05/04/2016 6:46PM

Crist: Whittling it down to five contenders

Barbara D. Livingston
Mor Spirit will be a decent price after failing to run his race over a sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby.

The central question of the 2016 Kentucky Derby is whether Nyquist is simply better than his 19 opponents or a vulnerable favorite in a subpar year.

The case for Nyquist is that he is unbeaten in seven starts and is already a four-time Grade 1 winner. His résumé would make him the Derby favorite in most years, and if this is indeed a season where there has been more mediocrity than brilliance, he could continue separating himself from this crop. In his last three starts, he has had little trouble defeating Exaggerator, Brody’s Cause, and Mohaymen, three of the most accomplished colts in the bunch.

The knocks are that he has yet to run a particularly fast race (his top Beyer Speed Figure going a mile or more is a moderate 94), his Florida Derby victory over two unaccomplished longshots proved little, and the pace-pressing son of Uncle Mo may have trouble with the Derby’s 10th furlong.

Nyquist is the most likely winner of the race, but that doesn’t mean you have to pick or bet him at 3-1. While California Chrome and American Pharoah won the last two Derbies as the favorites, they sported much bigger figures in their final Derby preps – a 107 for California Chrome’s Santa Anita Derby and a 105 for American Pharoah’s Arkansas Derby, compared to Nyquist’s 94 at Gulfstream.

Almost all of this year’s Derby preps came up on the slow side – the average winning Beyer was a 95.4 as opposed to a 103.8 a year ago.

This has led many contrarians to predict that virtually any longshot could light up the board and that this is a year to bet on chaos. My problem with that theory is that I think at least half the field has virtually no chance. The lineup is filled with slow horses who have been clunking up late in races that were falling apart. These horses are not suddenly going to beat a bigger and better field when there is no guarantee of a pace meltdown.

Rather than trying to choose among the chronic losers on the theory that anything could happen, it may be wiser to focus on the smaller group who have shown at least a hint of brilliance or looked something like genuine Derby contenders at some point in their careers. From that group, I can’t endorse Danzing Candy or Outwork, who seem like need-the-lead types who will have trouble getting 10 furlongs. I can’t take Exaggerator off a romp in the slop, Destin off an eight-week layoff, or Gun Runner and Brody’s Cause off unusually slow victories.

That leaves me with five horses who will be on my pick-whatever tickets. In alphabetical order, they are Creator, Mohaymen, Mor Spirit, My Man Sam, and Nyquist.

Since I have to pick one of them on top, I’ll go with Mor Spirit. He was the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby but came up flat on a sloppy track and did not run his race. The time before that, he was left with too much to do after falling eight lengths behind a loose Danzing Candy early. He has been first or second in all seven career starts, has been favored every time, and has never been beaten more than two lengths on a fast track. If you can overlook his final prep, he’s playable and should be a decent price.

I can’t put Nyquist worse than second. I acknowledge all the reservations mentioned above, but horses this dominant in their division’s biggest events should not be taken lightly, especially in a year short on stars.

:: Kentucky Derby Day 2016 previews, analysis, and plays

Mohaymen was favored against Nyquist in the spring’s biggest showdown race, the Florida Derby, and I am more than willing to draw a line through his dull fourth-place finish. He turned in such an uncharacteristically poor performance that the race did not definitively prove Nyquist the better horse, and you’ll get a lot better than the 4-5 Mohaymen was in Florida.

My Man Sam and Creator are my preferred closers in the closer-laden field and may have the most upside. My Man Sam has had just four starts, and while he emerges from a second-place finish to Brody’s Cause in a slow Blue Grass, his two previous starts, which came over the Aqueduct inner track, earned solid figures that would put him in the mix with routine improvement. Creator has had plenty of chances but appeared to improve sharply when stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in the Arkansas Derby.

This has been a very quiet Derby season, with few dramatic developments or defections. Perhaps it’s a bit of a hangover from American Pharoah’s Triple Crown a year ago, with few anticipating consecutive Crowns after a 37-year gap between the last two. The race is generating little buzz outside of the racing world, and expectations for the group are generally low.

