Mohaymen and the Met Mile: by Leah Brandon

Mohaymen and the Met Mile

by Leah Brandon

I have a friend named Marty who considers himself nothing less than a handicapping savant. The Kentucky Derby is Marty’s Christmas. His enthusiasm, along with his blowout race day party,  has spawned a group called “The Prognosticators”.  There are four of us. Our egos have gotten so large over choosing the winner that we feel we deserve actual titles. I am Princess Leah. We also have Byron the Baron, The Earl of Arkansas, and Marty the Tip Sheet.

Every year, around the middle of April, the flood of information from the Tip Sheet clogs our spam filters. He forwards picks from every horse racing magazine, twitter account and track analyst whether living or dead.

Despite the data dump, Marty the Tip Sheet…tagline “Rarely Accurate, Always Arrogant” …never fails to settle on the favorite as his pick. He only has one hard and fast rule… NEVER BET THE GRAY.  Tapit is wreaking havoc.

This year, as the Prognosticators sat down with plenty of booze on the first Saturday in May, we argued for and against our pick for the roses. I made a point to defiantly stare the Tip Sheet in the eye as I brazenly threw down the gray card. Mohaymen. His name in Arabic means “Dominant” and that’s how I felt making this choice.

(Mo HAY men)  was bred in Kentucky and born to win. In 2014, at Keeneland’s September sale, he hammered down to Shadwell Estates at 2.2 million dollars. The yearling son of the great sire Tapit was reported to be calm, obedient and easy to work with. As we all know, not naming any names, that isn’t always the case! Mohaymen won his first 3 starts easily in 2015  but that 3rd race really got the attention of the media. See the Grade II Remsen Stakes here:

In early 2016, he left his home base of New York and headed to Florida. He won his next two races at Gulfstream Park…the Holy Bull in January and the Fountain of Youth in late February. I had become a huge fan by the time those two were in the books and couldn’t wait for his final prep race before the Kentucky Derby. It was billed as a bi-coastal showdown! The two biggest challengers for the Kentucky Derby taking on each other. Mohaymen, The Beast from the East takes on Nyquist, the Best from the West. The Florida Derby was uber-hyped and played out in front of a near capacity crowd on April 2nd. Watch here:

Devastating. Mohaymen had a terrible trip from the start. He ran wide most of the way but still caught up with Nyquist in the far turn. He ran out of gas and faded quickly in the stretch to come in a distant 4th. All at once, Mohaymen was no longer undefeated nor was he the Kentucky Derby favorite. I chalked it up to too much time away from home. Let’s face it, if I had spent as long as he had in Florida, I may have lost the will to do just about anything.

Knowing that even the great Secretariat lost a race or two, I still had every confidence that I would prove Marty the Tip Sheet and the other Prognosticators wrong for betting on Nyquist in the Run for the Roses. Watch here:

UGH. Nyquist took the race in style. In my mind, after Mohaymen lost two in a row, it was definitely something to note, but not a huge reg flag. His finish was a very respectable 4th, but if I’m honest with myself, it was a defining moment in two ways. First, I realized that I had become emotionally invested in his success, and second, the only way I can describe to you what I was seeing in Mohaymen was that somehow he seemed to be growing “smaller”.

My question mark on that colt turned to worry as he stumbled badly out of the gate at the Grade 2 Jim Dandy in July.  His 4th place finish I considered (hoped) to be rather game and I looked forward to the Travers at Saratoga at the end of August. Surely, he would be back in champion form by then.  He never made it. In a last ditch effort to do right by the horse, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin pointed him to the one-turn Kings Bishop on the same day as the Travers and he suffered a humiliating defeat. 11th out of 12.

That result set into motion a call for the multi-million dollar great-grandson of the legendary A.P. Indy to be returned home immediately to Shadwell and scratched for the year.

As the name on this piece clearly states, I am Leah “Just A Fan” Brandon. I am not a race horse owner, trainer, hotwalker or jockey. I am not privy to the backside gossip or the vet records, nor do I have access to Clockers Corner. I am just learning how to bet, mostly due to my friendship with Johnny Love… expert handicapper for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Canterbury Park. FAN TIP OF THE MONTH.

As a fan, I only have access to what is available in the public domain. And I listen. I pay attention to how horsemen, trainers, owners and jockeys speak about each other. Mohaymen’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is not only unanimously respected throughout this industry, but many have used the term “loved” to describe him. And that goes for both his personal demeanor as well as training methods.  His statement given to Twin Spires after the Kings Bishop endeared him to me forever. He said several important things:

“I really feel bad for the horse because he’s a top horse and one of my favorites. Since the Florida Derby it just seems like it’s gone not so well. He can’t talk but I feel a burden on my shoulders as I really love the horse. He can’t talk to me but he’s always not looked like I want him to look, like something isn’t quite 100 percent. Shadwell VP Rick Nichols asked me to send him home as soon as we could. I think that will be huge. Just to give him a break. It’s just disappointing, I’ve got to figure it out and get him over there and win a Grade 1 next year”.

Racing fans very seldom get to peek into the character and mind of someone like Kiaran McLaughlin. Interviews with trainers are usually positive and happen right before a big race anticipating the winners circle. Afterwards,  we usually witness the jubilation of dreams coming true. McLaughlin covered two aspects of Mohaymen in that one statement but both came straight from the heart. Yes, he needs a Grade 1 win to solidify an appropriate stud fee and choice of the best mares. That’s just business, but it will also insure Mohaymen’s future to be brighter than any of us reading this. McLaughlin also said TWICE that he wished the horse could speak to him and I envision many long nights spent trying to get him to do so.

