Kentucky Derby: Justify v. Mendolssohn

Racing expert Mike Joyce gives his predictions for this year's Kentucky Derby, a race that is described as the "Most exciting two minutes in sport".

Posted: May 5, 2018 10:43 AM
Updated: May 5, 2018 10:43 AM

He's tall, dark and handsome and named after a German composer.

But Mendelssohn is a three-year-old bay colt who may be about to end a 143-year wait for a European-trained winner in the Kentucky Derby, America's most important horse race.

Just like Felix Mendelssohn, who had been a child prodigy in painting, music and poetry in the 19th century before he became one of the world's most famous composers, Mendelssohn the horse has enjoyed an equally rapid rise to fame.

READ: Kentucky Derby -- five reasons not to miss it

Top bloodline

Sired by the late Florida Derby winner Scat Daddy and out of the 2016 Kentucky broodmare of the year, Leslie's Lady, Mendelssohn was born at Clarkland Farm in Kentucky in 2015.

Here's a picture of Mendelssohn and his mother soon after his birth:

A year later, the yearling colt made headlines at the Keeneland September sales when he was snapped up for a cool $3 million by Irish horse racing tycoon John Magnier's Coolmore Stud.

There was something about Mendelssohn, the most expensive yearling of 2016, that immediately stood out.

"The yet-unnamed colt had a drop-dead gorgeous conformation, plus a first-class mind, as evidenced by how he handled the Keeneland sale experience," the Kentucky Derby reported in a story on its website.

"Subjected to inspections for about five days, he showed like a pro, walking on cue, not having to be pulled or pushed into position, all the while with his head and ears erect."

Loved the dirt

Trained by Aidan O'Brien in Ireland, Mendelssohn soon validated his hefty price tag when he triumphed in last year's $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf over one mile in Del Mar, California.

Testing his endurance over a distance of nearly 1.2 miles and for the first time on dirt, jockey Ryan Moore guided Mendelssohn to a huge victory at last month's $2 million UAE Derby at the Dubai World Cup, winning by 18 lengths.

"I'm over the moon and it was the way he did it, going forward from the start and doing it the hard way," O'Brien told the Irish Times after the race.

"He galloped out and saw every yard of the distance. We knew it was very important how he handled the dirt, but he loved the surface."

Nine UAE Derby winners have started in the Kentucky Derby since 2000, but none have finished higher than sixth in the "Run for the Roses" at Churchill Downs.

Joint favorite

After his commanding win in the UAE Derby, Mendelssohn is now the joint 4-1 favorite alongside Justify with UK bookmaker William Hill to win the Kentucky Derby. That means a successful $1 wager would yield $4 plus the original stake. Audible is the third favorite at 7-1, followed by Magnum Moon at 9-1.

"He's a high-quality horse who has got better with every start," Mendelssohn's jockey Moore told the Irish Times after their Dubai win.

"It's the first time he's been in front today and he's still a horse that's learning, so he was still a bit green in places," said Moore, who is skipping the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, England to ride in Kentucky. "It was his first run on dirt, so that was huge for him, and it was his first time at this trip, so that was another question mark."

European drought

No horse shipped from Europe has ever won what's often called "The most exciting two minutes in sports."

The 144th edition of the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby, which is contested by thoroughbreds no older than three, will be held on May 5 at Churchill Downs race track in Louisville, Kentucky.

Europe's best performance dates back to 1986, when Bold Arrangement finished second to Ferdinand, despite a 36-hour quarantine period in New York followed by an 18-hour van journey to Kentucky.

READ: Always Dreaming wins 2017 Kentucky Derby

'Far tougher'

Mendelssohn, a half-brother to three-time Breeders' Cup winner and Eclipse champion Beholder, is the first runner from Europe to start the event as the favorite since Arazi, who finished eighth in 1992.

Earlier this month, fellow European-trained horse Gronkowski was withdrawn from the Kentucky Derby with illness.

READ: NFL-inspired Gronkowski pulls out of Kentucky Derby

Should Mendelssohn win, it will also be the first Kentucky Derby victory for his trainer O'Brien, who has had five previous runners, as well as for jockey Moore.

Visit CNN.com/horseracing for more news, features and videos

"Obviously the next time it's going to be a far tougher question, there's no doubt about that, but we're very happy with what he's done and I still feel he will get better," Moore said last month in Dubai.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 46387

Reported Deaths: 2662
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11434680
Lake4985241
Elkhart313343
Allen2695117
St. Joseph185766
Cass16369
Hamilton1502100
Hendricks1371100
Johnson1244118
Porter69037
Tippecanoe6598
Madison64363
Clark62744
Bartholomew58044
Howard55057
LaPorte54125
Kosciusko5003
LaGrange4646
Jackson4583
Vanderburgh4576
Noble45128
Delaware42949
Boone42743
Hancock42535
Marshall4183
Shelby41825
Floyd37044
Morgan32331
Montgomery29020
Grant28726
Clinton2812
Monroe26328
Dubois2616
White25910
Decatur24732
Henry23615
Lawrence23624
Vigo2278
Harrison20822
Warrick20729
Dearborn20622
Greene18432
Miami1802
Jennings16911
Putnam1658
DeKalb1594
Scott1557
Daviess13916
Orange13323
Wayne1296
Franklin1248
Steuben1242
Perry1239
Ripley1148
Jasper1132
Carroll1092
Wabash1092
Fayette967
Newton9610
Whitley814
Randolph774
Starke773
Huntington702
Wells681
Jay670
Fulton661
Jefferson661
Washington651
Knox630
Pulaski621
Clay594
Rush563
Benton480
Adams471
Gibson462
Owen451
Sullivan441
Brown381
Blackford372
Posey360
Spencer331
Tipton301
Crawford290
Fountain292
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Warren141
Union130
Vermillion130
Pike80
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 52865

Reported Deaths: 2876
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin9338407
Cuyahoga7013366
Hamilton5224198
Marion273138
Lucas2628302
Pickaway217641
Summit1969206
Montgomery178426
Mahoning1752228
Butler144844
Columbiana120960
Stark1052112
Lorain96267
Trumbull86362
Warren75721
Clark7399
Belmont53421
Delaware51815
Tuscarawas51510
Fairfield50316
Medina49132
Lake44316
Miami44231
Ashtabula42144
Portage41858
Licking41611
Geauga39042
Wood38451
Clermont3566
Wayne35452
Richland3185
Allen29740
Mercer2728
Darke23625
Erie22922
Greene2229
Holmes2043
Madison1888
Huron1772
Crawford1357
Ottawa13023
Washington12720
Sandusky12213
Morrow1151
Putnam11516
Hardin11312
Ross1092
Auglaize993
Monroe8617
Coshocton811
Jefferson802
Union801
Hancock761
Hocking767
Muskingum731
Preble661
Lawrence650
Williams652
Clinton620
Guernsey603
Shelby594
Logan581
Wyandot584
Fulton570
Ashland551
Brown531
Carroll513
Defiance483
Fayette460
Highland431
Knox391
Champaign381
Athens371
Scioto360
Seneca332
Perry301
Henry290
Van Wert270
Paulding230
Vinton222
Adams211
Pike200
Jackson170
Gallia141
Harrison121
Meigs110
Noble110
Morgan90
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Few Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 93°
Angola
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 91°
Huntington
Broken Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 91°
Decatur
Scattered Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 91°
Van Wert
Scattered Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 96° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 91°
Hot & Humid Weekend
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events