Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 14:04 PM
Derby Contenders - Part 4
This week, Anthony “the Big A” Stabile will preview the 2018 Kentucky Derby on VegasInsider.com, culminating on Friday, May 4 with an extensive analysis of every runner that steps into the gate for the Run for the Roses. On both May 4 and May 5, Kentucky Oaks and Derby Day, you’ll be able to purchase Stabile’s Pick Packs, full of selections and plays for two of racings’ most exciting days of the year. To purchase Anthony Stabile products, click here!
The last of our four-part Kentucky Derby preview will focus on European import Mendelssohn, fellow G1 winner Firenze Fire, My Boy Jack, Lone Sailor and Combatant.
Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Mendelssohn is no stranger to U.S. racing despite having spend all but a handful of weeks of his career on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. A winner just once in his first four starts, he came over with the rest of the Coolmore bunch for the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar last fall.
As a half-brother to the legendary mare Beholder, it was assumed Mendelssohn would try the dirt in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile while he far more accomplished stablemate U S Navy Flag would run in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. But after a few days of contemplation and training, the two were flip-flopped.
Mendelssohn, racing on Lasix for the first time, sat a perfect trip in fourth behind the leaders and fought his way to a one length victory through the final eighth of a mile as the lukewarm 9-2 favorite under Ryan Moore who will be in to ride for the Derby.
Mendelssohn returned to action in early March, trying a synthetic surface for the first time and was a three-quarter length winner going a mile, on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby.
It was decided that Mendelssohn would try to get to the Derby via Dubai and the lucrative G2 UAE Derby going about 1 3/16 miles, the longest of all Derby preps, on the Dubai World Cup undercard. In his first and only start on conventional dirt, he was sent to the lead and improved his margin at every pole, using a speed-biased course to beat the filly Rayya and minor stakes winner Reride from the Steve Asmussen barn by over 18 lengths.
While many have tried to win the Derby by way of Europe and Dubai, few have sported such an impressive victory, the pedigree and have a stateside run under their belts, as Mendelssohn has. He figures to be second or third choice in the wagering and will do almost all of his major training before arriving at Churchill the week of the race.
Firenze Fire will be facing the starter for the tenth time in his career when he goes postward for trainer Jason Servis under his new pilot Paco Lopez.
A three time winner last season, Firenze Fire broke his maiden in his debut at Monmouth before upsetting the G3 Sanford at Saratoga. He wrapped his summer campaign with a fourth place finish in the G1 Hopeful also at the Spa.
Firenze Fire notched his biggest win to date in the fall at Belmont when he raced wide throughout before wearing down eventual Juvenile/Eclipse winner Good Magic in the G1 Champagne at Belmont going a flat mile. He closed out his juvenile season with an awful effort in the Juvenile.
Firenze Fire returned in early January and overcame a speed-biased course at Aqueduct to win the Jerome going a mile with a last-to-first move over a muddy track. Stretched back out to two turns for the G3 Withers at nine furlongs, Firenze Fire appeared one paced in the final stages yet managed to hold onto the place money.
Servis cut Firenze Fire back to a one turn mile in the G3 Gotham. Many felt that this would in fact be what he ultimately wanted to do but he appeared dull and disinterested and reported home fourth, almost 10 lengths behind the winner, Enticed. He was stretched back out to nine furlongs for the G2 Wood Memorial last out where he finished over 11 lengths behind Vino Rosso while never being a factor.
Firenze Fire figures to be one of the biggest prices in the Derby and with good reason. Just combine his last two starts with a dawdling three furlongs in :39 3/5 on the Belmont Park training track on April 21 and you’re left questioning why he is even here. He finished up his major morning moves when he went a half-mile in :50 on April 28 over the same strip.
My Boy Jack wins the race for “most starts by a Derby runner” this year as he’ll be making start number 11 on Saturday for the Desormeax brothers, trainer Keith and Hall of Fame jockey Kent. Kent has won the Derby three times, with Real Quiet in 2998, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 and Big Brown in 2008.
Last Year, My Boy Jack won just once in six starts, breaking his maiden in the Zuma Beach in Santa Anita on turf before finishing seventh in the B.C. Juvenile turf. In fact, he made five of his juvenile starts on the lawn after finishing off-the-board in his career debut on dirt.
Keith decided to try My Boy Jack on dirt again to start this season and ran him in the G3 Sham at Santa Anita in early January. He showed more speed than he ever had off the two month freshening, placed just a couple of lengths off of the leaders but faded through the lane to finish third, over seven lengths behind McKinzie.