The other bright soul who is concerned is Shadwell VP\GM Rick Nichols. I was so moved by the care that McLaughlin spoke of that I immediately fired off an email to Mr. Nichols praising his trainer and himself for doing right by Mohaymen. My email was returned promptly by Stephanie Fordham, assistant to Mr. Nichols saying “We will do the best we can for him. His best interest will be foremost in our minds!”

Curiosity overtook me. I sent a follow-up email asking if I could come out and see how they planned to bring this race horse back into top form.

I was thrilled when Mr. Nichols graciously agreed and the Layup Manager/Asst. Racing Manager, Joseph De Santis, left a voicemail that I played for all my friends! He was standing by for my call to set up the date for my visit and could not have been more enthusiastic about showing off this colt. I cleared my schedule and headed off to Kentucky!

To say I felt a little intimidated as the gates to this massive property opened could be the understatement of the year. What’s crazy is that this isn’t even the main farm, it’s just the layup property!  De Santis met me further down this long drive in a huge, shiny pickup with the Shadwell logo on the side. He was smiling and I followed him to one of the many barns to meet my gray obsession.

Mohaymen has only been home for a few weeks, and De Santis says he came back underweight, somewhat depressed, dull of eye and very much needing that break.

In such a short period of time, I could easily see that he has become bright, happy, alert and is already packing on the pounds! I was given the green light to bring carrots and I chose carefully…baby organics and small crinkle cuts. Smart move for me because I didnt want to go down in history as the idiot that made him choke, and smart for him because he takes tiny little bites. Mohaymen is 16.1 hands but his features and stature are delicate and adorable. He has the perfect little nose and mouth and never once did he try to bite me. He’s a lover, not a fighter.

De Santis was an absolute joy to be around as he spoke fondly about the colt while simultaneously giving him the attention being demanded. As long as Joseph was near, he had to scratch him in that favorite place, give him his favorite peppermints, pet him, talk to him, you name it. These two clearly are bonded. My favorite quote from De Santis is “Its Mohaymen’s world and I’m just living in it”.

Actually, its the other way around. De Santis has a very detailed plan to bring this horse back to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on January 1st. If all goes well by that date, he will be 100 percent sound both physically and mentally.   As the cooler weather rolls in to Kentucky, Mohaymen rolls in his pasture of Bluegrass. He will eventually be in turnout 24/7 where according to De Santis he can ” just be a horse”.  These horses spend most of their racing careers in stalls so he says it’s imperative to seize this opportunity of freedom.

 As a sidenote to my story, purely from a fan perspective, I hope that other owners and trainers realize how much we care about your horses. What makes one person a fan of a particular horse could be any one of a million reasons. But once we are latched on, we are hungry for information! We want to know everything about our favorite guy from what he has for breakfast to his favorite equine friend in the barn. Most of all, we want to know who loves him and how much.  By the way Joseph, Twitter is a great way to tell us. (wink)

A very heartfelt thank you to Rick Nichols, Joseph De Santis, Kiaran McLaughlin and all involved in the success of Mohaymen . I’m sure I am not alone in raising expectations of a Grade 1 win next year.  For this fan, I will now watch his every race with a smile knowing that my two most important “must have’s” – care and love- are being done at a level that I couldn’t have imagined.  The care that he receives is second to none….its vigilant, its immediate and its thorough.  The love that he receives is exactly the same.

I got a chance to speak again this week with Joseph heading into the Met Mile. 

Q: How was Mohaymens layup? I saw photos in January and he seemed to have really filled out.
Desantis: It was a really great turnout. By the time we sent him to Camden to start bringing him back, he had put on 150 pounds. And he really put on a lot of muscle while he was here too. Especially on his back end and up through his chest. He was underweight from a hard campaign and really came back nicely.
Q: I follow your in-house trainer, Kevin Kahkola on Instagram. He is at the training facility Camden in Aiken, SC . How long did Mo stay with him before moving back to Kiaran McLaughlin?
Desantis: He was there a little over 2 months. Kevin just started him back jogging for a while and got him galloping and he was very quick to come around.
Mohaymen 2
Q: Having not raced since the Kings Bishop, last August, he was entered on Kentucky Derby Day in the G3 Westchester Stakes at Belmont. He finished off the board after a fight for third and Connect won easily. You also had a new rider since Junior Alvarado was injured. It is not the best scenario for a major comeback off the layup. What were your thoughts?
Desantis: Well, he needed the race, obviously…and I think he is going to be improved this time. I am excited to watch him run and excited that we have Jose Ortiz and I think its going to be a good combination.
Q: So what are your expectations for Mohaymen in the Met Mile?
Desantis: Well, anytime you run you want to win…but I just want to see him run MOHAYMEN’S race. I want to see the old Mohaymen again. I think he going to be a different horse in this race and I think we are going to be happy with his finish. As for expectations, we just hope he gets back to himself and runs like we know he can.
Me too, Joseph. Me too. Mohaymen draws the 6 for the Met Mile. Win or lose, I will be happy just to see him run. But lets face it, if the old Mohaymen shows up, it’s going to be one to remember.

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