Mandaloun rebounded with the addition of blinkers in the Feb. 13 Risen Star S. (G2) at Fair Grounds, registering his initial stakes victory.
The Into Mischief colt stepped up after sustaining his first career loss, a third at odds-on in the Jan. 16 Lecomte S. (G3), and trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux noted the difference blinkers made.
“Blinkers on was a difference-maker today for sure,” Geroux said. “We knew he needed it racing, but he’s been winning without them. He’s always been a little funny down the lane. He’s never given me his full potential. Today we had the same kind of trip we had in the Lecomte, but when I pushed on the gas today, he responded right away. Last time, I feel like he wasn’t giving me his best.”
“I think the blinkers did help him,” Cox added. “Much more focused, more focused in the post parade, focused on his job.”
Blinkers were the rage when Empire Maker bounced back with a 9 3/4-length triumph in the 2003 Florida Derby (G1). Bobby Frankel made the equipment change following a disappointing second at odds-on in the Sham S. at Santa Anita, and Empire Maker responded with his first stakes win.
Empire Maker went on to easily defeat Funny Cide in the Wood Memorial (G1), but foot problems compromised his Kentucky Derby preparations. After finishing second as the favorite behind Funny Cide at Churchill Downs, the Juddmonte Farms colorbearer came back to deny Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes, providing his legendary trainer with his lone Triple Crown race win.
Mandaloun is out of the stakes-winning Empire Maker mare Brooch, and he’s developed into a major Kentucky Derby contender for Juddmonte Farms.
Risen Star Stakes
Experience also played a role in Mandaloun’s improvement. He met little resistance capturing both juvenile sprint starts, handling maiden special weight rivals at Keeneland and entry-level allowance foes at Churchill Downs as the heavy favorite, and the bay colt faced steeper competition and a two-turn distance when opening the year in the 1 1/16-mile Lecomte.
The setback provided valuable seasoning. Mandaloun was caught wide on both turns while locked in a three-horse battle throughout, and he never quit trying in finishing a length behind the winning Midnight Bourbon.
The 1 1/8-mile Risen Star boosted his credentials. After launching a bid to engage Midnight Bourbon, Mandloun put away his rival by midstretch, and he comfortably held Proxy safe to score by 1 1/4 lengths.
His Brisnet Speed rating keep rising (84-92-94-100), and Mandaloun virtually guaranteed his Kentucky Derby participation winning the qualifier. The Risen Star was the first 85-point prep in the 2021 Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Lecomte runner-up Proxy continued to make a fine impression while utilizing different tactics, stalking in fourth after an up-close tracking trip in the Lecomte. The Michael Stidham-trained Tapit colt traveled extremely wide off the far turn and offered his best stride in deep stretch, closing with resolve to edge Midnight Bourbon by a half-length for second.
Lecomte upsetter Midnight Bourbon gave a fine account of himself in defeat. He came up 1 3/4 lengths short, but the Tiznow colt finished well clear of the rest in third. The Steve Asmussen trainee appears built for longer distances, and he’s eligible to keep moving forward after registering a career-best 98 Speed rating.
El Camino Real Derby
Rombauer did not disappoint as the 6-5 favorite in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. The confirmed closer waited until the stretch to make his move, rallying from last-to-first to prevail by neck in his three-year-old return.
He narrowly defeated a filly exiting a pair of runner-up finishes in turf stakes, and the El Camino Real Derby is contested over a Tapeta track. It typically has little-to-no impact upon the Kentucky Derby trail, but Rombauer has something going for him.
A turf maiden winner, the versatile Twirling Candy colt switched to dirt with a close second in the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita last fall. The Michael McCarthy pupil followed with a rallying fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland.
Connections scratched him out of the Jan. 30 Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) at Santa Anita in favor of the El Camino Real Derby, and Rombauer is eligible to build confidence from the second career win.
His dirt efforts were encouraging, and Rombauer looks like the type who will only improve with experience, but he will need to get faster to be competitive this spring, earning a 91 Speed rating in the El Camino Real Derby.
No Kentucky Derby qualifiers will be held this weekend.
The Southwest S. (G3) at Oaklawn, which was originally scheduled for Feb. 15, may wind up being rescheduled for Feb. 27, which is also the date of the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The John Battaglia Memorial S. at Turfway Park, a new addition to the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, will be the next qualifier offered on Friday, Feb. 26.