The first leg of the American Triple Crown takes place on Saturday with the 144th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Mendelssohn seeks first European victory
Trainer Aidan O’Brien saddles the fancied Mendelssohn with Ryan Moore electing to ride here rather than in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. O’Brien has won the Guineas a record eight times but Moore has clearly been swayed by the opportunity to create a piece of racing history.
No European trained horse has ever won the race, although Clive Brittain’s Bold Arrangement did finish second in 1986. You have to go back to 1971 and the Venezuelan-trained Canonero II to find the last Kentucky Derby winner trained outside of the United States.
Those statistics make grim reading for Mendelssohn supporters but he is a Breeders’ Cup winner, albeit on turf. His backers will also point out that he won the UAE Derby by a record margin of 18 ½ lengths. Previous runners who took part in the Dubai Classic have a miserable record at Churchill Downs, all thirteen being beaten and none managing better than fifth place. He will also need to be quickly away if he is to secure a prominent position from barrier 14.
History suggests that Mendelssohn is up against it and there will be plenty of punters willing to lay the colt in the betting exchanges.
Justify likely to start Derby favourite
His main market rival is Justify, trained by Bob Baffert and the winner of the Santa Anita Derby last time out. Baffert underlined his status as one of the leading trainers in the world when American Pharoah became the first horse to land the Triple Crown for 37 years in 2015. He provided Baffert with his fourth Kentucky Derby victory and signed off with a spectacular win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Justify’s preparation for this race is far from being “text book”. He did not race as a juvenile and the last winner of the Derby to make his debut at three was Apollo in 1882. Justify earned his place in the field when defeating Bolt D’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby last month. He is perfectly drawn in barrier seven and is likely to be a better price on the betting exchanges than on the US pari-mutuel system.
Audible (drawn 5) is also likely to trade at longer odds on the exchanges, the impressive winner of the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He is trained by Todd Pletcher who will also saddle Magnum Moon, Noble Indy and Vino Rosso. Last year he won the race for a second time with Always Dreaming, the shortest price of his three entries. The betting suggests that Audible is the one to take from his quartet while Vino Rosso and Noble Indy may be worth opposing from barriers 18 and 19 respectively.
Good Magic (drawn 6) ran away with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Dirt but was surprisingly beaten in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes. The son of Curlin bounced back with a win in the Blue Grass Stakes. My Boy Jack (drawn 10) has an excellent chance of reversing the Louisiana Derby form with Noble Indy. He came from well off the pace with a wide run to be beaten less than a length. A narrow victory followed in the Lexington where he once again made up a lot of ground. He is currently a 20-1 chance in the United States but is trading at 33-1 or better on the exchanges.