One person likely to be taking as much satisfaction as any from the Travers result is Aidan O’Brien, still the world’s #1 trainer despite the general poor form of so many of the runners from his virus-hit stable over the past two months.
O’Brien is responsible for Travers runner-up Mendelssohn, the $3 million Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase who is a half-brother to champion Beholderand leading sire Into Mischief. Mendelssohn was one of the headline Ballydoyle stars early in the season but was not himself in either the Kentucky Derby, for which he was third favorite but was never a factor after being the meat in an early sandwich, or the G3 Dwyer, in which he was a well-beaten third behind Firenze Fire, at Belmont in July.
He was much more like his old self at Saratoga yesterday. Ryan Moore drove him into the lead from gate 8 (of 11) and he led all the way to the straight, when he tired and was overwhelmed by Catholic Boy. He was still a clear second best at the line.
“This was a big improvement,” said T. J. Comerford, assistant to Aidan O’Brien, of Mendelssohn, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner and this year’s G2 UAE Derby winner.
“Aidan planned on bringing him here, and he stuck to his guns. Aidan could have easily run him on the turf at home, but he stuck with it over here. It just shows he’s coming back to his best. I’m sure he’ll be back [in the United States] soon.”
The run would seem to indicate the son of Scat Daddy could be an even bigger threat to the leading North American dirt runners next time. Bearing in mind the progress O’Brien horses tend to make in similar circumstances, he is certainly likely to be more effective come the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on November 3. The Travers is one of the great races on the U.S. calendar, but for the Coolmore team on this occasion it was really just a useful test for Mendelssohn en route to his main target - the Classic.
His effort yesterday was certainly one of the brightest spots for O’Brien after what was always going to be a tough week of top-class racing. At the York Ebor Festival, his other great 2018 talisman, the 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior, ran fourth in the £1 million G1 Juddmonte International, and another star, the filly Magic Wand, was just fifth in the G1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks. But there were signs in both those performances - and some by other Ballydoyle runners - that the tide could be turning. Indeed, O’Brien notched a four-timer at the Curragh yesterday.
Earlier, he had told the media, “It’s probably as bad as we’ve had in Ballydoyle, but it happens. I’m not complaining because it happens to everybody at some stage. It just got in and got through the place.”
He said the horses had not been scoping clean. “It went right through all the yards and everything got it. It’s like phlegm or pus in your throat, an upper respiratory thing. It went through the whole place and it’s the same as a human having the flu. Some you can work your way gently with and some you have to pull back and go easy.
“We were lucky in that they worked away, but at the time you have to be easy on them to let them get over it. And, when you are being easy, they might not be as fit as you would like.”
He added, “I think we are at the other side of it now but, because we were very gentle on the horses for those months, they’ve probably lost a good bit of fitness that they’d usually have at this stage of the season. They are coming back and the year is not over yet. There’s plenty of racing, but we have be patient - take it race by race and then horse by horse.
“And the important thing is that it does not relapse because, if that happens, the season is over.”