No Breather in This Business - By Evan Hammonds

With the amount of time breeders spend holding their breath, running a commercial operation has to be incredibly hard. Will the “big mare” get in foal? Will she carry the foal? What about her delivery?

They would be lucky if the worries stopped there. The resultant foal—should it be hale and hearty enough—has a year and a half of preparation before going to market as a sale yearling. Is the foal growing? Is it growing too much? Will the foal run through a fence a month before the sale? Will somebody be interested in buying this horse?

There was one large exhale April 26 at Clarkland Farm just north of Lexington. The outfit’s big mare—Leslie’s Lady, the 2016 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year—delivered a “nice” filly by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Once happy with the foal, the Clarkland team was able to suck in another breath of fresh air and will attempt to hold it another week.

Leslie’s Lady’s 2015 colt, Mendelssohn, a son of the late Scat Daddy, figures to be second choice for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). Despite the colt’s having topped the Keeneland September yearling sale a year and a half ago, the anticipation hasn’t eased at the farm.

It reminds us of a trip to Fred and Nancy Mitchell’s Clarkland Farm in June 2016 to watch Leslie’s Lady’s 2010 foal, Beholder, win the Vanity Mile Stakes (G1). Prior to the race we observed Leslie’s Lady in her special paddock and saw Mendelssohn three months before M.V. Magnier went to $3 million to land the colt. Knowing the value of the colt—but never dreaming of $3 million—they (Fred, Nancy, her daughter Marty Buckner and son-in-law Matt Ernst) held their collective breath while hoping to envelop Mendelssohn in bubble wrap until he shipped to Keeneland.

Mendelssohn is a half brother to top sire Into Mischief (who came along before Clarkland purchased Leslie’s Lady) and to the grand Beholder, a four-time champion, 10-time grade 1 winner, and sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. For all of Beholder’s success on the track for Spendthrift Farm, the Mitchells, Buckner, and Ernst only saw her race once in person: a second-place finish in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs. Should the well-traveled Mendelssohn arrive in good order from Ireland and make the gate, they’ll be on hand under the Twin Spires to watch him for the first time in his quest for the roses.

The Clarkland-bred The Pamplemousse was on the Derby trail back in 2009, winning the Jan. 17 San Rafael Stakes (G3) by two lengths, then crushing the nine-furlong Sham Stakes (G3) Feb. 28 by six lengths. The favorite for the Santa Anita Derby (G1), the son of Kafwain was scratched the day of the race.

Mitchell said he didn’t know what was more nerve-racking, the time Mendelssohn stood in the sale ring or the days leading up to the Derby because, “that was the closest we’ve been to the Derby.

“Nancy and I have never been to the Derby and said we wouldn’t until we raised or bred something that was in it,” Mitchell said. “Here it is, so we’re going to take advantage of it. At our age we’ll probably never make it again.”

Not so fast, Fred.

Leslie’s Lady has a yearling colt by Medaglia d’Oro that they’ll enter in the sale this fall, and they have yet to determine whether to breed Leslie’s Lady this year.

The colt is “long and lean,” according to Mitchell.

“Beholder and Mendelssohn didn’t mature until August of the year we sold them. He’s a Medaglia d’Oro and they don’t mature until late.

“Marty and I looked at Medaglia d’Oro’s first crop of weanlings and they weren’t the prettiest things you saw, but when they came back as yearlings, they were really nice. Then when you saw them on the racetrack at 2, they were big, good-looking horses. They just take time to mature.”

There are a lot of horses and people to get behind for this year’s Derby. Mendelssohn and Clarkland are our pick. We’ll add in the New York-bred Audible and Medaglia d’Oro’s Bolt d’Oro.

We’ll be holding our breath around 6:50 p.m. on Saturday for all of the runners to get around safely.

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