Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin maintains the version of Mohaymen that showed up for the Florida Derby on April 2 was an aberration.
The horse who spun his wheels over a rain-soaked track en route to finishing fourth that evening was in stark contrast to the effortlessly moving colt that spoiled his connections into thinking there was no challenge he couldn’t handle.
It was the latter version of Mohaymen that showed up on the track at Churchill Downs on Wednesday, the one who once again has his barn buzzing with optimism about his impending test in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
In his first work since suffering his first career loss in the Florida Derby, multiple graded stakes winner Mohaymen answered any questions about how he has rebounded out of the race when he recorded a 4-furlong breeze in a bullet 46.80 seconds in preparation for the Kentucky Derby on May 7.
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The Churchill Downs track was playing relatively quick Wednesday morning, but Mohaymen’s sizzler of a move was notable for the ease with which it was achieved. The son of Tapit posted splits of :12, :23.60, :35.20 with a gallop-out in :59.60 and 1:12.80. Most impressive was that the gray colt barely appeared to be breathing hard while walking the shedrow afterward and took only a few sips of water while cooling out.
“I have goosebumps, look at my arms,” said Neal McLaughlin, brother and assistant to Kiaran McLaughlin. “That was a ‘wow’ breeze. You don’t know what you’re going to get coming here. You don’t really know how the horse will take to this track, some of them like it, some of them don’t. But that was way beyond expectations. He came back and took one sip of water with no sweat on him, he’s happy.
“I know he’s a fit horse, but to see him get over the track that well, that fast and just with no stress, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Mohaymen going through grand paces with minimal effort had been his modus operandi until this month. Owned by Shadwell Stables, Mohaymen was unbeaten in his first five career starts including victories in the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes and Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park this year and headed into the Florida Derby regarded as the divisional leader.
His showdown against unbeaten champion Nyquist turned into a one-horse show, however, as Nyquist handily turned back his rival on the far turn and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths.
“We’re going to draw a line through that race down there,” Kiaran McLaughlin said. “He was very wide and the track was very wet. And a very nice horse beat us. We have to figure out how to turn the tables on (Nyquist) but I’m happy where we are today.
“We were very disappointed (in the Florida Derby), I didn’t think this horse could lose. And he got beat fair and square, but there were a lot of variables that day — the track, and the weather and the trip. We have reasons we thought he got beat and now hopefully we’re going to prove he’s a different horse May 7.
Given Mohaymen’s unblemished record going into the Florida Derby, McLaughlin was taking an if-it’s-not-broke-don’t-fix it approach to his training. Since the defeat, some minor tweaks have been made including putting him in glue-on shoes.
“We’ve been fine-tuning a little bit with the shoeing,” Neal McLaughlin said. “We put on some glue-on shoes which we’ve seen a lot of horses improve with. And we’ve done just a few little things that before it was like ‘Why change?’ because he was unbeaten. Nothing drastic, just some minor changes and we couldn’t be happier.”
Kiaran McLaughlin added that Mohaymen would probably have just one more major move before the Kentucky Derby, either Thursday or Friday of next week.
When: May 7
Where: Churchill Downs