Narrowly separated in the betting as well as at the wire, Mo Donegal and Zandon took their rivalry into the stewards’ room after late scrimmaging in Saturday’s $250,000 Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct.
Mo Donegal, under aggressive tactics by Irad Ortiz, came in on Zandon in the final yards, then withstood an inquiry and objection to keep the trophy. The Todd Pletcher trainee also held onto the 10 points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Both principals were coming off Belmont Park maiden scores. Donegal Racing’s Mo Donegal, who graduated over 1 1/16 miles in his second try, ranked as the 1.45-1 second choice. The 1.35-1 Zandon garnered slight favoritism in the wake of his debut sprinting six furlongs.
Both worked out stalking trips just behind the leaders, although Zandon covered more ground on the outside of the rail-drawn Mo Donegal. Pacesetting Fromanothamutha carved out fractions of :25.18, :51.47, and 1:16.34 attended by Midnight Chrome, who briefly took over turning for home.
Zandon immediately pounced entering the stretch. Mo Donegal had no path on the inside, so switched out to offer his rally. As soon as the Uncle Mo colt straightened up in the lane, he lengthened stride, collared Zandon, and appeared poised to edge clear.
But Zandon didn’t go away. When Ortiz shifted Mo Donegal in for closer grappling, the effect was only to spur Zandon on to redouble his efforts. Mo Donegal bumped his foe nearing the wire, as Ortiz was leaning over toward Zandon. Again, Zandon responded by making the margin between them even tighter.
Mo Donegal prevailed by a nose in 1:53:61 for 1 1/8 miles. It took a fair bit longer for the result to become official. The inquiry sign was posted, and Zandon’s rider, John Velazquez, lodged an objection against Ortiz. The stewards ultimately ruled that the order of finish would stand.
Zandon’s trainer, Chad Brown, didn’t mince words.
“The horse (Mo Donegal) should have come down,” Brown said. “We got beat an inch. I thought we had the best horse in the race, so it’s disappointing. But he’s a nice horse, so we’ll get him going and train him towards the Derby.”
“My horse ran a good race – a winning race,” Velazquez said. “Right at the sixteenth pole, he (Mo Donegal) got on top of me and I just missed. He laid on top of me right before the wire and just beat me by very little.”
Ortiz framed it as an equal duel, and argued that Mo Donegal lost more ground, and time, by having to come around horses into the stretch:
“We were down the lane fighting in a big race. He (Velazquez) was riding his horse and I was riding mine. It was a good race and we got together a little before the wire, but it was a beautiful race. He (Mo Donegal) tried his hardest and I did my best. We got lucky with the head bob and got there.
“I was looking for some room (leaving the far turn) and there were four horses in front of me. So, I had to wait a few jumps and go around. It probably cost me a length and a half. He idled a little bit. He’s a young horse and I tried to meet the other horse and keep going. As soon as he got to the other horse, he fought back. He was ready.”
Pletcher, who said he’d need to see the replay again, likewise commented on Mo Donegal’s trip and learning curve.
“I thought he ran great,” Pletcher said. “He was getting a good, ground-saving trip and put himself in a good spot. He kind of had to angle out a little bit and lost some ground there, but it looked like when he got there he is still trying to figure out how to polish it off. The other horse battled back.”
Zandon earned four Derby points for his tough beat. Another 9 3/4 lengths back came Midnight Chrome in third, good for two points while a neck up on Mr Jefferson, who received one Derby point. Next came Eloquist, Who Hoo Thats Me, Fromanothamutha, and Judge Davis.
Mo Donegal increased his bankroll to $197,800 from a 3-2-0-1 line. The $250,000 Keeneland September yearling was a slow-starting, troubled third in his six-furlong premiere behind stablemate Varatti.
Bred by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables in Kentucky, Mo Donegal is out of the Pulpit mare Callingmissbrown. The colt’s second dam, Grade 1 vixen Island Sand, is responsible for stakes-winning steeplechaser Martini Brother as well as multiple Grade 1-placed Maya Malibu.