubai (9th)
2001 Express Tour (8th)
2000 China Visit (6th)
2000 Curule (7th)
Despite the above list of futility in Louisville on the first Saturday in May by horses to have started in the UAE Derby, there are a number of reasons to think Mendelssohn has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than they did.
Mendelssohn already has won a Grade I race in this country. He took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf by a length at Del Mar last Nov. 3 as the lukewarm 9-2 favorite.
Another big plus for Mendelssohn is his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, who truly is one of the greatest of all time. It is true that O’Brien has started five horses in the Kentucky Derby, with zero wins. But just last year he won 26 Group/Grade I races to break the world record of 25 that had been set by Bobby Frankel in 2003. O’Brien trained Johannesburg, a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Eclipse Award winner.
And then there is Mendelssohn’s breeding. The $3 million auction purchase is a son of Scat Daddy. Scat Daddy, who is by the aforementioned Johannesburg, also is the sire of the exciting Justify. Mendelssohn is a half-brother to one of the greatest female Thoroughbreds of all time, four-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder, and a half-brother to Into Mischief, a Grade I winner and very successful sire.
AUDIBLE EXTENDS HIS WINNING STREAK
Into Mischief happens to be the sire of Audible, who won last Saturday’s Grade I Xpressbet Florida Derby in convincing fashion by three lengths as the 8-5 favorite. Hofburg finished second in the field of nine. Mississipppi ended up third, 7 3/4 lengths behind Hofburg.
Unlike the poor record of UAE Derby starters in the Run for the Roses, the Florida Derby has produced more Kentucky Derby winners than any other race. A total of 24 horses have run in the Florida Derby and won the Kentucky Derby.
Audible, trained by Todd Pletcher, now has reeled off four consecutive victories. In his only 2018 start prior to the Florida Derby, the New York-bred colt took Gulfstream’s Grade II Holy Bull Stakes with authority by 5 1/2 lengths on Feb. 3. He was assigned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Holy Bull, a figure he duplicated in the Florida Derby.
According to the American Racing Manual, these are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winner of the Florida Derby going back to 1992:
2018 Audible (99)
2017 Always Dreaming (97)
2016 Nyquist (92)
2015 Materiality (110)
2014 Constitution (98)
2013 Orb (97)
2012 Take Charge Indy (95)
2011 Dialed In (93)
2010 Ice Box (99)
2009 Quality Road (111)
2008 Big Brown (106)
2007 Scat Daddy (99)
2006 Barbaro (103)
2005 High Fly (102)
2004 Friends Lake (92)
2003 Empire Maker (108)
2002 Harlan’s Holiday (101)
2001 Monarchos (105)
2000 Hal’s Hope (102)
1999 Vicar (102)
1998 Cape Town (108)+
1997 Captain Bodgit (104)
1996 Unbridled’s Song (114)
1995 Thunder Gulch (101)
1994 Holy Bull (115)
1993 Bull Inthe Heather (94)
1992 Technology (101)
+Lil’s Lad finished first but was disqualified and placed second
DERBY STRIKES UPDATE
Years ago, I developed my Derby Strikes System, which consists of nine key factors that attempts to ascertain the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from both tactical and historical perspectives. When a horse does not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse gets a strike. The nine key factors are explained at the end of this column.
According to the Derby Strikes System, a horse with zero strikes or one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two or more strikes. That’s because 38 of the last 45 Kentucky Derby winners have had zero strikes or one strike.
If a horse has two strikes, it’s not impossible to win the roses, but it is unlikely. Only six of the last 45 Kentucky Derby winners have had two strikes: Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005) and Always Dreaming (2017).
Any horse with three or more strikes has only a remote chance of winning the Kentucky Derby. That’s because of the last 45 horses to win the Run for the Roses, the only one to have more than two strikes was Mine That Bird, who had four.
It is not until a horse’s next race will be the Kentucky Derby that a horse’s number of strikes can be determined.
In terms of strikes, Mendelssohn is in excellent shape. He has zero.
Pletcher won the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby last year with Always Dreaming. Always Dreaming is one of the few horses to have won the roses despite having two or more strikes. Always Dreaming had two strikes. One of his strikes came in Category 6, the “sufficient racing experience” category. His other strike came in Category 1 for not having started in a graded stakes race before March 31.
Audible, this year’s Florida Derby winner for Pletcher, goes into the Kentucky Derby with only one strike. It is in the “sufficient racing experience” category. Not only does Audible have just a single strike, but I now regard “the sufficient racing experience” category to be the least important by far. That’s because horses just do not race as much these days as when I originated the Derby Strikes System in 1999.
