Everything looked good for European hopeful Mendelssohn entering the Kentucky Derby. Then the race started.
The $3 million colt was bumped out of the gate, and was unable to recover in driving rain on a sloppy track. The frustrating combination resulted in a last-place finish in the 20-horse field in Saturday's 144th running at Churchill Downs.
It was a disappointing performance for the Ireland-based horse, which began horse racing's marquee event as the second choice behind Justify, which eventually won 53¼ lengths ahead of Mendelssohn. The Kentucky-bred colt had sought to become the first European horse to win the Run for the Roses, but it couldn't recover from the early contact and was left far back of the field.
Mendelssohn eased to the wire and walked off, 23¾ lengths behind Magnum Moon, which finished next to last after entering as another highly regarded contender.
"He just got knocked over coming out of the gate and then got knocked over going in the first bend (turn), but he'll fine," trainer Aidan O'Brien said of his horse. "He was never used to getting that much kickback."
Jockey Ryan Moore agreed about the skirmish's effect but said Mendelssohn could handle the track conditions.
"He got beat up out the gate, proceeded to check on the first turn and was never in a good place," Moore said. "The race was over for him then."
Mendelssohn had four wins and a second in seven starts, with wins in both 2018 races before the Derby. The horse didn't get on the Churchill Downs track for the first time until Thursday after being quarantined following his arrival this week, but was still expected to contend.
Those hopes quickly disappeared. Despite the finish, O'Brien was encouraged about the horse's condition. He didn't say anything about Mendelssohn running in the Preakness, just that the horse will return home and likely be back at Churchill Downs this fall for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Whenever Mendelssohn returns, O'Brien expects a better showing the next time around.