Following his demolition of nine Xpressbet Florida Derby foes Saturday, Reddam Racing’s Nyquist now is unbeaten in seven lifetime starts and finally has vaulted to the head of the 2016 Kentucky Derby class. At this point, he is expected to be the favorite for that prestigious race on the first Saturday in May.
That this is breaking news illustrates just how effectively, so far this year, racing experts have dissed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hero and 2-year-old champ.
Traditionally, the previous season’s 2-year-old champ would default to a number one ranking one until someone definitively knocked his block off. Not this year. Beginning with when the ball dropped in Times Square until April 2, the majority of experts producing top 10 Kentucky Derby contender lists ranked Nyquist below the top spot.
Why? What was it pundits didn’t like about this colt? Or, more accurately, what was it they didn’t like until Saturday’s Xpressbet Florida Derby?
A quick recap of Nyquist’s route to Louisville shows that he broke his maiden first time out by a head last June at Santa Anita at odds of 7.50-to-1 in a 10-horse field. Annie’s Candy, runner-up that afternoon, returned to win his next start.
Nyquist then won the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar going six and one-half furlongs. Perhaps handicappers downplayed that score because Best Pal runner-up Swipe, already a stakes winner at the time, never won another race in 2015.
However, that’s mostly because Swipe then finished second to Nyquist in his three remaining 2015 starts -- the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity at seven panels, Sept 7; the Grade 1 Front Runner at Santa Anita at a mile and one-sixteenth, Sept 26; and the Grade 1 BC Juvenile at the same distance at Keeneland on Halloween--before going to the sidelines with a physical injury to match his obviously bruised ego.
Horseplayers that loved Nyquist in the Xpressbet Florida Derby still found the race’s exacta puzzling to predict because trainer Keith Desormeaux did not saddle a runner. Before Saturday, Nyquist had finished just in front of a Desormeaux-trained horse in five consecutive races—Swipe four times and Exaggerator once. That in mind, one wonders if Nyquist’s owners--J. Paul and wife Zillah Reddam--might seriously consider picking up a Desormeaux-trained runner’s Kentucky Derby entry fee tab.
Mohaymen, the previously unbeaten, untied and un-scored upon grey son of Tapit, attracted the majority of Benjamins wagered on the Xpressbet Florida Derby. This was not a surprise. He had been favored in each of his previous five starts and always had proven punctual. This time, however, in the Gulfstream paddock before the race, he didn’t look the part of a winner. An oppressively humid afternoon seemed to be sapping his pre-race strength. He looked thin, tired. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who earlier in the year had mentioned how difficult it was to keep weight on his charge, had to sense that Mohaymen was not at his best on this day.
The remainder of the Florida Derby field was overmatched on paper, in the mutuels and during the actual race. Four of the 10 started at over 100-1 odds. Fellowship, who finished third, was the only other horse in the field besides Nyquist and Mohaymen to have won more than one race—in addition to a maiden victory he had won a two-turn restricted stakes race from far back as the beneficiary of a contested early pace. He was the 16.70-to-1 fourth choice, just behind the one-for-one Takeittotheedge at 15.10-to-1. Majesto, who had broken his maiden in his previous start—the fifth of his career—was fifth choice in the race at 21.30 and finished second.
So, there you have it…if you want it…fresh evidence to continue to discount Nyquist’s chances of winning the Kentucky Derby: Mohaymen’s best was buried beneath gobs of white foam between his legs and the rest of the field was badly overmatched.
Nyquist didn’t beat anybody. Again. For the seventh consecutive time!
And, of course, let’s not ignore that dipsy-doodle move Nyquist busted approaching the Sunshine State Derby finish when he suddenly, but briefly, bore out and switched leads. What was that all about? Trainer Doug O’Neill dismissed the move as inconsequential. Jockey Mario Gutierrez shrugged. If they’re not worried why should anyone else be concerned?
Because that’s another convenient reason to dismiss Nyquist’s apparent superiority.
No matter if Nyquist ducked from a bird, a plane or Superman, fact is, he continues to run fast. And, when it comes to evaluating racehorses…running fast should be criteria number one.
Unbeaten at 7-0 Nyquist’s next stop is the Kentucky Derby. According to Richard Rosenblatt, an AP Racing Writer, in the last 100 years there have been 26 unbeatens in the Kentucky Derby. Only 7 have emerged victorious. Nyquist would be the first horse in 26 years to start in the Derby at 7-0 or better. Speedy Mr. Frisky was the last to enter the Louisville gate at at least 7-0 and he was 16-0 with 13 of those wins coming in Puerto Rico. He finished eighth.
Oh, and about those seven unbeatens who exited the Derby victorious…they’re named Big Brown, Barbaro, Smarty Jones, Seattle Slew, Majestic Prince, Morvich and Regret!
Is it possible that in Nyquist we are looking at greatness and don’t…no, won’t even recognize it?