Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) hero Mendelssohn begins his – and trainer Aidan O’Brien’s – quest for the Kentucky Derby (G1) in Friday’s Patton Stakes at Dundalk in Ireland.

A scoring race on the European leaderboard, the one-mile stakes on Polytrack offers points to the top four finishers on a sliding scale of 20-8-4-2, the same as Wednesday’s Kempton race won by Gronkowski. You can watch it live on TwinSpires.com Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. EST.

Kentucky-bred Mendelssohn, a half-brother to four-time Eclipse Award champion Beholder, has been a hot prospect from the beginning. He topped the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale when commanding $3 million from Coolmore. That global racing and breeding empire had stood his late sire, Scat Daddy, at its Kentucky property, Ashford Stud – now known to fans as the home of Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.  

Mendelssohn is heavily favored to prevail over seven rivals in the Patton, including stablemates Seahenge and Threeandfourpence. The same trio squared off in last October’s Dewhurst (G1) at Newmarket, where O’Brien runners served up a clean sweep. U S Navy Flag led home the superfecta with Mendelssohn an excellent second, followed by Seahenge and Threeandfourpence.

That result was a turning point for Mendelssohn. Hitherto the May 17 foal had been babyish, and his immaturity was evident as he won just one of his first three starts. Green in his maiden score second time out at the Curragh in August, the bay was pitched straight into better company in the Champagne (G2) at Doncaster, but dropped right out to finish last behind Seahenge.

Mendelssohn proved that to be all wrong in the Dewhurst. Adding blinkers for the first time, he suddenly found his focus. In O’Brien’s turn of phrase, “he grew another leg,” and rallied in eye-catching fashion.

Taking another step forward in the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, Mendelssohn was now savvy enough to capitalize on his favorable post, and stalking trip, to break through at the top level. The Juvenile Turf has turned out to be a key race on the Derby trail. Fourth-placer Catholic Boy dominated the Remsen (G2), eighth-placer Flameaway took the Sam F. Davis (G3) (beating Catholic Boy), seventh My Boy Jack surprised in the Southwest (G3), and Snapper Sinclair, only 12th behind Mendelssohn, nearly upset the Risen Star (G2) in his latest.

Mendelssohn reunites with ace rider Ryan Moore on Friday. Drawn on the rail, he’s the odds-on choice in both the European betting and the North American morning line.

Seahenge, another son of Scat Daddy, hasn’t backed up his Champagne performance in two subsequent starts last fall. But you can make excuses for him in both, and he’s likely to return to form in this sophomore bow. O’Brien’s son Donnacha will be aboard.

Threeandfourpence, a full brother to 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hit It a Bomb, was last seen in the Dewhurst. We’d have a better read on him had he been able to run in France as planned at the end of October, but racing was called off that day thanks to a protest on the track. Threeandfourpence thus enters as a smart maiden winner with upside, making him the early second choice with jockey Seamie Heffernan.

The three O’Brien entrants are the only Triple Crown nominees in the field. They’re also the only ones without experience on synthetic surfaces, having competed exclusively on turf so far.

The most interesting rival to the Coolmore battalion is Zihba, a smooth debut winner at Dundalk in December. He’s well regarded enough for trainer Fozzy Stack to have given him an early entry in a classic race at the Curragh, the May 26 Irish 2000 Guineas (G1).

Three fillies have stepped up to take on the boys. Blackgold Fairy, a Kentucky-bred by More Than Ready whose grandam is 2003 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Islington, romped in a fillies’ maiden at this track and trip February 23. Princess Yaiza, two-for-two at Dundalk, defeated males in a handicap for two-year-olds (called a “nursery”) in December. Qatar Racing’s Ship of Dreams just beat the boys in a maiden over this track.

Ship of Dreams is one of two runners in here for O’Brien’s jockey-turned-trainer son Joseph. The other is Calumet Farm homebred Irish Minister, the longest shot on the board as a thrice-raced maiden.

While most of the Patton field has upcoming objectives at home, the O’Brien trio may well be seen much further afield. The UAE Derby (G2) on March 31 – a scoring race worth 100 points to the winner on the main Kentucky Derby leaderboard – is reportedly in the mix for Mendelssohn and companions. 

For more analysis, see the Brisnet.com preview of the Patton

Mendelssohn photo by Bob Newell/Horsephotos.com