Good size, athletic, talented and fast, Mentor Cane seemed to have it all. Physically speaking, of course.
Mentally, that was another story. He was a work in progress, no doubt, but one worth putting the extra time into. In the capable, respected and proven hands of John Shirreffs - and coming off a strong second in the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga - Mentor Cane was unquestionably a star on the rise.
And now he's gone.
Mentor Cane broke down in a workout Thursday morning at Belmont Park, his second since the King's Bishop and following a bullet half-mile drill last week on Saratoga's Oklahoma Training Track. He suffered a right-hind lateral condylar fracture and a comminuted right-hind P1 fracture, injuries so severe he needed to be euthanized.
Bred and owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Mentor Cane was to be the next star from Shirreffs' barn. He broke his maiden in his third start, following a good second in his debut against Flashback on synthetic at Hollywood and a third on a wet and sealed surface at Santa Anita that spooked the steel-gray colt with a curious eye and quirky mindset. He won July 6 at Belmont, turned heads doing so and promptly dumped jockey Edgar Prado on the way back to the winner's circle.
Shirreffs chalked up the quirkiness to Mentor Cane's sire, Mizzen Mast, a similarly freakishly fast colt the late Bobby Frankel used to rave about to anyone who would listen. Shirreffs said earlier this summer that every Mizzen Mast he's trained were precocious, high strung and needed "a little bit of managing."
Mentor Cane was no exception. He flashed brilliant speed on the lead in the Grade 2 Amsterdam before bolting veering out around the far turn and at the top of the stretch, prompting Shirreffs to joke a few weeks later that he thought the colt "decided he was going down Union Avenue."
Mentor Cane definitely liked doing things his way, but was adaptable to Shirreffs' training leading up to the King's Bishop. As he walked around the ring in front of his trainer's barn the morning before the King's Bishop, Mentor Cane gave a glimpse of what he's capable of off the racetrack as well. Cooling out after walking to and from the Oklahoma, to the paddock and then galloping on the main track in behind one of NYRA's lead ponies in his final bit of work before the King's Bishop, Mentor Cane stopped, popped his upper lip high, pinned his ears a bit as he headed for his bath. The moment was short-lived though, perhaps just a playful moment for the colt Shirreffs estimated was a shade over 16 hands.
"Watch out for him," Shirreffs told a few of his staff and this reporter who followed him that morning. "When you see that lip you know he's getting busy."
Mentor Cane could undoubtedly get busy on the track. He stuck right with the speedy Let Em Shine early and was in front through the opening half mile of the 7-furlong King's Bishop in :44.60. None of the early speed in that race was around when the real running counted in the stretch, except Mentor Cane, who flashed by the eighth pole after running 6 furlongs in 1:09.33. He looked like a sure winner opening up four lengths on the nearest pursuer, but was caught late by Capo Bastone, who flew home to win by two in 1:22.22.
Shirreffs and Prado agreed that Mentor Cane still showed immaturity in the King's Bishop, both conceding that they wished there was another horse in the mix in midstretch to keep his mind on business. Shirreffs wasn't satisfied with finishing second, but was with the colt's continued improvement. He said the experience would be beneficial for Mentor Cane down the road.
Unfortunately the end of the road came Thursday at Belmont as Mentor Cane was euthanized, an unfinished work in progress gone too soon.