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By Nicholas Godfrey
20-1 (price for the Kentucky Derby) Mandaloun (Brad Cox/Florent Geroux)
Fair Grounds (Feb 13): Risen Star Stakes G2 $400,000, 1m1f, dirt
Sire: Into Mischief
Owner: Juddmonte Farms
Likely target: Louisiana Derby (Fair Grounds, March 20)
An extra half-furlong and the addition of blinkers did the trick for highly regarded Mandaloun in a solid victory over what was probably the most loaded field of Derby contenders compiled so far in 2020.
Despite being beaten at the same venue a month ago, the son of Into Mischief – also sire of last year’s Kentucky winner Authentic – was sent off favourite in an 11-runner field. After stalking the pace, Mandaloun overcame the resolve of his Lecomte Stakes conqueror Midnight Bourbon (finished third) in the stretch before holding off Godolphin’s Proxy by a length and a quarter.
Midnight Bourbon stayed on to be close-up third but second favourite Senor Buscador never got involved from the rear, making an outside move on the far turn before flattening out in the closing stages.
Brad Cox (Mandaloun’s trainer): “More than anything, it was just the experience of having the race going two turns under his belt.. He had two great works under his belt since so we expected him to move forward, the way he was training. I think the blinkers did help out – Florent immediately made a comment after the race. Much more focused in the post parade, more focused on his job. We didn’t put a bunch of cup on him, just like a one-inch cup, but it seems to have done the trick to get him mentally over the top, mentally getting him where he needs to be.
“He’s got enough speed to be close and he stays on. He’s got the physical make-up of a mile-and-a-quarter horse so we’re optimistic he’ll get better with more ground.”
Florent Geroux (Mandaloun’s jockey): “Blinkers on was a difference-maker today for sure. We knew he needed it racing, but he’s been winning without them. He’s always been a little funny down the lane. He’s never given me his full potential. Today we had the same kind of trip we had in the Lecomte, but when I pushed on the gas today, he responded right away. Last time I feel like he wasn’t giving me his best. He was a little more focused.”
Mike Stidham (Proxy’s trainer): “We all know that we’re all hoping that we can be as good as we can be on a certain day and he’s inching in the right direction. The main thing is you want them to come out of these races healthy, you have something to work with, and you can inch forward and culminate for the big day in May.”
Golden Gate: Rombauer rallies for the rear
33-1 Rombauer (Michael McCarthy/Kyle Frey)
Golden Gate Fields (Feb 13): El Camino Real Derby (Listed) $101,350, 1m1f, AW
Sire: Twirling Candy
Owner: John & Diane Fradkin
Likely target: unspecified
You wouldn’t have given late-running Rombauer a prayer on the far turn as he attempted to close from the rear. Having settled a long way off the pace, the 6-5 favourite had to ridden to move four wide on the turn but kept on steadily to nab market rival Javanica by a neck.
Taken in isolation, a narrow victory on Tapeta might not appear the most obvious Kentucky trial. However, this was Rombauer’s first run of the year, and he wasn’t a million miles off last season’s better two-year-olds on dirt (second in G1 American Pharoah and fifth in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile).
He gets a free pass to the Preakness – the two races are linked – for his win but his trainer is talking about trying the road to Churchill Downs as well.
Michael McCarthy (trainer): “He was a little farther back than I would have liked but I did not want to get hung wide into the first turn and have him run a mile and quarter in February instead of a mile and an eighth.
“The plan was always to try and save ground into the first turn, we did that and may have sacrificed a few lengths in doing so, but the horse seemed to find his stride coming through the lane. It was good enough to get up. I knew a mile and an eighth would not be an issue with him.
“We’ll kind of give him a few days to get his feet underneath him and formulate a game plan the next week or two. There are a lot of options out there right now; they’re all in play.”