The only strike for five of the last 12 Kentucky Derby winners came in the “sufficient racing experience” category. The five were Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008), Animal Kingdom (2011), I’ll Have Another (2012) and American Pharoah (2015).
Runaway Ghost, winner of this year’s Grade III Sunland Derby, has only one strike. His strike comes in Category 4 for being in front at the eighth pole before finishing second in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park on March 25.
These are strikes for five other Kentucky Derby candidates who are not scheduled to race again before the first Saturday in May:
Bravazo (winner of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes but eighth in the Grade II Louisiana Derby) has two strikes (Categories 4 and 5).
Lone Sailor (runner-up in the Grade II Louisiana Derby) has two strikes (Categories 2 and 4).
Hofburg (runner-up in the Grade I Florida Derby) has three strikes (Categories 1, 2 and 6).
Gronkowski (winner of the Burradon Stakes, making him the points leader after the seventh and final leg of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby series and thus securing him a spot in the Kentucky Derby field) has three strikes (Categories 1, 2 and 5).
Noble Indy (winner of the Grade II Louisiana Derby) has three strikes (Categories 3, 6 and 7).
THE LATEST NTRA POLLS
Here is this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 428 West Coast (25)
2. 315 Unique Bella (4)
3. 272 Accelerate (1)
4. 243 Mind Your Biscuits
5. 147 World Approval
6. 143 Roy H
7. 124 Gun Runner (11)
8. 109 Abel Tasman
9. 100 Mubtaahij
10. 91 Forever Unbridled (1)
Here is this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 429 Bolt d’Oro (28)
2. 381 Audible (6)
3. 285 Mendelssohn (9)
4. 259 Magnum Moon
5. 237 McKinzie
6. 200 Good Magic
7. 172 Justify
8. 170 Noble Indy
9. 128 Enticed
10. 84 Solomini
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TURBULATOR
This Friday marks the birthday of my all-time favorite racehorse, Turbulator. It was on April 6, 1965, when the son of Cold Command and Fur Piece was foaled in Veradale, Wash., 12 miles east of Spokane. Cold Command, a son of 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, ran in the 1952 Kentucky Derby, finishing ninth behind Calumet Farm’s victorious Hill Gail.
Turbulator did not race as a 2-year-old or 3-year-old. While on a farm in Montana as a 2-year-old, he injured his right knee so severely by banging a sprinkler in a pasture that his owner, breeder and trainer, Tom Crawford, unsuccessfully tried to trade the horse to a neighbor for a pair of cows.
I became a charter member of the Turbulator fan club when witnessing what he accomplished at Spokane’s Playfair Race Course as a 4-year-old in 1969. He won seven straight races in the span of nine weeks and two days at distances ranging from six furlongs to two miles!
In 1970, Turbulator broke the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs at Longacres. In a race later that year at Playfair, he rallied from 20 lengths behind to win by two lengths despite packing 134 pounds. His come-from-way-behind style and his charisma made him a huge fan favorite in the Pacific Northwest.
Turbulator died at the age of 24 on Nov. 7, 1989. He was inducted into Washington Racing Hall of Fame in 2004. If you ever visit Emerald Downs, you can see a wonderful head bust of Turbulator at the track’s Washington Racing Hall of Fame exhibit.
THE NINE KEY FACTORS IN THE DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM
These are the nine key factors (or categories) in my Derby Strikes System:
1. THE GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Since the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Always Dreaming in 2017 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)
2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES FACTOR. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions since the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
3. THE EIGHTH POLE FACTOR. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 52 of the last 55 Kentucky Derby winners have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second at the eighth pole in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
4. THE GAMENESS FACTOR. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION FACTOR. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
6. THE SUFFICIENT RACING EXPERIENCE FACTOR. (The horse has had at least six lifetime starts before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the needed experience. (Exceptions: Since 1955, the exceptions have been Grindstone in 1996, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, Barbaro in 2006, Big Brown in 2008, Animal Kingdom in 2011, I’ll Have Another in 2012, American Pharoah in 2015 and Always Dreaming in 2017. Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah and Always Dreaming each had made five starts before the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom had made four starts before the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown had made three starts before the Kentucky Derby.)
7. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS FACTOR. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Since Daily Racing Form began including blinkers in its past performances in 1987, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
8. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD FACTOR. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 is the only Kentucky Derby winner who didn’t race as a 2-year-old. There now have been 135 straight Kentucky Derby winners who raced as a 2-year-old. Through 2017, the score is 142-1 in terms of Kentucky Derby winners who raced at 2. Since 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old are a combined 0 for 61 in the Kentucky Derby. During this period, the only horses to even place or show were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; and Battle of Midway, third in 2017.)
9. THE NOT A GELDING FACTOR. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)