05/05/2016 9:46AM

Nyquist wears the target in a Kentucky Derby filled with uncertainty

Barbara D. Livingston
Nyquist, the undefeated juvenile champion, is the morning-line favorite to defeat 19 opponents in the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Nyquist is named for someone who plays in the cold, but it seems that racing has been relatively lukewarm to Nyquist.

Despite a perfect record of seven wins in seven starts, he heads into the 142nd Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs as the acknowledged favorite, but with 19 others lined up against him.

Nyquist, named for the hockey player Gustav Nyquist, has been favored in four of his seven starts, so to say he lacks respect would be hyperbole. Yet he was not favored in his two biggest victories – the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Florida Derby. And there has been a widespread perception that the Derby’s 1 1/4 miles might be beyond his range.


Nyquist is the 3-1 favorite on the morning line set by Mike Battaglia of Churchill Downs, and he’s the 7-2 favorite on the line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper. Both have Exaggerator the distant second choice at 8-1. Of the 25 DRF selectors, eight picked Nyquist – which would make him about 2-1 if those 25 all bet equally into a closed pool. The other 17 cast their lot elsewhere.

On speed figures, Nyquist does not stand out. His career-best Beyer Speed Figure is a 101, earned sprinting in the San Vicente Stakes. His best two-turn figure, a 94 earned in the Florida Derby, is no better than many others in here – of his 19 rivals, nine have run at least that fast in a two-turn race. But all he does is win. Nyquist is the only undefeated horse in this field, and he is the first undefeated Derby contender who also was the champion of his division at age 2 since Seattle Slew in 1977.

“Everyone has to be careful to call this a wide-open race,” cautioned trainer Todd Pletcher, who sends out Destin and Outwork. “In fairness to Nyquist, he’s undefeated, taken his show on the road, and won at multiple distances. He deserves more respect and credit than he’s getting. Based on what I’ve seen, he’s still a little underrated.”

Bob Baffert, who sends out Santa Anita Derby runner-up Mor Spirit, said Nyquist “should be the favorite.”

“He’s the most accomplished horse in the race,” Baffert said.

Nyquist’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, is seemingly quite Zen over how Nyquist is perceived.

“That’s the beauty of all sports, to knock the favorite, whether it’s a team or a horse on a roll,” O’Neill said. “A lot of these horses, you’re splittin’ hairs on talent.”

Nyquist will try to give the team of O’Neill, owners Paul and Zillah Reddam, and jockey Mario Gutierrez their second Derby victory this decade, following I’ll Have Another in 2012.

Baffert won the Derby for the fourth time last year with American Pharoah, who went on to sweep the Triple Crown. He is realistic about his chances this year. After Mor Spirit’s final work on Monday, he said he felt confident he could “hit the board.”

Pletcher is the only other trainer in the race with a Derby victory. Destin comes off a win eight weeks ago in the Tampa Bay Derby. Outwork captured the Wood Memorial. Pletcher is one of three trainers, along with Steve Asmussen and Chad Brown, who have two runners in this race.

Asmussen has the late-running Creator, the winner of the Arkansas Derby, and Gun Runner, the winner of the Louisiana Derby. Less than two weeks ago, Asmussen was voted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, and in the past two months, his wife, Julie, was pronounced cancer-free by doctors after extensive treatment for neck and throat cancer first diagnosed in September.

Brown sends out My Man Sam, the Blue Grass Stakes runner-up, and Shagaf, seeking to rebound from his first career defeat in the Wood Memorial.

Shagaf is one of two entrants owned by Shadwell Stables, which also has Mohaymen, who lost for the first time last time out in the Florida Derby. For the first three months of the year, Mohaymen was considered no worse than the second choice for the Derby and was ranked by many over Nyquist. If he gets back to that form, his win mutuel will look like a gift.

Tom Benson, the owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, and his wife, Gayle, also have two entrants – Louisiana Derby runner-up Tom’s Ready and Mo Tom, who had a nightmarish trip in the Louisiana Derby and figures to get significant play from trip handicappers.

Whitmore, third last time out in the Arkansas Derby, will try to give jockey Victor Espinoza an unprecedented third straight Derby win, following California Chrome in 2014 and American Pharoah.

Exaggerator, the Santa Anita Derby winner, teams up brothers Kent (jockey) and Keith (trainer) Desormeaux. Kent has won the Derby three times. This is Keith’s first Derby starter.

Dale Romans, born in Louisville and practically raised at Churchill Downs, tries to capture the race he’s long dreamed of winning with Brody’s Cause, the winner of the Blue Grass.

Danzing Candy, the likely speed of the race, will motor out of stall 20 and try to repeat his front-running victory in the San Felipe Stakes.

Suddenbreakingnews, the Arkansas Derby runner-up, will try to give jockey Luis Quinonez, 49, a Derby win in his first Derby mount.

Majesto, the Florida Derby runner-up, is the first Derby starter for trainer Gustavo Delgado, who two years after arriving in the United States after an accomplished career in his native Venezuela has become a force in south Florida.

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Oscar Nominated, the Spiral Stakes winner, will try to get back some of the $200,000 supplementary fee owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey had to put up to run, being as he wasn’t originally nominated to the Derby.

Trojan Nation, the Wood Memorial runner-up, is trying to win the first race of his career. No maiden has won the Derby since Brokers Tip in 1933.

