No one needs to tell trainer Kiaran McLaughlin that the perception of Mohaymen is not what it used to be.
At the start of April, the colt was without a blemish five starts into his career. And even though an undefeated divisional champion stood in his path, it was Mohaymen that many tabbed as the one who would emerge as the best of the 3-year-old class of 2016.
A pair of fourth-place finishes drastically altered the conversation, with the description “disappointing” quickly replacing “brilliant.” As rapidly as that narrative shifted this spring, McLaughlin knows it can just as swiftly swing the other direction should Mohaymen come into his own this summer.
We feel like we’re still in the top shelf, in the top five (of the 3-year-old division) and we’ll see how it goes Saturday. ... I would like to get more weight on him, but he’s been doing well and working well.
Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Mohaymen
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If Shadwell Stable’s Mohaymen still is who his connections thought he was, he has a prime opportunity to reestablish himself among the leaders of the 3-year-old male division when he faces five other challengers, including Belmont Stakes 1-2 finishers Creator and Destin, in Saturday’s Grade II, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Mohaymen will break from post No. 3 with Creator drawing the rail and Destin in the No. 4 slot for the 1 1/8 -mile test.
Redemption was not a road Mohaymen’s camp was expecting to travel this season. After winning each of his three starts as a juvenile, including the Grade II Nashua and Remsen Stakes, the $2.2 million co-topper of the 2014 Keeneland September Yearling Sale ran like a horse who was going to make good on his hype when he effortlessly dispatched his competition in the Grade II Holy Bull and Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes to start 2016.
However, Mohaymen’s luster dimmed when he finished a well-beaten fourth as the favorite in his much-anticipated showdown with reigning juvenile male champion Nyquist in the Grade I Florida Derby on April 2. And though he put in a thoroughly respectful effort to finish fourth to Nyquist again five weeks later in the Kentucky Derby, the decision was made to give the light-bodied colt a brief freshening, skip the rest of the Triple Crown, and see if he could try and reclaim a piece of the mantle in the second half of the year.
“We feel like we’re still in the top shelf, in the top five (of the 3-year-old division) and we’ll see how it goes Saturday,” McLaughlin said of Mohaymen. “It was pretty much decided right away (to skip the Preakness and Belmont after the Kentucky Derby) and then he went to Lexington and just got looked over, and X-rayed and made sure all was well. He’s still a little bit on the light side to me, I would like to get more weight on him, but he’s been doing well and working well.
“He’s pretty much stayed the same, he hasn’t missed a beat.”
While Sunday’s Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park is set to be the rumble of the weekend with Nyquist, Preakness winner Exaggerator and Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Gun Runner all knocking heads, the Jim Dandy more than provides the litmus test McLaughlin is hoping to get for Mohaymen.
Creator, who finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby, backed up his Grade I Arkansas Derby victory when he came flying in the stretch of the Belmont Stakes with his late kick to just get his nose down over graded stakes winner Destin.
The knock, in hindsight, on Mohaymen’s previous triumphs is that the performances of the horses he beat this year — Greenpointcrusader, Zulu, Conquest Big E, et al — have done nothing since to flatter him. Even if he wasn’t on his “A” game on the first Saturday in May, though, he did finish ahead of both Creator and Destin.
“I think he ran very well (in the Derby) and he doesn’t need to improve much to be competitive at all in the Jim Dandy and Travers,” McLaughlin said. “I look at the Ragozin (speed) sheets and he doesn’t have to improve at all to be very tough in the next two races. Hopefully, he’ll run a big one and he’s the best on the day and we’ll move on to the Travers. If not, hopefully it springboards him to the Travers and we’re best that day.”
Stradivari doing well after surgery
Stradivari, who sustained a career-ending lateral condylar fracture of the right front during training hours Friday, is recuperating at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Saratoga after undergoing surgery Tuesday, said trainer Todd Pletcher.
“He recovered from the surgery very well and had a good night, and is comfortable today,” he said. “So far everything looks encouraging. The first step was successful surgery, but there is usually a time of concern for a while in those situations — complications can develop — but the process went as smoothly as possible, and the initial signs are encouraging.
“Obviously you want to give him plenty of time to recuperate. I’m sure they’ll travel back to the (co-owner John B.) Gunther’s farm in Kentucky when the time is right. He was bearing weight on both front feet today, which was an encouraging sign.”
Stradivari, a 3-year-old colt by Medaglia d’Oro, won maiden and allowance races by combined margins of better than 25 lengths before finishing fourth in the Preakness and fifth in the Belmont Stakes.
Jim Dandy Stakes
When: 6:18 p.m.
Where: Saratoga Race Course
Purse: $600,000 (Grade II)
Distance: 1 1/8 miles