Making the Grade, which will run through the 2021 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Mandaloun bounced back from his first career loss with a clear victory in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes that earned him 50 points and a spot atop of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with a total of 52 points. That total virtually guarantees him a spot in the starting gate for the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve provided everything goes well between now and the first jewel of the Triple Crown on May 1. This bay colt looks like an exciting prospect.
Ability: Mandaloun is a homebred colt from the powerful Juddmonte Farms operation of Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, who died Jan. 12, 2021. Aside from an even third-place finish in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes in his first attempt stretching out for a two-turn race, the Into Mischief colt has been flawless.
Mandaloun won his three-quarter-mile career debut Oct. 24, 2020, at Keeneland by closing from ninth in an 11-horse field while overcoming contact in the stretch to win by a half-length. He followed with an allowance-optional claiming race victory by 1 ¼ lengths going seven-eighths of a mile Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs after a stalking trip under regular rider Florent Geroux.
He looked like a promising colt at Churchill and the speed figures confirmed his potential: 95 Equibase Speed Figure, a 92 BrisNet speed rating, and an 82 Beyer Speed Figure.
Mandaloun did not show quite the same punch late in the Lecomte Stakes Jan. 16 at Fair Grounds, where he was third and beaten by just a length, but it was a solid race to build upon in his stakes debut while stretching out to 1 1/16 miles.
Trainer Brad Cox added one-inch blinkers to help improve focus in the Risen Star and he was rewarded with a career-best effort.
Mandaloun relaxed really nicely in third and, in re-watching the race, he looks like the winner all the way around in a professional performance for his fourth career start.
He finished his final three-eighths of a mile in about 37 2/5 seconds, which is strong but not elite given a fairly easy pace of :48.45 for the half-mile and 1:12.74 for three-quarters of a mile.
There is room for Mandaloun to mature and the speed figures certainly paint a picture of steady development. He has improved his Beyer Speed Figures from a 75 to 82 to an 89 for the Lecomte and a career-top 98 for the Risen Star. Likewise, BrisNet shows Mandaloun getting better with every race – 84, 92, 94, 100 – while Equibase Speed Figures show a similar, albeit a bit more flat, upward trajectory of 76-95-97-97.
Clearly, there is compelling evidence that Mandaloun is a 3-year-old on the rise. He should be formidable in the Louisiana Derby in what is expected to be his next start.
“The logical spot would be back here at the Fair Grounds on the 20th of March. We have not confirmed that, but we'll let the horse tell us over the next few weeks,” Cox said. “I thought he really stepped up and showed he can get the mile and an eighth and beyond. I feel like he's a horse who is moving forward in every start and, hopefully, the best is yet to come.”
Running style: Tactical speed is a major plus for a 3-year-old hoping to win a race with 20 horses in early May of their 3-year-old season. It’s a weapon that can be utilized to help dictate terms of a race and also to prevent trouble. While Mandaloun showed in his debut the ability to close from far back, he’s settled in as a stalker in his two-turn races with the cruising speed to rate just off the pace and wait for his cue. That should be a benefit in his next Derby prep as well as the Kentucky Derby should Mandaloun reach the starting gate for the classic on May 1.
Connections: Khalid Abdullah purchased his first racehorse in 1977 and set his sights on breeding shortly thereafter, developing Juddmonte Farms into a global power known for top female families, like the one anchored by 2006 Broodmare of the Year Hasili, who produced five Group/Grade 1 winners as well as outstanding sire Dansili; and for superstar homebreds like Frankel and Enable.
Juddmonte amassed more than 500 stakes wins worldwide during Abdullah’s lifetime, including more than 440 with homebreds. Juddmonte has 28 classic victories with homebreds in Europe and the U.S. over the years, including the Belmont Stakes in 2003 with Empire Maker.
Brad Cox won the 2020 Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer after winning a record-equaling four races at last year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland along with the Longines Kentucky Oaks with Shedaresthedevil.
Cox won the Pegasus World Cup in January with Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go. He trained 2020 champions Monomoy Girl (older female) and Essential Quality (2-year-old male); the latter won the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and profiles as one of the top contenders for the Kentucky Derby.
Essential Quality, Mandaloun, and Smarty Jones Stakes winner Caddo River give Cox a terrific hand for the 2021 Triple Crown races. His best previous finish was a third-place effort from Owendale in the 2019 Preakness.
Florent Geroux has won more than 1,700 races, including seven Breeders’ Cup races, since taking out his jockey’s license in 2007. The regular rider of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner and two-time champ Monomoy Girl, Geroux has amassed 34 Grade/Group 1 wins among 244 stakes victories through Feb. 15. His best result in the Kentucky Derby was a third aboard Gun Runner in 2016 and he also was aboard Owendale for his third in the Preakness for Cox.
Pedigree: Mandaloun is by 2019 and 2020 leading general sire Into Mischief, whose Authentic won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2020 on his way to Horse of the Year honors. Prior to Authentic, Into Mischief was best known as an elite sire of sprinter-miler types with the ability, in some cases, to navigate two turns.
Three-year-olds like Vyjack, Goldencents, Vicar’s in Trouble, One Liner, Owendale, and Audible were among those who enjoyed success on the Derby trail, but Authentic marked a breakthrough for Into Mischief as a sire of a U.S. classic winner.
For a colt by Into Mischief to continue to be effective at 1 ¼ miles for the Derby or 1 3/16 miles for the Preakness, a dose of stamina from the bottom half of the pedigree certainly helps. Mandaloun’s dam (mother) is multiple group stakes winner Brooch, by Empire Maker, and she was a Group 3 winner at 1 3/16 miles in Ireland. Mandaloun’s grandam (maternal grandmother), however, was stakes-winning sprinter Daring Diva, by Dansili.
There is quite a bit of class in this pedigree, as you’d expect from a Juddmonte homebred. Given Mandaloun’s career-best performance came at 1 1/8 miles, it’s reasonable to guess he’ll be fine going an extra sixteenth of a mile for the Preakness or eighth of a mile for the Kentucky Derby. But looking deeper into this pedigree, I would not be nearly as optimistic about Mandaloun’s chances in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes.
Mandaloun impressed in the Risen Star Stakes and I think he deserves to be viewed as a top-five contender for the Kentucky Derby at this point in mid-February. He will need to continue to build his foundation and get faster, but there is much to like from this Juddmonte homebred.