It takes a special broodmare to produce two Group/Grade 1 winners at stud and an exceptional one to get three or more, especially when they are by different stallions. When Mendelssohn (by Scat Daddy) took the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar in early November his dam, Leslie's Lady (by Tricky Creek), joined that elite club.
Her first one was Into Mischief (by Harlan's Holiday), a lightly raced horse who won the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity at two and was a Grade 1-placed stakes winner at three, after which he took up stallion duties at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. His 32 stakes winners, to date, include the multiple Grade 1 stars Goldencents and Practical Joke.
His first foals arrived in 2010, which was also the year that his half-sister Beholder (by Henny Hughes) was born. A Grade 1 star in each of five seasons on the track and an Eclipse Award winner in four of them, she was one of the most brilliant US racemares of the modern era, eventually retiring to stud the winner of 18 races from 26 starts and over $6.1 million in prize money.
Her final run resulted in a nose defeat of the equally brilliant Songbird in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita, 364 days before Mendelssohn's top win, and her first foal was born on January 23rd of this year – a bay Uncle Mo (by Indian Charlie) colt.
As for six-furlong juvenile listed scorer Leslie's Lady, she had a Medaglia d'Oro (by El Prado) colt in 2017 and then went in foal to Triple Crown hero American Pharoah (by Pioneer Ofthe Nile).
Into Mischief was his dam's third foal, Beholder her eighth, and her latest star number 11, and both of the latter pair were bred by Clarkland Farm in Kentucky.
There are a few other stakes winners to be found within the first four generations of the pedigree, and some horses who notched up double-digit tallies of wins on the track, but the most notable is Roanoke (by Pleasant Colony), whose half-sister One Last Bird (by One For All) is the stakes-placed third dam of Mendelssohn.
He was a wide-margin winner of the Grade 2 Young America Stakes over eight and a half furlongs as a juvenile, added a mile listed race from nine starts at three, and then took the Grade 1 Californian Stakes over nine furlongs at four, beating Anshan and Marquetry, before going on to sire some stakes and graded winners at stud.
Mendelssohn is owned by the Coolmore team, trained in Ireland by Aidan O'Brien, and he is a $3,000,000 graduate of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. There was plenty of interest when he made his debut in a seven-furlong Curragh maiden in July, but he finished a well-beaten eighth. Next time, however, he took a mile maiden by a length at the same venue.
This was still a long way off pattern-level form and although it was not a huge surprise that he was beaten in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster a month later, it was disappointing to see him finish a long way last while his stable companion Seahenge took the honours.
Blinkers were fitted when he reappeared at Newmarket four weeks after that, he was sent off as a 50/1 longshot, but for the first time showed his real potential. In what was a remarkable one-two-three-four for the Ballydoyle team, he chased home two-and-a-half-length winner U S Navy Flag, and had old rival Seahenge the same distance back in third. Threeandfourpence, a head behind in fourth, completed the clean sweep.
When a seemingly exposed longshot produces such an effort it tends to be treated with some suspicion. Perhaps this was one of those performance-of-a-lifetime efforts that do not get repeated, perhaps the form was unreliable, or perhaps this was a colt who was finally beginning to come into his own.
His one-length defeat of Untamed Domain at Del Mar a few weeks later announced it to be the latter. A tilt at the Group 1 2000 Guineas and Group 1 Irish 2000 Guineas double would be the usual likely route for a leading turf two-year-old that stayed beyond six furlongs but it could be at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May when he makes his first classic bid.
O'Brien pointed out the dirt aspect of his pedigree in post-race interviews and indicated that early-season trials on the all-weather tracks in Europe could determine his target, with the Kentucky Derby very much on the cards.
Dermot Weld sent Moyglare Stud's homebred Go And Go from Ireland to New York to record an historic victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes back in 1990, but the closest that any European has come to lifting the Derby is when Clive Brittain shipped Bold Arrangement from England to Kentucky to chase home Ferdinand in the 1986 edition of the classic.
Mendelssohn and his star siblings are all by stallions who represent the Storm Cat (by Storm Bird) line and, in Europe, his late sire is typically associated with being a source of speed and precocity. That's because Scat Daddy's (by Johannesburg) best-known runners here feature the sprinters Acapulco, Caravaggio, Lady Aurelia and No Nay Never, as well as last year's Group 1 Phoenix Stakes scorer Sioux Nation.
Of course, in South America he was a premier source of classic winners, while in North America his best tend to excel in the seven to 10-furlong range. And this, combined with the fact that his most closely related sibling – Beholder – was a runaway winner of the Grade 1 Pacific Classic over 10 furlongs, suggests that the Kentucky Derby distance is unlikely to be a problem for him.
It is worth noting, however, that he was born on May 17th, 2015 so he will not have reached his physical third birthday until two days before the Preakness Stakes.
The surface, of course, is still an unknown until he tries it, but he is bred for it and it could turn out that what he has achieved on turf is a bonus. Only time will tell, but if this colt lives up to his pedigree and promise then he could become one of the major players of 2018, before eventually going on to what could be – given his half-brother's success – a notable career at stud.