Zandon, Mo Donegal could return Remsen to Derby prominence

Zandon, Mo Donegal could return Remsen to Derby prominence
Photo: NYRA

Once upon a time, Aqueduct’s Remsen Stakes was a big deal. Winners of the late-season stakes race not only went on to be horses to fear in the following year’s Triple Crown series, but they became champions.

The days of Damascus, Pleasant Colony and Thunder Gulch might be long gone, but in Mo Donegal and Zandon, the 2021 edition might surprise us with a pair of colts who could be in the running for roses in five months.

The time on the board immediately will lead to skepticism of the pair’s ability, as 1:53.62 for 9 furlongs is far from flying, but a deeper dive into the running of the race might leave us with more hope for the two moving forward.

First of all, the Grade 2 affair featured a terrific stretch drive, as the two favorites battled it out all the way to the wire. They also quickly left the others in the eight-horse field far behind after the duel was joined early in the stretch. Both Mo Donegal, the winner, and Zandon, the tough-luck loser, passed the eyeball test with this thrilling finish. 

As for the final time, Aqueduct rarely produces fast times, and on their signature afternoon, this was true once again.

The fillies in the Demoiselle (G2) went quite a bit slower than the Remsen boys, as it took Nest 1:55.07 to complete the 9 furlongs. The older mare Lady Rocket turned in a big performance one race before the Remsen, but even her runaway victory in the one-mile Go For Wand (G3) was completed in only 1:36.52. She was marginally faster than the winner of the day’s biggest race, when Americanrevolution took home the Cigar Mile trophy in 1:36.68.

The final time of the Remsen also looks better when you consider how slowly the race was run early. Pedestrian early fractions of :25.18 and :51.47 essentially guaranteed that the Remsen final time was not going to be a thing of beauty.

Neither Mo Donegal or Zandon are blessed with much early speed, but light on experience coming in, they did what they needed to do by staying close early before kicking it in down the stretch.

The winner is a son of Uncle Mo who is now 2-for-3 lifetime. The Todd Pletcher-trained, Donegal Racing-owned Mo Donegal has finished each of his races with a strong closing kick, and he has improved each time as the distances have increased. In the Remsen, he showed the ability to avoid traffic and then fight all the way to the wire. He looks like a horse who should be just fine with the demands of the Kentucky Derby.

But I like Saturday’s runner-up even better.

A son of the second crop sire Upstart, Zandon is out of the unraced Creative Cause mare Memories Prevail. Purchased for $170,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, owner Jeff Drown sent the young colt to trainer Chad Brown.

One of numerous talented horses in the barn, he made his career debut in a six-furlong maiden race at Belmont Park on Oct. 9. He was not bet down as many Brown-trained runners are, but Zandon made his 5-1 odds look like a bargain. Despite hitting the gate at the break, he quickly recovered to stalk solid early fractions before powering home a good-looking winner.

Armed with only that six-furlong maiden race as experience, Brown believed his colt could handle the big bump up in both distance and class, and he was proved right.

At one point in the stretch, it appeared that the rallying Mo Donegal would run right on by, but Zandon refused to yield and gave the eventual winner a dogfight to the wire, even getting bumped a bit late.

All in all, it was a fantastic performance by such an inexperienced colt. His Eclipse Award trainer knew he wanted more ground than he got in his debut, and it looks like he was right on the money.

Things will only get tougher for the Remsen duo from here, but with more experience, both of them are very likely to improve under the care of two of the top trainers in the business.

Mo Donegal gives the impression of being a 10-furlong horse of some class, while Zandon is one of the most exciting prospects of any juvenile male to run so far this year. Perhaps for the first time in many years, the Remsen will produce a colt – or two – who can win the Kentucky Derby.

Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to HRN, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing webcast HorseCenter, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves on the Board of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars and is a Vox Populi committee member. He is a voter for racing's Hall of Fame, as well as a weekly NTRA poll voter. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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