Neal McLaughlin is on the muscle.
The assistant to his brother, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, woke up at 3 a.m. Friday with his head spinning thinking about the final pre-Kentucky Derby obstacle their charge Mohaymen faced. As he studied the gray son of Tapit calmly cooling out after breezing 4 furlongs in :47.40 at Churchill Downs, Neal McLaughlin conceded that Shadwell Stable’s colt was about the only one in the barn keeping his nerves in check.
“I just wish the race was tomorrow, let’s move it up!” Neal McLaughlin said. “Kiaran is a little more anxious than me, I’m a little bit less anxious than him, but only by a little bit.”
It has been four weeks since Mohaymen suffered his first career loss when he was defeated by unbeaten champion Nyquist in the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 2. The next seven days can’t go by fast enough for his crew as confidence is growing within his camp that he is sitting on a redemption-type run in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
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The latest round of boasting was inspired by Mohaymen’s half-mile move Friday. With exercise rider Miguel Jaime in the irons, Mohaymen was a handful at the start of the move, leaping and bucking above the ground a couple of times before getting down to business.
The multiple graded stakes winner was eager from the word go, clocking splits of :12.60, :23.80, :35.80 and galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:00.80. That move came just over a week after Mohaymen covered 4 furlongs in a bullet :46.80 in his first move at Churchill Downs last Wednesday.
“That was not a surprise. Instructions were to go :48 and we knew he would go a little better than that,” Neal McLaughlin said. “That’s what he did, he just really loves it here, loves the track, and couldn’t have been a better day to do it. The track was beautiful, no humidity, cool, and he hadn’t even had a sip of water yet. He’s really fit and ready to go.
“I haven’t really seen the horse blow, ever. The only other horse I can compare him to is (2006 Horse of the Year) Invasor … and I never saw him blow. The only thing next week is just keeping him relaxed and keeping him within himself, because he really wants to train strong here.”
Mohaymen came into his Florida Derby showdown with Nyquist unbeaten in five starts including sublime victories in the Grade II Holy Bull and Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes this season. His fourth-place finish over a drying-out track that day was what Kiaran McLaughlin termed “the only two bad minutes in his whole life.”
Trying to rebound off a regress is not something easily done on the first Saturday in May. Beginning with Unbridled’s win in 1990, 21 Derby winners either won or finished second in their final prep races and none were worse than fourth. There are exceptions to nearly ever rule, however, and the way Mohaymen has blossomed since arriving in Louisville is what his team deems more crucial than his lone off day.
“We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain,” said Rick Nichols, general manger of Shadwell Stable. “All horses have bad days, that was his, and hopefully next Saturday he’ll have a good day. He’s so ready to go down the backside, he was wanting to go, and it was a beautiful work today.”
Destin, Outwork put in final moves
With many trainers trying to beat the incoming rain this weekend, the Friday worktab featured 13 horses under consideration for the Kentucky Derby.
The Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Grade I-winner Outwork and Tampa Bay Derby hero Destin were among those putting in their final Derby preparations with each working in company.
Few horses on the backside look as good as Outwork, and the Wood Memorial winner had arguably the most impressive move of the morning, working 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 in company with Azar. Clockers caught the son of Uncle Mo cutting fractions of :13.20, :37.40, and galloping out a huge three-quarters of a mile in 1:14.
“I had him going just a little bit faster than Destin, and what I really liked was the way he finished,” Pletcher said. “I had him the last quarter in :22 and 4 with a powerful gallop out. Sometimes, as he did in the Wood Memorial, when he gets past the last horse he kind of tends to idle a little bit. Today I thought he was much more professional, focused, stayed concentrated throughout the gallop.”
Working in company with impressive allowance-winner Stradivari, Destin went 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 producing eighth-mile fractions of :12.60, :24.80, :37.40, :49.60, galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:14.20 and 7 furlongs in 1:27. Destin finished the move about a length and a half in front but lost a bit of ground to his workmate on the gallop-out.
“He seemed enthusiastic for him,” Pletcher said of Destin, who is coming into the Derby off an eight-week layoff. “I particularly liked the way he finished up and galloped out. We wanted to make sure we got a good solid work today. He’s had a good series of solid works.”
Other Kentucky Derby contenders working Friday included Suddenbreakingnews (5 furlongs in :59.60), Oscar Nominated (5 furlongs in 1:00.80), Shagaf (4 furlongs in :47.80), Whitmore (5 furlongs in 1:00), Tom’s Ready (5 furlongs in :59.40), My Man Sam (4 furlongs in :49.60), Majesto (5 furlongs in 1:01.40), Mo Tom (4 furlongs in :48.60), Fellowship (4 furlongs in :47) and Discreetness (5 furlongs in 1:00.40). Fellowship and Discreetness are Nos. 21 and 26 on the Kentucky Derby points list, respectively.