05/07/2016 9:07PM

Nyquist stays perfect with Kentucky Derby victory

Barbara D. Livingston
Nyquist, with Mario Gutierrez up, wins the Kentucky Derby to remain unbeaten through eight starts.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When it comes to winning the Kentucky Derby, trainer Doug O'Neill, owner Paul Reddam, and jockey Mario Gutierrez said they'll have another.

Four years after teaming to win with the longshot I'll Have Another, they won the 142nd Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs with Nyquist, who remained unbeaten after eight starts and put his name alongside Seattle Slew as the only horses to have won their divisional championship at age 2 and remained unbeaten through a victory in the Kentucky Derby.

Nyquist ($6.60), the favorite, stalked the hot early pace set by Danzing Candy, seized the lead from Gun Runner heading into the lane after Danzing Candy faded, opened a large margin at midstretch and had plenty left to hold off the late run of Exaggerator to win by 1 1/4 lengths before an announced crowd of 167,227, the second-largest crowd in Derby history.

Exaggerator never got past Nyquist on the gallop out.

Gun Runner finished another 3 1/4 lengths back in third, a head in front of Mohaymen, who rallied for fourth after breaking poorly and finding himself farther back earlier than anticipated. The first four finishers were the top four betting choices in the race, and they finished in order of the bettors' preference.

Suddenbreakingnews was fifth and was followed, in order, by Destin, Brody's Cause, Mo Tom, Lani, Mor Spirit, My Man Sam, Tom's Ready, Creator, Outwork, Danzing Candy, Trojan Nation, Oscar Nominated, Majesto, Whitmore, and Shagaf, who was eased a furlong from the wire but walked off under his own power.

Nyquist covered 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track in 2:01.31. There was a brief, strong storm about 90 minutes before the Derby, but it had no impact on the surface on a day where temperatures had risen into the low-80s.

The first two finishers are both based in California at Santa Anita. This marked the third straight Derby win for horses based in California - following California Chrome and American Pharoah - and the fourth win for a California-based horse in the last five years.

:: Kentucky Derby race chart

Nyquist thus becomes the only horse this year who can try to emulate what American Pharoah accomplished last year and sweep the Triple Crown. O'Neill, Reddam, and Gutierrez got close four years ago with I'll Have Another, who won the Derby and Preakness but was scratched on the eve of the Belmont with a career-ending injury.

"You've seen what happened last year. It shows it can happen with a special horse," O'Neill said.

Nyquist certainly is proving to be very special. He won all five of his starts last year at age 2, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and this year beat Exaggerator in the seven-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita before sending Mohaymen to his first defeat in the Florida Derby. Nyquist has won his eight races at five different racetracks in three states.

Next up, the Preakness at Pimlico on May 21, marking track number six and state number four on the Nyquist Tour.

Reddam named Nyquist for Gustav Nyquist, a forward on the Detroit Red Wings, a National Hockey League team Reddam has been a fan of since growing up just across the river from Detroit in Windsor, Ontario.

Nyquist, a son of the red-hot first-year sire Uncle Mo, was purchased by O'Neill's brother, Dennis, on behalf Reddam for $400,000 14 months ago in Florida at the Fasig-Tipton sale. He made his debut in June, going five furlongs at Santa Anita, and by year's end had won four more races as well as the Eclipse Award.

After the Breeders' Cup, those associated with Nyquist had a meeting and decided to have a sprint comeback to start the year following a break, then to go to the Florida Derby, where Nyquist was eligible for a $1 million bonus. The five-week timeline from the Florida Derby to the Kentucky Derby also had appeal, and it certainly became a factor when Nyquist had a slight case of shipping fever after first arriving at Keeneland following the Florida Derby. This gave him more time to recover.

O'Neill also trains Nyquist a lot easier than I'll Have Another, jogging him more often than he did I'll Have Another and working him less aggressively. That resulted in a horse that was fresh and ready for a top performance Saturday.

Nyquist broke cleanly from stall 13, was in front a furlong into the race, then Gutierrez made the first of several smart, tactical moves. First, he allowed Danzing Candy to clear him just after an opening quarter in 22.58 seconds, then he took up a stalking position through a half-mile in 45.72.

"When he was able to grab a hold and let Danzing Candy go, I said okay," Reddam said. "When I saw 45, that was a little quicker than I liked. We were hoping for a much more moderate pace. But when he got to the far turn, I thought, I like this."

As the field advanced to the far turn, Gun Runner was keen to go on and Gutierrez let him go, without asking Nyquist to move too soon. After six furlongs in 1:10.40, Nyquist was third, just off the leaders, ready to advance, and it looked as though Gutierrez had plenty of horse under him.

"You could see he was going to go by those two," Reddam said, referring to Danzing Candy and Gun Runner. "Then it was a question of the stretch-runners."

Those three pulled away from their rivals around the far turn, and just outside the quarter pole Danzing Candy dropped away, leaving Nyquist and Gun Runner up top through a mile in 1:35.61. Nyquist put away Gun Runner in upper stretch, was up by 2 1/2 lengths with a furlong to go, and went strong to the wire, showing neither the desire to drift out nor change to his incorrect lead, which he had done when the Florida Derby was put away five weeks ago.

It was a thoroughly professional performance from horse and rider, and a testament that the plan mapped out by the team had been executed to perfection by O'Neill.

:: Full list of Kentucky Derby mutuel payoffs

O'Neill, as is his wont, deferred to the team in general, but Nyquist specifically, for this Derby win.

"He's such a special horse," O'Neill said. "You see it in his eye on a daily basis."

"We felt quietly confident coming in," said Reddam, who has had O'Neill as one of his trainers for 12 years. "We were feeding off the trainer."

O'Neill said Nyquist is "the best horse I've trained."

He's certainly the best of this crop, which he has proven over and over and over again. He'll get a chance to add to his legacy in the Preakness, and if he does that, it's back to the Belmont, with a chance for redemption for his connections after the I'll Have Another setback. Improbably, it would come just one year after American Pharoah ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought, marking a chance to for the first back-to-back Triple Crowns since Seattle Slew and Affirmed in 1977 and 1978.

"He's the real deal," Reddam said.