Felix Mendelssohn’s most famous overture was one composed for William Shakespeare’s play “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  May is springtime in Kentucky, but maybe on the first Saturday of the month in 2018, Mendelssohn’s equine namesake will prematurely bring a summer dream to reality, one full of red roses and filled with the sounds of Irish laughter.

Mendelssohn, owned by Coolmore Stud connections Derrick Smith, Susan Magnier, and Michael Tabor, won the UAE Derby in late March by 18 ¼ lengths in track-record time of 1:55.18 for the 1 3/16 miles.  His next start is scheduled to be in the Kentucky Derby.

The colt is by the late starcrossed sire Scat Daddy and out of Leslie’s Lady by Tricky Creek.  Scat Daddy was sired by Johannesburg, who was owned by Coolmore Stud and won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2001.  Leslie’s Lady is also the dam of the Eclipse champion mare Beholder (sire Henny Hughes) and Grade I winner and successful sire Info Mischief (by Harlan’s Holiday); she was Broodmare of the Year in 2016 and currently is in foal to Medaglia d’ Oro.

Coolmore purchased Mendelssohn for $3 million as a yearling at the Keeneland sale in fall of 2016.  He was bred and raised by Clarkland Farm in Kentucky.  Mendelssohn won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2017.

Only four colts owned by someone with citizenship outside the United States have ever won the Kentucky Derby:  Northern Dancer, Majestic Prince, and Sonny’s Halo had Canadian owners and Fusaichi Peagasus’ owner was from Japan.

Thus were Mendelssohn to win the 2018 Kentucky Derby, it would be the second time that the winner was owned by an individual other than a North American.  However, no Kentucky Derby winner has had the majority of his starts at racetracks outside North America and trained up to the race on foreign soil…or traveled so extensively.  Hands down, Mendelssohn has the most peripatetic background in Derby history, winning races in three different countries on three different surfaces–turf, dirt, and synthetic.

The County Tipperary-based Mendelssohn should have plenty of frequent-flyer miles.  He has gone from the Coolmore training facility known as Ballydoyle to sunny California for the Breeders’ Cup, to Dubai in the desert for the UAE Derby, and shortly will be in the air once again, this time to Louisville and Churchill Downs, some 75 miles from his ancestral roots in the Bluegrass.

Mendelssohn will be disadvantaged in the Derby by his long flight from Ireland to Kentucky and the five-hour time differential.  The gates will open for the race at a time Mendelssohn would be in deep sleep were he at home and his feed and work routine will be disrupted.  If he can win the Derby fighting these handicaps and put away 19 other talented colts, it will be a remarkable feat.

Ryan Moore, Mendelssohn’s regular rider, on Derby Day also has a mount on Coolmore’s talented Saxon Warrior in the Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket.  Bookmakers are taking bets on whether Moore rides Mendelssohn or Saxon Warrior, and Mendelssohn in the Derby is the odds-on choice.  If Moore rides Mendelssohn, the colt will, arguably, have the services of the world’s best jockey and the world’s best trainer in Aidan O’Brien.

Moore has no illusions about the difficulty of the task ahead.  After the Dubai Derby, he said: “He’s got a beautiful pedigree, he’s got the form, he races forward, and there’s plenty of experience now.  But that’s [the Kentucky Derby] a different thing—a hard race with more runners.  You can’t compare it to today.”

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business


  1. Good chance the gang at McCarthy’s in Fethard will be celebrating late on KY Derby night. Mendelssohn can wire the field or stalk, either one. Irish Eyes are Smiling.