02/24/2016 2:16PM

Derby Watch: McLaughlin playing the game on global scale

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mohaymen, who is keeping trainer Kiaran McLaughlin occupied in Florida, works at Palm Meadows last Friday.

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin woke up Wednesday morning to find email and text messages from his brother Neal, who is nearly halfway around the world in Dubai with the likes of Grade 1 winner Frosted.

Hours later, after the final renovation break at Palm Meadows, McLaughlin oversaw the gallop of Mohaymen, the current Kentucky Derby favorite, who is entered to run Saturday in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

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These are heady, challenging days for McLaughlin, but the logistics are workable, both because of modern technology and the trust he has in his brother.

“It’s a little bit of a sacrifice to have Neal away for so long,” McLaughlin said as he watched his runners train here Wednesday morning, “but hopefully it’ll work out well.”

So far, so good. Mohaymen enters the Fountain of Youth off a victory in last month’s Holy Bull, also at Gulfstream, to run his record to 4 for 4. The day after that win, McLaughlin flew to Dubai and days later saw Frosted win his prep for the Dubai World Cup. Assuming all goes well, McLaughlin will head to Dubai again at the end of March for the March 26 World Cup, then be back here the next week for Mohaymen’s final scheduled Derby prep, the April 2 Florida Derby.

Fortunately, McLaughlin has slept well on the lengthy flights to and from Dubai.

 

“Fourteen hours going over, and I think I slept 12 of those 14 hours,” he said. “I think I was tired from the pressure and the stress of Mohaymen running the day before. We flew back home early the next morning after Frosted’s race, 16 hours, and I think I slept for 12 hours on that flight, too, maybe longer.”

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McLaughlin has had to adjust in other ways without his brother around.

“It’s a little bit of a hardship here,” McLaughlin said. He added with a laugh: “I pick the spots where they run and get the jockey, but the set list” – a daily rundown of which horses go out in which sets for training, their exercise riders, and whether they’ll work, gallop, or jog – “that’s a puzzle. Neal and his wife, Trish, usually do it.”

Neal McLaughlin is overseeing five McLaughlin runners during his two-month stay in Dubai.

The emirate holds a special place for Kiaran McLaughlin, who spent a decade based there.

“We love Dubai,” he said. “I hadn’t been there since ’09. It’s like a second home to us. I lived there almost 10 years. It’s great to go back and see the changes.”

McLaughlin has seen little change in Mohaymen in the weeks since the Holy Bull, and that’s a good thing. The Tapit colt is moderately sized, standing about 15-3 or 16-0 hands, but everything fits perfectly, hence the reason he fetched $2.2 million as a yearling. He floated over the ground during his training session Wednesday and was completely composed, a trait often at odds with sons of Tapit, some of whom can get wound up.

“The nice thing is his mind,” McLaughlin said. “He’s good, quiet. He’s a gentleman at all times.”

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Mohaymen is following much of the same path that Frosted – another son of Tapit – went down for his preps for the Kentucky Derby last year, but he’s done better. Frosted was second in both the Remsen and Holy Bull, races Mohaymen won. Frosted also ran in the Fountain of Youth, which was one of the strangest performances of last year’s prep season, when he was seemingly headed to victory before throwing his head in the air and going from fifth gear to first.

Because of that, McLaughlin doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. He had hoped Frosted would stay on the Florida path to the Derby, but was rerouted after the Fountain of Youth to the Wood Memorial, which Frosted won. McLaughlin, Shadwell Farm manager Rick Nichols, and owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum are hoping Mohaymen will stay on the Florida path, but McLaughlin said he is nominating Mohaymen to every possible final prep, just in case.

“It’s a good program,” McLaughlin said of Gulfstream’s stakes for 3-year-olds. “After the Fountain of Youth last year, we weren’t sure Frosted liked it, so we went to New York. But I like the spacing for Mohaymen. It’s five weeks from the Fountain of Youth to the Florida Derby, and five weeks from the Florida Derby to the Kentucky Derby.”