Lani, the winner of the United Arab Emirates Derby, will try to become the first Japanese-raced horse to win the Derby. He needs to be watched before the race, for he has been an absolute menace going to and from the track, often displaying his studdish qualities and hollering at any horse near him. Just seeing him walk over from the stable area – passing bourbon-fueled fans on the clubhouse turn – could be an adventure.

The walkover “looks like one of those Trump rallies; it’s crazy,” Baffert said.

Both Laoban and Cherry Wine were relegated to the also-eligible list because they had the fewest points of the 22 entered, and when none of the 20 in the main body of the race were withdrawn by scratch time Friday at 9 a.m., Laoban and Cherry Wine were officially scratched from the Derby.

If 20 start, the purse will be $2,391,600, and the winner will get $1,631,600.

The Derby is the 12th race on a 14-race card, with first post scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Eastern and the last race for 8:05 p.m., more than 9 1/2 hours later. Post time for the Derby is listed as 6:34 p.m.

The Derby will be shown live on NBC during a 3 1/2-hour telecast that begins at 4 p.m. Coverage of the day’s events at Churchill Downs begins on NBCSN from noon to 4 p.m.

There are six other graded stakes races preceding the Derby, and they feature some of the best horses in the world, headed by Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Tepin in the Distaff Turf Mile (race 6) and Wavell Avenue, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, in the Humana Distaff (race 8).

The National Weather Service calls for a high of 83 degrees on Saturday, with a 20 percent chance of rain.

Ian GW More than 1 year ago
Catalina Rad just beat top sprinters? Yea ok. Why I dont bet races where juicers run. 
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Great job guys .. I can't agree with you on Nyquist ..based on his Last 2 races and he did win both but with some weird swerving action late. It's either one of 3 things a distracted horse who is still immature .unlikely after running in so many races.or a horse that tires late .unlikely in the 7f race but very possible in the Florida Derby. Or a horse that has some physical issues that are not impeding  him from winning but are  bothering him at the finish of his races. His leisurely training since the fl derby might be evidence of this .lots of jogging very little galloping a slow 5 f work and a so so catch up 1 mile work. Oh and I was forgetting he spiked a fever right after his last race. I'm tossing if he hits the board I won't cash a ticket . But I will be happy for uncle mo what a sire he is turning out to be . Though I would prefer  Mo Tom to win .
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
If a horse gets keyed up or spooked and wants to go no jockey is going to stop him. And most jockeys are not going to fight a horse on the lead with 19 horses right behind him. So predicting how fast or slow the derby pace will be is always tricky. Palace Malice is a good example. Good trainer good jockey good horse.could normally rate and stay (went on to win the Belmont ) but on derby day he got spooked and ran off .and only an insane jockey was going to try and reign him in.it would be a futile battle and the result would have been the same an off the board finish .
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Hopefully they won't have the track set up for speed like they did Friday . It's ridiculous how tracks do this all the time .make the track rock hard and then wonder why horses break down.
JrdDonn More than 1 year ago
Just a reminder: No ridgling has ever won the K-D. There are 2 of them this year..#17 & #18  Of course there is a 1st time for everything!!!
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Not many have run either.
Aero Palo Eduardo More than 1 year ago
NYQUIST has the first chance to win the Derby, but he'll have to make his best for beating MOHAYMEN.  These 2 are, for me, the best colts in the field, and my third is DANZING CANDY, who will lead the pack with little pressure and can fly away from gate to wire.

Thomas Garvie More than 1 year ago
Don't give up on Baffert and Gary Stevens riding a great horse. it's called, GREAT TRAINER, GREAT JOCKEY, GREAT HORSE. I definitely have him winning this field. The exacta underneath includes, Exaggerator, Mohaymen, and Nyquist, and add Brody's cause in the Tri
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
I can't bet against Nyquist, the team is all positives, the post position should allow him to set wherever Mario feels comfortable.  I gotta put Gun Runner and Mohayman in the tri,and I think they will make a decent trip for Mo Tom, and he still hasn't been able to show how far he will go, and how well he will close at ten furlongs, so Nyquist on top with those three underneath, and watch me get beat by a horse on the loose on the lead, or some horse coming out of the clouds.

Frank More than 1 year ago
You mentioned the team -- team O'Neil/Reddam -- are pure toe jam.  Same with last year's connection w/AP.  The racing gods better be watching this year and not let that happen again to such awful people in this sport.

I wouldnt listen to or trust these lying dirt bags.

I do like the horse though -- he seems like a special one.
littlelouis99 More than 1 year ago
sounds like you need to find a new hobby Frank
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Beyers, Beyers, Beyers ... I don't think anyone has much confidence in them anymore, Jay.
Stuart Hill More than 1 year ago
The top Beyer fig horse has only won the Derby 2 times in the last 10 years, and have only hit the board ONCE in addition to those 2 wins (the horses were Cal Chrome and Street Sense). Who can forget the immortal top BSF Soldat or Verazanno?
Frank More than 1 year ago
I just hope its a much better derby then last year -- last year was one of the most boring derbys I can remember because the favorite wins and the first 3 horses just run around the track together with no change!  

What was that all about????
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
AND the favorite had to sustain a barrage of 32 lashes to get the job done. Hopefully, this year's winner has an easier time, and a faster time
TomPHickey More than 1 year ago
The 3 best horses on the day ran 1-2-3?
Aero Palo Eduardo More than 1 year ago
That was a mediocre crop.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
It was about the best 3 yo in a long time .he deserved to be favourite and won accordingly then went out and proved he was great.