Mandaloun Returns in Pegasus at Monmouth Park

The conditions for the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park paint it as a mile-and-a-sixteenth listed stakes for 3-year-olds with a preference based on graded stakes earnings and free entry and starting fees if the top two finishers move on to the Haskell Stakes (G1) later in the meet.

Nowhere is there a mention of a preference for horses involved in highly controversial editions of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), but there should be.

For a second time since 2019 there is the specter of a disqualification in the Run for the Roses and once again a horse at the center of it will be running in the Pegasus.

Two years ago, it was Maximum Security   who was disqualified from first to 17th for interference in the Kentucky Derby and then made his first start after the first Saturday in May in the Pegasus, finishing second.

On June 13, Juddmonte Farms’ Mandaloun  will follow an equally rare script. He finished second in the famed opening leg of the Triple Crown but could at some point be declared the winner since the victorious Medina Spirit was found to have a banned substance in his system.

The Brad Cox-trained Mandaloun will also make his first post-Kentucky Derby start at the Jersey Shore, facing four rivals—two of them graded stakes winners—Sunday in the $150,000 Pegasus, a race intended to serve as his springboard to the July 17 Haskell. 

“There’s not really anything I can do about it, and I don’t have much insight as to how the process works,” Cox said about the wait for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to deliver a ruling on the order of finish in the Run for the Roses.

In the meantime, following his initial Triple Crown victory last weekend with Godolphin’s Essential Quality  in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), Cox’s focus has turned to another leading member of a talented 3-year-old class in Mandaloun.

After a still-baffling sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2) as the 6-5 favorite, Mandaloun bounced right back to his previously stellar form by gamely battling down the stretch of the Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit . Though he finished second at 26-1 odds by a half-length, he did beat both third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie  and Essential Quality, who was fourth. In an affirmation of the quality of the top Kentucky Derby finishers, just last weekend, in their first start since the 1 1/4-mile opening leg of the Triple Crown, Essential Quality beat Hot Rod Charlie by 1 1/4 lengths in a thrilling renewal of The Test of the Champion at Belmont Park.

“This is a very good group of 3-year-olds,” Cox said. “Essential Quality was the 2-year-old champion and he showed he’s not a one-hit wonder by adding to his legacy in the Belmont. Overall, the horses who have been among the leaders throughout this year, like Mandaloun, are still on top.”

At 3, Mandaloun has a mark of 1-1-1 in four starts, with the lone blemish coming in the March 20 Louisiana Derby when he backed up in the final furlong and lost by nearly 12 lengths. In his five other career starts, Mandaloun has won three times and never lost by more than a length.

Nearly three months later, Cox still cannot place his finger on went wrong that day but had his confidence in the homebred grade 2-winning son of Into Mischief   justified with a great showing in the Kentucky Derby.

“Sometimes you never figure out what went wrong in a race, and I feel that way with Mandaloun in the Louisiana Derby,” Cox said. “I had some strong feelings about him heading into the race and then I couldn’t find anything wrong. Afterwards, people watched him train for the Derby and jumped on board because he’s such a lovely horse to watch move, train, and breeze. Then he stepped up to the plate on Derby Day with the kind of big race that we knew he could run.”

Cox believes Mandaloun, winner of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford (G2), has taken some big steps forward since the Kentucky Derby, filling him with optimism for the son of the Empire Maker mare Brooch’s summer and fall campaign.

“Over the winter we needed to have someone work with him to get a good work out of him; now we can get a good, solid work out of him on his own,” Cox said. “I think that’s a sign of how he has matured. He’s become more professional. He’s really stepped up since the Derby. He ran a huge race in the Derby, and fundamentally, I think he’s moved forward since then.” 

Aside from keeping Mandaloun and Essential Quality separated, the Pegasus became a logical choice for two primary reasons.

For one, the timing was right, coming six weeks after the Kentucky Derby and five weeks before the Haskell.

“I liked six weeks after the Derby as opposed to four weeks if he ran in the Matt Winn (Stakes, G3, May 29 at Churchill Downs),” Cox said. “I wanted to get a race before the Haskell and I felt we needed to run to keep him happy. It breaks up 11 weeks between the Derby and Haskell very nicely.”

Getting a race over the track in advance of the Haskell was another key factor in the decision.

“Some horses that ship into Monmouth and run there for the first time seem to be disadvantaged, so hopefully we’ll find out he likes the track, it suits his running style, and it will set him up for the Haskell,” said Garrett O’Rourke, racing manager for Juddmonte Farms. “We’re excited to get him back. When you look at him from the day he broke his maiden, he’s had just one bad race and Secretariat ran a clunker before the Kentucky Derby, too. You give 3-year-olds a pass for a race like that. Whether it’s immaturity or something strange that happened, he is a very honest horse. Into Mischiefs are generally very healthy and honest horses. He’s been that way, and hopefully, he’ll stay that way. We’ll have more confidence with each race going forward because of that consistency.”

Another main element in racing at Monmouth these days involves a new state rule banning jockeys from using their riding crop during the race for encouragement and allowing its use only when needed for safety reasons. While some of the sport’s leading riders have declared they will not ride at Monmouth due to the rule, Florent Geroux, Mandaloun’s regular rider, will be aboard Sunday.

While O’Rourke said the rule was “extreme,” he voiced strong support for it.

“I think it’s concerning the jockeys more than owners and trainers. I’ve watched the races at Monmouth and watched an old horse of ours win impressively with his ears pricked at the finish,” O’Rourke said. “Jockeys have to change their styles. I see jockeys put the whip down at the end of a stretch battle and use their bodies to urge the horse forward. I know there are lazy horses that won’t reach their peak without the urging but that was like the steroid era. Certain horses excelled by giving them steroids and some excel by giving them Lasix. All we can do is level the playing field and when you do that it’s a fair competition.

“In this day and age, people do not accept animals being beaten,” he added. “Do I understand that a lazy horse can be woken up? Yes. Do I consider it abuse? No. But I totally agree that if the general public feels a certain way and we want to present the sport as a viable sport for the general public, we should appease them, and it can still be a very good sport without the whips. I thought the rule was extreme but it’s fair in an era when we want to sell our sport to a broader audience. We have to take a little bit of pain and this is the way forward.”

The small field also includes New York graded stakes winners Weyburn  and Brooklyn Strong .

“Maybe we can help get the race graded for next year,” O’Rourke said.

Chiefswood Stables’ Weyburn has not raced since finishing fourth in the April 3 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2) for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Prior to that, the Ontario-bred son of Pioneerof the Nile was victorious by a nose in the Gotham Stakes (G3) at a one-turn mile.

Mark Schwartz’s Brooklyn Strong was 15th in the Kentucky Derby during a less than ideal 3-year-old season. The New York-bred Wicked Strong   gelding won the Remsen Stakes (G2) for trainer Danny Velazquez to close out his 2-year-old season but then suffered setbacks that delayed his 2021 debut until he was fifth in the Wood in his prep for the Run for the Roses.

Harrell Ventures’ Dr Jack , an unbeaten son of Pioneerof the Nile trained by Todd Pletcher, who engineered the upset of Maximum Security in the 2019 Pegasus with King for a Day, and Lugamo Racing Stable’s Lugamo , a Chitu   colt trained by Antonio Sano who was 12th in the UAE Derby Sponsored by Emirates NBD (G2), round out the field.

Entries: Pegasus S.

Monmouth Park, Sunday, June 13, 2021, Race 10

  • STK
  • 1 1/16m
  • Dirt
  • $150,000
  • 3 yo
  • 4:50 PM (local)

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