03/31/2016 11:26AM

Jerardi: Battle of top seeds should answer some questions

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Mohaymen (above) may have to give it his all for the first time when he meets Nyquist in the Florida Derby on Saturday.

I did not think we were going to see the Kentucky Derby winner in last Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, and I don’t think we did.

Gun Runner was visually impressive in his win. Mo Tom was very unlucky again. The 91 winning Beyer Speed Figure, however, told the story. These horses just aren’t fast enough to be factors on the first Saturday in May.

The Florida Derby, the centerpiece of an interesting Gulfstream Park card on Saturday, could very well reveal the Kentucky Derby winner, or at least the favorite. And we get to see the rare battle of No. 1 seeds before the final 20.

I have nothing negative to say about the 11-for-11 stars of the show, Nyquist and Mohaymen. Winning is winning, and these two have done it in a variety of ways.

:: Florida Derby: Buy PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Nyquist, as has been documented, was not a particularly fast 2-year-old, with a best Beyer of 89. His only 3-year-old start, that difficult-trip, determined win in the San Vicente Stakes, was superior in every way – how the colt won and how fast he ran with that 101 Beyer.

This is obviously a different scenario, with the cross-country ship (certainly not a problem at Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup) and a bigger field.

It will be interesting to see how Nyquist is ridden with the fast sprinter Takeittotheedge and his 88 Beyer in his lone start three stalls to his outside. Does Nyquist’s rider, Mario Gutierrez, send him and try to clear the field? Does he wait and risk getting trapped? Does he just see where Nyquist takes him and hope for a good trip?

Mohaymen topped out as a 2-year-old with a 95 Beyer after getting an 87 and an 89 in his earlier races. He has paired up 95s in his two 3-year-old stakes wins.

I admit to having some concern that the Beyer has not gone up yet, but I saw what everybody saw – the colt winning pretty easily, as if there is more there. This is the race where Mohaymen is almost certainly going to have to show more of what is there.

I think it more likely than not that Mohaymen can get into the triple-digit Beyer territory that it is going to take to win the Kentucky Derby. And unlike Nyquist’s rider in this race, Junior Alvarado has fewer decisions to make with Mohaymen’s outside post and stalking style.

Figure Mohaymen to sit a few lengths off whatever pace develops, move into contention down the backstretch or on the turn, and then let’s see how fast he can run.

Gulfstream Park Oaks

I’ve got to think that the connections of the 3-year-old fillies in the Gulfstream Park Oaks were thrilled to see that Cathryn Sophia’s people passed this race to shoot for next Saturday’s Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. If she were in here, they all would be running for second.

Off the Tracks has not lost in three starts, posted Beyers of 83 and 81 in her last two, might be the speed of the speed, has a new trainer in Todd Pletcher, and probably will be a terrible price for a filly going long for the first time. However, given the competition, or lack of it, she may be hard to beat.

The only other filly with any numbers is Paola Queen. She is also fast, has the rail, and is trying two turns for the first time after earning Beyers of 81 and 83 in her last two.

It is certainly possible that these two fast fillies could battle early and set it up for a closer, but it is hard to be confident that any of these slow fillies would get there anyway.

Pan American Stakes

I wish it wasn’t the last Saturday of the college basketball regular season and I had been paying closer attention when Grand Tito ran in the Mac Diarmida. This horse was good enough to get a 103, 101, 102, 100, 100, 100 series over a six-month period last year.

When Grand Tito finally went off form in October, he was given four months away from the races. He got a solid 98 Beyer in his comeback win and then got a career-best 104 in the Mac Diarmida, his second start off a layoff. He was 9-1, a really good price with hindsight and knowledge of his Beyer history.

Grand Tito beat Kaigun that day, and that is probably the horse he must beat again to get back into the winner’s circle Saturday in the Pan American at Gulfstream. Kaigun has earned four triple-digit Beyers since September and almost never runs a bad race.

These older grass stakes horses are among the most dependable key horses in the sport. Grand Tito and Kaigun are two shining examples.