The superlatives began flying around Gulfstream Park (and the internet) the second Mohaymen crossed the finish line in the January 30 Holy Bull Stakes (G2). And with good reason. The Kiaran McLaughlin pupil didn't have an easy go of it yet still drew off under a hand ride to score by 3 1/2 lengths.
"He took my breath away," McLaughlin said of his perfect 4-for4 colt after the race.
“Just chills up and down the back. He’s just really good," added Shadwell Farm Racing Manager Rick Nichols.
Those impressions were confirmed four weeks later with his powerful score over Zulu in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.
But his flop in the April 2 Florida Derby left his connections and many racing pundits scratching their heads. Handicappers will have to decide if his fourth-place run to Nyquist, while wide and over a drying-out track he many not have handled, can be forgiven. His previous form was certainly outstanding.
Moyahmen showed good adaptability in his three juvenile victories in 2015, including a pair of graded triumphs in the Nashua Stakes (G3) and Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct. In the Remsen, in particular, he was faced with a narrow opening between two rivals at the top of the stretch, showing good courage and acceleration to burst through to daylight.
The roan colt found himself in a similar situation in the Holy Bull Stakes, this time on the backstretch, where he was purposely bottled up by a trio of rivals including John Velasquez on second choice Greenpointcrusader. But Mohaymen once again used a tactical burst to extricate himself from a potential trap. As soon as he was in the clear he relaxed back for rider Junior Alvarado for another furlong before bounding away in-hand from Greenpointcrusader down the stretch.
"I just waited and waited to see what Johnny (Velazquez aboard Greenpointcrusader) was going to do," Alvarado recounted in a post-race interview. "He left me a little room, but sometimes that can be a little trap. I just waited and waited and then it got to a point where he didn't come inside and the horse in front was backing up, so I said, 'I've got the best horse. It's time to be making my own move. After that it was pretty much over."
In the past 24 years only Sea Hero (1993), Thunder Gulch (1996), Giacomo (2005) and Mine That Bird (2009) finished off-the-board in their final Derby preps. Thunder Gulch may prove to the most comparable to Mohaymen. The D. Wayne Lukas-trainee made a successful run through the Gulfstream Park three-year-old series before a faltering fourth over a tricky Keeneland surface in the Bluegrass Stakes.
On the plus side for Mohaymen, he's a $2.2 million yearling so you can bet he has exceptional looks and conformation. His pedigree is flawless too for a Classics contender, being a son of North America's top sire Tapit, a grandson of 1992 Belmont Stakes/Breeders' Cup Classic champion A. P. Indy. The Tapits can excel on any surface and at any distance. His 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, who also captured the Met Mile, is a good example of that versatility.
Mohaymen is certainly in good hands with Lexington, Kentucky native Kiarin McLaughlin, who has been battling MS for the past couple decades. He is right up there on the list of the best trainers who have yet to win a Derby. He came close in 2005 with Closing Argument, a desperate neck shy of Giacomo, and had a good one last year in 4th-place finisher Frosted. For that reason alone, if Mohaymen should wear the roses on May 7, there won't be many racing industry folks upset with the result.