Lucas Sigurdson comes out writing about an ice cold Kentucky Derby exacta
It was announced yesterday that Mandaloun, the homebred, multiple Grade 1 winner, has retired from racing and is set to stand at Juddmonte in Lexington, Kentucky. Taking a wide view, it’s easy to see why: he’s earned north of $2 million, was undefeated in two starts as a juvenile, boasts a 6-1-1 overall record, and even proved successful as a two-turn horse, claiming the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and the 2021 TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1). A son of Into Mischief and out of Brooch, it’s clear to see the stud value he provides. I, selfishly, can’t just leave it at that, though. There’s a little backstory I must share.
May 1, 2021. The first Saturday in May – a day many of us within the sport circle at the beginning of each calendar year. There’s never a shortage of pomp and circumstance surrounding the Kentucky Derby – the greatest two minutes in sports always thrills, sometimes surprises, and rarely disappoints. Whether you’ve been following thoroughbred racing for 20 years or you’ve been tuning in for 20 minutes, the Kentucky Derby is a household name: often spoken in the same breath as the Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, Game 7 of the World Series. There’s nothin’ like it. 2021’s running proved that sentiment to be true.
My fondest memories growing up took place at the local harness track with my grandfather. It was almost like a vacation, climbing into the front seat of his 1998 Chevy Blazer knowing we’d be spending the day at the track. Handicapping, to me, involved picking the quirkiest name or going with the best-looking silks. Sometimes I wish it were still that easy. My grandfather was obviously much more seasoned in the sport of handicapping, but he’d humor me with the chance of picking my fair share of horses. The wins were few, but boy were they memorable.
Aren’t they always? Fast forward to May 1, 2021. My now-fiancé had invited me over to her parents’ house to watch the Kentucky Derby with her parents, siblings, and a couple close friends. Nobody had prior knowledge of my passion for the sport – I opted to be mum about the idea of sharing my betting interests with my new girlfriend’s parents – so, I figured the cat would be coming out of the bag that day. All very much lacking in knowledge of 2021’s 19-horse field, everyone fell into the category of “we watch the Kentucky Derby every year and that’s about it.” The interest piqued as they learned of my interests. Who do you like? Who are you betting on? With a wary confidence, I gave out my two selections: Medina Spirit and Mandaloun.
While others in the room opted to place $5 win bets on longshots like Brooklyn Strong, Bourbonic, and Soup and Sandwich, I felt I may have been on to something with Medina Spirit – especially as he led coming out of the first turn. And, well, we all know how the story ends. 12-1 Medina Spirit wires the field, crossing the finish line first, giving trainer Bob Baffert his seventh Derby win and jockey John Velasquez his fourth. A half-length behind runs 26-1 Mandaloun. Are you kidding me? What had felt entirely improbable – my first time correctly predicting the 1-2 finish in the Kentucky Derby, had come to fruition. I almost religiously fade the favorites in the Triple Crown, opting for the underdog, the great story, the horse unacknowledged by many.
While both fit into the above categories, I zeroed in on Medina Spirit and Mandaloun for entirely different reasons. The elephant in the room states that you never scoff at a Bob Baffert horse on Derby Day; a 15-1 morning line and a 12-1 post time felt like too good of odds to pass up. Having never finished worse than second prior to the Derby, he seemed like a no-brainer. Mandaloun, on the other hand, felt like one of those likable longshots who’d outperform his odds. A fun name, a Brad Cox trainee, an undefeated juvenile…he excited me. Suffice it to say, I just had a good feeling about these two.
Medina Spirit’s win, of course, sprung up in the air one week following the Kentucky Derby, as post-race testing showed 21 pg/mL of betamethasone. Legal matters would ensue for a number of months, ultimately leading to Medina Spirit’s official disqualification on February 21, 2022. With that, Mandaloun was promoted to first place in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, though the ruling is still under appeal. The untimely death of Medina Spirit in December of last year came as a devastating shock, and I only hope that his legacy – and 4-4-1 record – is celebrated for years to come.
Featuring only the third disqualification in the history of the Kentucky Derby, 2021’s running was considered a rarity. Mandaloun’s bouts with rare company were only beginning, though. Proving himself as a true two-turn horse, Mandaloun ran second to Hot Rod Charlie – a nose behind the Doug O’Neill trainee – in the 2021 TVG.com Haskell Stakes, only to be elevated once more, this time following Hot Rod Charlie’s disqualification for interference. Mandaloun also earned victories in the G2 Lamarque Ford and the TVG.com Pegasus Stakes during his 3-year old campaign, and in the G3 Louisiana Stakes as a 4-year old.
Mandaloun’s racing career has been a joy to follow. I’m afraid I’ll always be partial to horses like Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, and even 2021 Preakness Stakes winner Rombauer, for all three have won my heart for one reason or another. While I won’t be able to cheer on Mandaloun out on the track anymore, I look forward to seeing what his yearlings become. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see which horse grabs my attention next. Who knows, maybe it’ll be the quirky name or the good-looking silks.
Mandaloun retires from racing with a 6-1-1 record from 12 starts under jockey Florent Geroux and will stand at Juddmonte for a fee of $25,000.
Photo: Coady Photography, Kentucky Derby