On the other hand, someone has to win, and whoever it is will look a lot better than he does right now once he’s wearing that blanket of roses – and is the only 3-year-old who can still win the Triple Crown.

Carl Cuminale More than 1 year ago
This is a jockey's race if there ever was one. Position and racing luck will decide this Classic.
Carolyn Wyatt More than 1 year ago
MY MAN SAM #6 Go back and watch and watch his move mid-turn to finish (although he wobbled twice in the lane) in Blue Grass. Then add 220 yards after the wire and then figure what would have happened in that 1/8. Has the speed and stamina but needs to be closer when he starts his run. Near perfect trip hard to get with 19 others. Will be best odds of possible winners.
Lynne Veitch More than 1 year ago
Hi Steve:  This is a hard race to pick & you're right, it is a "hangover" from last yr & yr before.  The Derby is still the race everybody wants to win so good luck to all the runners.
Steven Jezyk More than 1 year ago
2016 will be a replay of the 2014-2015 Derbies. Nyquist will sit off the pace and make his move around the far turn and win just like California Chrome and American Pharoah, but I think he will win by a wider margin. Take the 3-1.
Robert More than 1 year ago
No way to handicap this race. Just make a pick. $100 show Mo Tom 
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Sorry Robert, but that horse is got a mental issue.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
wow ..guess this is the year im going to be totally wrong..i like GUN RUNNER and MO TOM and SHAGAF as well as CREATOR...my 5th would be SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS. im throwing out NYQUIST weird training lots of jogging and walking. poor work with lead changes and that FLORIDA DERBY was an awful field after the top 2. Looked tired to me late and weird action. Im also chucking MOR SPIRIT once again weird uncharacteristic work pattern for a Baffert horse .also trainer not very upbeat. also chucking OUTWORK speed horses work well so im not surprised he's working well.still i cant see him getting the distance and he is a Pletcher. also chucking MOHAYMEN has beaten nobody was exposed last time will be part of what i believe will be a decent pace (despite what the experts say)  DANZIGS CANDY (would like this horse a little had he gotten a better draw,will be tough to outsprint 19 horses while trying to get to the rail and then duel with OUTWORK ,NYQUIST,MOR SPIRIT). DESTIN is either improved a lot or really loves tampa.either way i dont think he is good enough or he would have gone to the bigger preps and not wound up in tampa.and ofcourse he is a pletcher. MY MAN SAM little horse can close some but i just dont think he is nearly as good as others do .TROJAN NATION is a maiden with the right pedigree for this but that was a slow wood.and he drew the dreaded one hole. BRODYS CAUSE reminds me of CARPE DIEM last year and will probably run like him. i say put him on turf. EXAGGERATOR is another that's a tough read he probably wont get the distance (i know CURLIN is the sire) and that last race must have taken something out of him. If it rains again he has a shot on a dry track toss. WHITMORE another tough read but im guessing he is a miler at heart makes his move then flattens out again. LANI the crazy horse from dubai. no distance limitations here but there are just too many negatives the traveling from dubai. the fact that he beat a weak field in slow time (yes. much slower than MUBTAHIJ the previous year.) .but he did make a beautiful sweeping move to get into contention or to be close to the filly ,you pick. Then seemed to wait on her in deep stretch. unfortunately for him no fillies in the field .ive read he hollers every time one goes by .if only SONGBIRD was healthy and had run here.another negative i think is that he has done almost no fast work since arriving.lots of long slow work but refuses to work fast. TOMS READY oh yes by now everybody's heard of the Dallas Steward magic for finishing second at long odds.and if he does i wont complain due to some futures bets i made in a moment of insanity.  the others in the field not worth mentioning...this is just an opinion.just like yours..i could be wrong have been in 10 of the last 22 derby's including last years ( actually knew AP was a freak and would probably win but decided to put him underneath FROSTED ) but i did have ILL HAVE ANOTHER very early on in the futures right to the derby. also hit the ORB/golden soul exacta. And the CALCHROME/COMANDING CURVE exacta. Top picks included BARBARO ..ILL HAVE ANOTHER ..MONARCHOS..ORB..STREET SENSE..BIG BROWN..CALIFORNIA CHROME..FUNNY CIDE... .but on the other side i hated SMARTY JONES ,FUSHAICHI PEGASUS, WAR EMBLEM and CHARISMATIC.did not see GIACOMO or MINE THAT BIRD as contenders.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Ray, as long as we are touting our past derby pics . . .AP, I'll have another, Smarty Jones, Charismatic, Big Brown, Street Sense, Orb and my best bet ever Thunder Gulch who paid $50 to win!!!!
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Nice.. these days the triple crown and the derby trail are the holy grail for me. The rest of the year I'm average. But the derby and the Belmont I stack up well against anybody.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I too have found success at the Derby...20 horses and I pick the winner.
Then I don't seem to be able to pick the winner in a 2 horse race.
Real Quiet, FunnyCide, Orb, Cal Chrome and AmPh but then again who didn't .
grindstone, Sunday Silence and only because I am Canadian and was wearing a Dale Earnhardt shirt with an 8 on it that day with Calvin BoRail riding Mine That bird. 
philcoforde More than 1 year ago
Creator picking up 8 lbs off Ark Dy win.  Could wear him down late 
Vince Piscitelli More than 1 year ago
Really hope Steve and Eddie are correct in their assessment of My Man Sam because I have him at 175-1 from a bet at the Wynn in early April for $20.00. Also have Mo Tom at 40-1.

