HOW HE GOT HERE
Mo Donegal has taken a tried-and-true Todd Pletcher approach to reaching this year’s Kentucky Derby. He debuted in late September at Belmont Park going just 6 1/2 furlongs. On that day, his inexperience showed through, as he broke very poorly and lagged behind throughout, until figuring it out late to be beaten about 5 lengths on the day. Losing on debut has never been a negative for any horse, however, Todd Pletcher’s best three-year old route colts tend to need a race, so Mo Donegal’s debut certainly gave indications there were good things to come. Those good things did come in start number two, when he stretched out to 8 1/2 furlongs, sat an excellent mid-pack trip, and stormed home to a dominant win. Next, he took a short trip west to Aqueduct for the Remsen S. (G2). Once again, a great off-the-pace trip saw him cross the wire first over fellow Derby candidate Zandon. There was plenty debate over whether or not Mo Donegal should’ve been taken down and placed second for bumping down the lane, but nevertheless, his talent and grit was displayed in full force that day. In addition, the Remsen S. has failed to produce many quality Kentucky Derby starters this century, so cause for concern from the public on what Mo Donegal could become was warranted. For his three-year old debut, he appeared in late February at Gulfstream Park for the Holy Bull S. (G3). After a slow break and a clear disdain for the cutback to 8 1/2 furlongs from 9 furlongs, he flew home in the final hundred yards to run third behind eventual Florida Derby (G1) winner, White Abarrio. After missing the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) due to a fever, he shipped back to the site of his greatest victory for the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct. One more time, a rousing ride, this time under new pilot Joel Rosario, saw Mo Donegal get up in the dying stages of the race to take out the 100-point Derby prep. This victory, as good as it was, once again sparked conversations of a historically weak Derby prep, as the Wood Memorial (G2) winner hasn’t gone on to win the Kentucky Derby since 2000.
HOW HE FITS HERE
Mo Donegal has every chance to factor in the 2022 Kentucky Derby. He has a clear affinity for winning, taking out three of his last four starts, and has really never put forward a bad race in his career. He has also relished longer distances throughout his career. In his two victories over 9 furlongs, Mo Donegal was striding through the wire still filled with energy and galloped out very strongly, meaning the rise to 1 1/4 miles should only benefit him. His 96 Beyer Speed Figure from the Wood Memorial (G2) is certainly a cut below some of the other leading contenders in the Derby, but visually I can’t help but be impressed with what he did that day. The biggest hinderance to Mo Donegal winning the Derby will be his running style. It’s no secret to any astute observer that sitting a front-running or stalking trip has been the key for Derby winners over the last decade, and that is the exact opposite of how Mo Donegal operates. Although I don’t expect him to be last early, he will certainly be detached in the back quarter of the field. This also means navigating through plenty of traffic in such a big field.
CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE
Two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher has had Mo Donegal as his “A” horse for this race since last fall. Pletcher is one of America’s all-time trainers and you’d be hard pressed to find a dirt Grade 1 he hasn’t won. He has developed Mo Donegal well and it seems likely he’ll have him ready to peak on Derby day. Although Joel Rosario picked up the mount for the Wood Memorial, Irad Ortiz Jr. rode him for his three prior starts and will hop back aboard in Louisville. A three-time Eclipse Award winner, Ortiz Jr. has failed to make much of an impression in the Kentucky Derby. From five rides he has never finished in the money, and he failed to really factor despite finishing fourth on the favored Improbable in 2019. But as we all know, talent is not measured by your Derby record, otherwise they wouldn’t have handed out Hall of Fame placards to Pat Day, Laffit Pincay, or Javier Castellano. It will take a strong ride from Irad Ortiz Jr. to navigate the large field with Mo Donegal’s running style, but there aren’t many other riders you’d want to take on that challenge.
Mo Donegal is by super stallion Uncle Mo. In his first crop, he sired the Kentucky Derby winning Nyquist, and has been a top ten sire nationally over recent years. On the dam side, he is out of the Pulpit mare Callingmissbrown. She herself is very well bred, being out of the Grade 1 winner Island Sand, who won a Grade 2 going 1 1/4 miles during her career. Essentially, all of this should indicate stamina for days for Mo Donegal, so it won’t be distance beating him in the Derby.
Mo Donegal will absolutely run his race in the Kentucky Derby, the only question is whether that will be enough to win it. He certainly has the ability as he has beaten graded stakes winners in each of his last three starts. This includes future G1 winner Zandon, future G3 winner Tiz the Bomb, and running down G3 winner Early Voting on the line in the Wood Memorial. He is classy, stamina-laden, and has a wicked turn of foot. He will have to work out a tougher trip than most of the other leading candidates in this year’s field, but as I said, he has the ability and the man aboard him to make it happen. All in all, Mo Donegal is a legitimate contender who must be taken seriously on Derby day.