CRAWFORD | Kentucky Derby advance: Can Nyquist keep the party going?
Eric Crawford previews Kentucky Derby 142. Can Nyquist keep the run of favorites going, or will some late-running challengers catch him in Churchill Downs' deep stretch?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- One year after the Kentucky Derby kicked off a run to racing royalty for American Pharoah, it welcomes a much less celebrated champion hoping to keep the party going.
Nyquist, the 2-year-old champion who is unbeaten in seven starts, has been installed as a 3-1 morning line favorite and is looking to follow Big Brown (2008) and Smarty Jones (2004) as the last unbeaten favorites who won the Run For the Roses.
The race is expected to go to post at 6:34 p.m. on NBC.
Only six other colts in the 142-year history of the race have come into the race unbeaten with as many wins as Nyquist, whose last prep before the Kentucky Derby was a 3 1/4-length romp in the Florida Derby. He has won races in Kentucky, California and Florida. He has won from the lead, from well off the pace, and just off the pace.
"He's a cinch favorite," Derby oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said. "It was an easy call to make the favorite on this one. I think he might even be shorter. In my opinion, he should be shorter than 3-1, but I have to go with what I think the public is going to do, and I hear too many people talking about others, or things he didn't do."
You do hear that. In a year not marked by brilliant speed by any of the top 3-year-olds, Nyquist has not posted the kind of speed figures you'd like to see from a Derby favorite. But then again, neither have his competitors.
Trained by Doug O'Neill, and owned by J. Paul Reddam, the same team that took I'll Have Another to the Derby winner's circle in 2012, Nyquist is named after a hockey player for the Detroit Red Wings. He's one of three sons out of the first crop of stallion Uncle Mo in the field for this race, out of the dam Seeking Gabreille.
He's run only two races this year, one of them just a 7-furlong test, as O'Neill has tried to keep him fresh for what he hopes will be a run at the Triple Crown.
"That was the thought when we did it," O'Neill said. "But there's no question, with the size of the Kentucky Derby field and the quality of the horses, the first step is the toughest."
Nyquist drew the No. 13 post position, one spot outside the post from which he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Of his 19 competitors in the Derby, he has beaten only four of them during his seven career races -- Majesto, Mohaymen, Brody's Cause and Exaggerator (twice).
The 8-1 second-choice in the morning line is Exaggerator, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, where two of the past four Derby winners have won their final prep. He's trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by his brother Kent, who wasn't happy with the colt's No. 11 post position (he'll be among the first to go into the gate), but outside of his barn Friday morning, Keith Desormeaux, who is saddling his first Kentucky Derby starter, proclaimed all systems go.
"There's not one thing I could complain about," he said. "He’s happy, healthy and fit. He’s settled in and is a happy horse. He isn’t fidgety. I couldn’t ask for more. I have no complaints.”
Others who figure to be major contenders include a pair trained by recent Hall of Fame electee Steve Asmussen: Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner and Arkansas Derby winner Creator.
Gun Runner has won four of his five career starts and already has a win at Churchill Downs. Creator was a late-bloomer, did not win until his sixth start, but appears to be coming on strong after figuring things out.
"It's two wonderful chances,'' Asmussen said. "I hope they get a fair shot at it. That's all you want, just a fair shot. "I don't want one to beat the other. That's how good I feel about it.''
Kiaran McLuaghlin's Mohaymen is coming off a disappointing effort in the Florida Derby, where he didn't like the off track and never was in contention. He has been training well in Louisville, however, and was unbeaten heading into that race in Florida. His purchase price of $2.2 million is the fourth-highest for a starter in Derby history. His owner, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is the Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance and Industry of the United Arab Emirates.
Mohaymen was the co-Derby favorite in the first future-book wagering of the winter, along with Mor Spirit, who is trained by last year's Triple Crown-winning trainer, Bob Baffert, and ridden by three-time winner Gary Stevens.
"We're 12-1 right now, and it's nice to be back and not have all the pressure of being the favorite," Baffert said this week. "If we win, it'll be great."
Louisville native Dale Romans will carry some hometown hopes with Brody's Cause, his seventh Derby horse.
Most trainers and handicappers expect a fairly mild pace in the race. None of the entries has shown outlandish speed. Danzing Candy, breaking from the No. 20 post, will want to be on the lead. Nyquist and Mohaymen figure to be among those hoping to sit near the pace.
Of the 20 horses entered, 13 have shown a tendency to come from off the pace to make a move at the end, so any traffic issues could be on the back end of the race, as the horses turn for Churchill Downs' long stretch run.
The post-time favorite has won the Derby in each of the past three years. Only twice has the favorite won in four straight years: Riva Ridge-Secretariat-Cannonade-Foolish Pleasure from 1972-75, and a string of six straight favorites from 1891-1896.
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