Mendelssohn takes on Dubai Carnival stars Gold Town, Rayya in UAE Derby

Mar 26, 2018 Kellie Reilly/

Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby (G2) promises to be one for the ages. Aidan O’Brien’s Mendelssohn, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner, puts his Kentucky Derby (G1) ambitions on the line in this first dirt test. Godolphin’s Gold Town, invincible on the Meydan dirt so far, takes his biggest test of class. That makes for a high-stakes showdown between rival global empires, with 170 Kentucky Derby points up for grabs. And just to spice it up more, let’s add in a battle-of-the-sexes angle with UAE Oaks (G3) queen Rayya, already booked for the Kentucky Oaks (G1); shippers from Japan; and Steve Asmussen’s Reride.

Mendelssohn, the sales-topping $3 million half-brother to Beholder, is bred to handle the dirt. But the progeny of sire Scat Daddy have had exceptional results on turf, so his ability on the surface remains a question mark until he actually tackles it. There’s also the matter of the about 1 3/16-mile distance. Mendelssohn has yet to race beyond a mile, and O’Brien interestingly commented that the UAE Derby will gauge his stamina. The highly-regarded colt will have to pass both tests satisfactorily to make it to the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

But there’s no doubt about Mendelssohn’s talent. A work in progress at two, he responded to first-time blinkers to finish a strong second in the Dewhurst (G1) at Newmarket, and put it all together to capture the Juvenile Turf at Del Mar. Mendelssohn returned to action in the March 9 Patton S. on Dundalk’s Polytrack and stayed on well to overtake pacesetting stablemate Threeandfourpence, taking interim command of the European leaderboard. Now fitter for that tightener, Mendelssohn has drawn post 4 with jockey Ryan Moore, and he seeks to clinch a Derby berth via the main leaderboard.

Sidekicks Threeandfourpence and Seahenge are along for the ride too. Although Seahenge left Mendelssohn up the track when taking the Champagne (G2) at Doncaster last September, he hasn’t confirmed that result in their two ensuing meetings when third in the Dewhurst and in the Patton. O’Brien’s son Donnacha will ride Seahenge, and Threeandfourpence, unfavorably drawn out wide in post 9, keeps Seamie Heffernan.

Gold Town, by Winx and Zenyatta’s sire Street Cry, has been a revelation on dirt for Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby. Already on the improve after being gelded over the summer in Great Britain, he is two-for-two at the Dubai Carnival. Gold Town was convincing in his Meydan debut, but positively impressive in his 10 1/2-length rout of the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). Like Mendelssohn, he’s untried beyond a mile, and the UAE Derby will be the acid test. William Buick will be back aboard as Gold Town breaks just to the outside of Mendelssohn in post 5.

The filly Rayya, in contrast, is proven at the UAE Derby distance. Trained by American expatriate Doug Watson, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Tiz Wonderful wired the about 1 3/16-mile UAE Oaks in dominating fashion. She drew the rail that day, and secured the same plum position here with stable rider Pat Dobbs. Plans call for Rayya to join Bob Baffert afterward and gear up for the Kentucky Oaks.

Also sporting a win over track and trip is Yulong Warrior, who romped by 11 1/2 lengths in the March 10 Al Bastakiya on “Super Saturday.” The Satish Seemar pupil has scope to progress as another son of Street Cry, but this is a vastly stiffer task.

The lone American-based hope, Reride, brings some notable formlines. Four-for-five in his career, the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred suffered his only loss when sixth in the key Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs last November. Reride comes off back-to-back stakes scores in the Big Drama at Delta Downs and Sunland Park’s Mine That Bird Derby last time, where he beat next-out Sunland Derby (G3) victor Runaway Ghost. Javier Castellano, in Dubai to ride World Cup (G1) favorite West Coast, picks up the mount on Reride, drawn in post 3.

The two Japanese shippers, Ruggero and Taiki Ferveur, sit second and third on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Ruggero won the first scoring race, last November’s Cattleya Sho, but wound up third in the finale, the February 18 Hyacinth. With a pedigree not totally persuasive for a classic distance, he must answer a stamina question. Christophe Lemaire has the riding assignment. Taiki Ferveur, the fast-finishing second in the Hyacinth, is eligible to prefer the added ground as a two-time winner at about nine furlongs. He also gets an eye-catching rider change to Joao Moreira, Hong Kong’s “Magic Man.”

Nearly all of the UAE Derby entrants are Triple Crown nominated, the exceptions being Rayya and Taiki Ferveur. O’Brien’s trio, Reride, and Ruggero were early nominees, while Gold Town and Yulong Warrior were added during the late nomination phase.

The UAE Derby offers 100 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, and 40 points to the runner-up, so two Derby berths could be secured on World Cup night in the desert.

You can watch and wager on, with the UAE Derby post time scheduled for 9:30 a.m. (EDT). 

Mendelssohn photo by Bob Newell/

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