Mendelssohn Posts Breathtaking Victory in UAE Derby

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 1st, 2018

Breathtaking. Brilliant. Astonishing. Unprecedented.

Take your pick, because any of these adjectives can be applied to the tremendous victory by Mendelssohn in Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby (UAE-II) at Meydan in Dubai, which earned him 100 qualification points for the 2018 Kentucky Derby while thoroughly stamping him as a horse to watch on the first Saturday in May.

The fact that Mendelssohn prevailed in the UAE Derby was not surprising in and of itself. Trained by Aiden O’Brien, the well-bred son of Scat Daddy is a half-brother to the four-time Eclipse Award-winning mare Beholder and had already proven his talent by winning last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) in a sharp performance.

No, it was the manner in which Mendelssohn won the UAE Derby that caused the jaws of racing fans to drop in disbelief. Making his dirt debut, Mendelssohn was aggressively ridden by jockey Ryan Moore, securing the early lead while carving out a testing pace for the 1,900-meter race—:25.09, :48.46, and 1:11.87 (keep in mind that the race was timed from the opening of the gate).

Rounding the far turn, Mendelssohn began to extend his advantage, and by the time he reached the long Meydan homestretch the only thing left to determine was his margin of victory. Incredibly, Mendelssohn powered through the final 300 meters (about three-sixteenths of a mile) in a strong :18.88 seconds to leave his rivals a staggering 18 ½ lengths behind at the finish, which he reached in the track-record time of 1:55.19. For his effort, he was awarded a Beyer speed figure of 106, the highest number posted by any three-year-old so far this year.
With this effortless victory in his dirt debut, Mendelssohn is being hailed as one of the best foreign-based horses to target the Derby in recent years, and while this may be true, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. For one, the main track at Meydan was very fast on Saturday, and there also appeared to be a strong bias favoring speed horses on the rail. With this in mind, I think Mendelssohn received a perfect trip that may have exaggerated his margin of superiority, though I doubt he would have lost even with a less favorable setup.

Perhaps more significant, Mendelssohn—by virtue of his front-running performance—didn’t have to experience any kickback during the race, a scenario he could encounter at Churchill Downs if he breaks a step slowly or is simply beaten to the lead. There’s no telling how he might react to having dirt thrown back in his face, so drawing an outside post position in the Derby—giving him a better chance of staying out of traffic—could be critical to his chances.

What did you think of Mendelssohn’s UAE Derby victory?