Think Sam had not or was just made eligible then.

Good luck all,

Vince P
George Mayo More than 1 year ago
Oh! I had Creator in the Ark Derby, will hook him up with Lani
Justin Glagola More than 1 year ago
Below is how I believe the final running order of the 2016 Kentucky Derby will finish. While I think almost anyone can win this year's derby, because it is that wide open. Nyquist should be the favorite going into the race, the horses in my top 12 I believe to have the best chances to win the race. The last 8 have very little chance in my opinion.  I would love to hear everyone's thoughts or comments about the race and my list!

1) Exaggerator                        6) My Man Sam        11) Tom's Ready       16) Shagaf
2) Mo Tom                                7) Brody's Cause     12) Mohaymen          17) Danzig Candy
3) Nyquist                                8) Gun Runner         13) Majesto                 18) Outwork
4) Suddenbreakingnews      9) Creator                 14) Destin                    19) Oscar Nominated
5) Mor Spirit                           10) Whitmore             15) Trojan Nation      20) Lani
John Stahl More than 1 year ago
I'm skeptical about Exaggerator because of the slop factor in the last.  I like your 2-4 picks.  Not sure what to make of Mor Spirit. I'm surprised you have Creator that far down as you seem to be leaning heavily towards closers.  That said, I just watched the Ark Derby replay and Suddenbreakingnews was making up ground on him late and might have caught him with another furlong.
Justin Glagola More than 1 year ago
While Ilike all the horses from Arkansas derby, I feel with the extra 8 pounds and had a dream trip last time that is why I have him down so low. I have loved the breeding for Mor Spirit and Exaggerator, although Mor Spirit is more of grinder idk if he can do tjat to win the derby. he might be like Pioneer of the Nile was and for Exaggerator I was waiting for to run the way he did in the Santa Anita derby so hopefully he starts making that move and keep going everytime. As for Nyquist, I have two thoughts on him because of how he moved down the Stretch in the Florida Derby is that he either a freak and win by a ton or he is a sore horse because he didn't know which foot to put down first. He looked like a trotter down the lane lol.
Hal Vivaldi More than 1 year ago
Only one horse in this field has gone 1 1/8 more than once. First time in 1:52, next in 1:51, last in 1:50 (Fla Derby) If Nyquist is favorite this horse needs to be seriously considered. And he is in your bottom 8.  Who is it?
You heard it here first.
Justin Glagola More than 1 year ago
Majesto, idk Hal. He has a dream trip and bet the rest of a weak field. Although everyone has their own opinion, good luck to you sir! And I'm looking for Fellowship to run big in the Pat Day Mile.