My Boy Jack stayed on the Trail and shipped to Oaklawn for the G3 Southwest on President’s Day. Rains left the track muddy and a pretty strong inside bias revealed itself as the card proceeded through the day. Kent noticed this and never left the rail with ‘Jack,’ allowing him to settle early before scooting up the inside to power away to a four-plus length victory.
The Desormeaux boys went home to Louisiana for what figured to be My Boy Jack’s final prep, the G2 Louisiana Derby in late March at the Fair Grounds. Sent to post as one of the favorites, ‘Jack’ again settled towards the rear and began to pass horses approaching the turn, this time down the center of the track. He looked a winner when the field straightened for home but simply hung on the money and finished three-quarters of a length behind Noble Indy and Lone Sailor in third.
While in hindsight the 32 Derby points he had accumulated would have been enough, they didn’t seem to be sufficient then, so Keith decided to run My Boy Jack in the G3 Lexington at Keeneland, a last chance to grab Derby points, with just 20 going to the winner. Under an amazing ride by Kent, ‘Jack’ saved ground early then made his way around horses to run down a dead-game Telekinesis in the last two jumps to win by a head.
My Boy Jack posted his lone work in the three weeks between starts on April 28 when he went five furlongs in 1:03 1/5 at Churchill.
Lone Sailor comes into the Derby still eligible for an entry level allowance contest having already made eight starts for trainer Tom Amoss.
Last summer, when Amoss was doing broadcasts for The N.Y.R.A at Saratoga, he gave the viewers an inside look into what it’s like to saddle a horse and it just so happened to be Lone Sailor, who finished fifth that day before coming back to break his maiden over a sloppy track in an off-the-turf event.
A third place finish in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, a narrow loss in the Street Sense and fifth place finish after a wide trip in the G2 KJC, both at Churchill, is how Lone Sailor completed his juvenile season.
This season, Lone Sailor has made all three of his starts to date at the Fair Grounds, starting with a terrible effort in the G3 LeComte in mid-January when Amoss experimented with adding blinkers. He proceeded to finish second in an entry level allowance/optional claimer after breaking a bit slowly.
Amoss decided that effort was enough to give Lone Sailor one more chance against the big boys in the G2 Louisiana Derby in late March. On the heels of his owner, New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson, passing away, the sentimental money poured in as he was sent to post at 9-1. The money was almost right.
After settling in at the back of the pack early, his jockey Jimmy Graham asked Lone Sailor for some run and he came with a big move towards the lead and briefly got past the leader, Noble Indy, in the stretch before Noble Indy caught a glimpse of Lone Sailor and battled back to win by a neck. Still, the race served its purpose and Lone Sailor got the points he needed to get in to this.
Lone Sailor shipped to Churchill at the end of the Fair Ground meet and has been training nicely over the course. He went a half-mile in :47 4/5 on April 11, a blistering five furlongs in :57 3/5 on April 19, easily the fastest work put in my any contender leading up to the race, and a more sensible :48 for a half-mile on April 27.
Like Lone Sailor, Combatant, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, has won just one of his seven races, a maiden event at Churchill in his second career start and first on dirt, going a mile back in late October after finishing fourth in his debut on the grass.
Combatant got a seven week break before trying stakes company for the first time when he finished second to Greyvitos in the Springboard Mile at Remington. Nearly a month later, Combatant would make his first of four consecutive starts at Oaklawn when he finished second again, this time to the ill-fated Mourinho in the Smarty Jones,
Though he sat relatively close to the pace in his first few starts, Combatant began to gain his reputation as a closer when he came from far back while racing wide when he was the runner-up again in the Southwest.
He made a similar bid when his runner-up streak was snapped at three and he had to settle for the show dough after he found a touch of trouble at the start of the G2 Rebel. Under his regular rider Ricardo Santana, Jr., Combatant looked like he would second yet again but was out gamed to the wire by Solomini.
Last out in the Arkansas Derby, a slower pace than he had grown accustomed to combined with a wider trip from his outside post 9 resulted in arguably he worst performance to date, as Combatant appeared to flatten out through the stretch while in a four-way battle for place. His fourth place finish actually left him on the outside looking in Derby-wise but he was able to get into the field when Quip defected.
Though Combatant has been training steadily for the past three weeks, he posted just once work, going a half-mile in :49 3/5 at Churchill on April 30.
Anthony “the Big A” Stabile can be heard regularly on the Horse Racing Radio Network from 3-6PM ET on Wednesday and 3-7PM ET Thursday and Friday. Tune in on Sirius 219, XM 201 or streaming live at horseracingradio.net. He also is a contributor on NYRA-TV as a guest on Talking Horses. Follow him on Twitter @thebigastabile