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Aidan O'Brien Changes Tune With Mendelssohn

by Jeremy Plonk

September 10, 2018

Aidan O’Brien made a plan for Mendelssohn. Imagine that, a real plan. I hope mightily that it works, not because I am a fanboy of Mendelssohn or O’Brien or international racing, but because I like to see good horses actually race. And more importantly, as a horseplayer, I want some damned performances on the past performances to evaluate.

The Irish one-time wonderkid now ranks as a sage veteran. No one has had as much success bringing horses to the Breeders’ Cup from afar. O’Brien has amassed a dozen victories from his Irish base in the championships and more than $22 million bagged. Of course, it’s not without trial and error. O’Brien has hit about 10% in his BC career. His 0-for-16 Classic ledger indicates two things: He hasn’t figured out the right recipe yet in the dirt headliner; and he certainly has not lacked trying.

And so he’ll take a novel approach with Mendelssohn, whose post-Travers figures to include the Jockey Club Gold Cup and then the Classic. Consider that he had already been to Del Mar to win last year’s Juvenile Turf, to Churchill for the Kentucky Derby and to Belmont for the Dwyer. The Classic would be the 3-year-old’s fourth start in America this year and fifth overall. Mendelssohn will not arrive in Louisville lacking the American dirt racing experience like so many previous Coolmore color-bearers.

At the very least, we won’t have lacked an ability to see what he brings to the pot luck.

The last 3 Classic winners were off 9-10 weeks apiece, namely Gun Runner, Arrogate and American Pharoah. They went into the witness protection program after the summer boutique meets and that’s what we expect from probable 2018 Classic favorite Accelerate. But the Mendelssohn approach, well, that’s something completely different. Maybe it will be different enough to just work this time.

As with most races, the question first answered must be if a horse is good enough to win any specific race. Has Mendelssohn shown an effort capable of winning the Classic, or trending the right way where a new career-best could put him in the mix? If the answer is yes, then the discussion of preparation comes into play. If the answer is no, it wouldn’t matter if he showed up in any manner.

The 3-year-old crop has not distinguished itself from one another when you look beyond retired Triple Crown winner Justify. So, certainly the UAE Derby and Travers performances by Mendelssohn would put him on a plane with those types. Whether those match up with older horses Accelerate and Diversify, your only measure for now will be whatever speed/performance figures you subscribe to intellectually. The old-fashioned eyeball test tells me ‘maybe,’ which doesn’t do you a whole lot of good – but it’s only early September.

Luckily for us, Aidan O’Brien has a plan that we’ll get to see unfold again. Maybe we’ll actually know more about a very unclassical Classic contender by November 3.