Observers were taken by surprise when trainer Aidan O’Brien opted for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) for Mendelssohn. Listed as first preference for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), the half-brother to future Hall of Famer Beholder appeared destined to try dirt at Del Mar.

Mendelssohn stuck to the green and rallied from just off the pace to win the Juvenile Turf going away by a length. We didn’t get to see how he’ll take to a dirt track, but Mendelssohn remains a promising prospect for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

Owned by Coolmore connections, the Kentucky-bred son of Scat Daddy commanded a whopping $3 million bid when selling at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He raced exclusively on turf in four starts overseas, breaking his maiden the second time out. However, Mendelssohn did not fire and checked in last of seven when making his stakes debut in a Group 2 event at Newmarket in mid-September. He was overlooked at 50-1 in the Dewhurst (G1) four weeks later as a result but rebounded with an excellent second to stablemate U S Navy Flag, who was named Europe’s top 2-year-old at the recent Cartier Awards.

Mendelssohn continued his progression by recording a first stakes tally in the Juvenile Turf and based on bloodlines, he's eligible to transfer his form to dirt races next year.

The bay hails from the stakes-winning Leslie’s Lady, a daughter of Tricky Creek. Into Mischief was the first Grade 1 winner from the 21-year-old mare and has proven to be an even better sire, throwing many high-class dirt runners. Beholder was a four-time champion for Leslie's Lady, winning three Breeders’ Cup events and defeating males in the Pacific Classic (G1) as she earned more than $6.1 million from a stellar 26-race career on the main track.

“He's a late foal, so physically he's very big and strong, and every week he's getting better,” O’Brien said of Mendelssohn after the Juvenile Turf. “We knew that he was kind of a really American dirt pedigree horse. But we felt we didn't want to stop the progression, that's why we left him on the grass rather than putting dirt in on top when he wasn't ready for it. We had it in our head that if everything went well today, he could be a horse we could train for the Kentucky Derby. Especially now when we have the Kentucky Derby trials at home.”

O’Brien referenced the European Road to the Kentucky, a series of seven races in England, France and Ireland awarding points toward a berth in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby starting gate. The U.A.E. Derby (G2) at Meydan in late March is another option next spring.

Mendelssohn hasn’t accumulated any points yet and it will be interesting to see how O’Brien plots a possible course to Churchill Downs for the talented colt.