Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin keeps having the same conversation this time of year, something the Lexington native has zero problem with.
In 2014, McLaughlin thought he had his best-ever Kentucky Derby prospect in Cairo Prince only to have injury cut short his racing career.
Last season, Frosted brought a Grade I résumé into the first Saturday in May and was tagged by McLaughlin as his strongest chance in the 10-furlong classic. He would make a game rally from well back to finish fourth in the Derby, an honorable run considering his ultimate misfortune of being born in the same crop that would produce the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
As the 2016 Kentucky Derby trail starts its early trek, a lightly built son of Tapit has already prompted McLaughlin to pin him with the badge of being the best 3-year-old he has brought to this point. In terms of achievement, there is no arguing Shadwell Stable’s Mohaymen is already in a different league than his McLaughlin-trained predecessors.
The proving ground starts Saturday. Mohaymen, undefeated and a multiple graded stakes winner, makes his season debut as the 6-5 morning-line favorite against five rivals in the Grade II, $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes going 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park.
“Obviously, we’ve had some good 3-year-olds in the past but never one that’s 3-for-3 as a 2-year-old and one of the favorites from the start of the spring races,” McLaughlin said. “He’s undefeated but he’s different. He just has everything. He is the whole package.”
Before Mohaymen ever wore a saddle, he bore the albatross of massive expectations. At the 2014 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, he was the $2.2 million co-sale topper — a distinction that had only produced one graded/group winner (Jalil) since 2005 — and has remained every bit the standout in his development since.
After breaking his maiden first time out going 6 furlongs at Belmont Park on Sept. 19, Mohaymen notched back-to-back scores in the Grade II Nashua and 1 1/8 -mile, Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in November en route to becoming an Eclipse Award finalist for champion 2-year-old male.
The makeup of those victories are as crucial as the wins themselves. In the Nashua, Mohaymen acted up in the paddock and was reluctant to load into the gate, but still pulled himself into contention down the backstretch after breaking a step slow.
He’s learned his lessons well. He’s done everything right from the beginning.
His Remsen triumph showed Mohaymen could sit behind horses, take dirt in his face while being down inside and split horses handily when jockey Junior Alvarado said “go” in the lane. Most impressive, McLaughlin says, is he has yet to see anything that can take anything out of the colt.
“He moves effortlessly. He’s a great mover and when he comes back from the track after a work or even after he races, he recovers very quickly and doesn’t blow much at all,” McLaughlin said. “That’s the biggest plus with him.
“He’s learned his lessons well. He never had a bad day except at Aqueduct that day – he reared up twice being saddled and then was reluctant to go in the gate – and he still won. He’s done everything right from the beginning.”
A half-brother to 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day, Mohaymen is out of the multiple graded stakes winning mare Justwhistledixie, whom McLaughlin also trained.
McLaughlin joked the only similarity he sees in Mohaymen and his dam is “they both like to go to the winner’s circle.’ He won’t face many challengers en route to that destination in the Holy Bull, but he’ll have to earn it out of post No. 2 if he wants to emerge with his reputation and unblemished streak intact.
Conquest Big E, another son of Tapit, was an impressive allowance winner at Churchill Downs and could be right with Mohaymen on the front end in a race that is lacking early speed.
Greenpointcrusader, the 8-5 morning-line second choice in the Holy Bull, went to post as the favorite in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile off the strength of his 4 1/2 -length win in the Grade I Champagne Stakes. The late-running son of Bernardini never got in gear while finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup and may be up against it in getting stout enough fractions to close into this weekend.
“It’s been 60 days since he ran last and we really aren’t looking for anything different,” McLaughlin said of Mohaymen. “We’re not looking to win by 5 or win by a neck or use this as a prep. Hopefully we just have a clean trip and we’re the best.”
Holy Bull Stakes
What: Kentucky Derby prep points race for 3-year-olds
Where: Gulfstream Park
When: 5:05 p.m.
Purse: $350,000 (Grade II)
Distance: 1 1/16 miles