04/03/2016 12:27PM

Road to the Derby: Florida Derby

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Barbara D. Livingston
Nyquist, unbeaten in seven starts, established himself as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby with his romp in the Florida Derby.

Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby, 1 1/8 miles, Gulfstream Park, April 2, 2016

 (100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

 Winner: Nyquist, by Uncle Mo

 Trainer: Doug O’Neill

 Jockey: Mario Gutierrez

 Owner: Reddam Racing LLC

 Beyer Speed Figure: 94

 NYQUIST shipped across country to face MOHAYMEN on Mohaymen’s home track in a battle of the unbeatens and emerged as the clear-cut winner, keeping his perfect record intact. He now heads to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, but there will be a clear line of demarcation on those who support him, and those who think he’s quite vulnerable.

 From a Beyer Speed Figure standpoint, his 94 in this race is only a moderate number compared with his brethren. It’s competitive, but certainly not superior for a colt who, five weeks out, is considered the Derby favorite. But Nyquist has continued to make those who play against him pay for the skepticism. All he does is win. And now he will have a full five weeks of preparation to deliver a peak effort on May 7.

 

I was among his skeptics prior to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but based on his extremely wide trip that day he had no business winning, and won anyway. He won me over.

 Nyquist’s pedigree – by Uncle Mo out of a Forestry mare – also invites skepticism. Forestry was a sprinter, and most of his better runners – like Discreet Cat -- have been sprinters or milers. But keep in mind that Forestry was by Storm Cat out of a Pleasant Colony mare – which is not a speed-oriented pedigree -- and his best runner has been a Preakness winner, Shackleford.

 As for Uncle Mo, this is his first crop, and his success as a sire has been spectacular. There is the widely held belief that his horses will be distance-limited because of his own inability to run 1 1/4 miles, but he never really got a fair shot at doing that during his brief career.

 Uncle Mo was ill the week of the Kentucky Derby in 2011 and was scratched. Then, after recovering, he raced twice around one turn in the summer and fall before being thrown into the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which – considering his recovery and brief prep schedule -- was a far more ambitious spot than would have been the Dirt Mile. Predictably, he finished 10th. That was the only time Uncle Mo tried 1 1/4 miles. Maybe if he hadn’t gotten sick in the spring – which forced him to have a brief prep schedule in the summer and fall -- he still would have failed at 1 1/4 miles. I don’t know. And neither do you. But based on what his offspring have done to date, I’m not willing to have a pre-conceived notion as to what they can or can’t do, because he is siring flat-out runners.

 In the Florida Derby, Nyquist broke best and led into the first turn while racing in the two path, with the longshots SAWYERS MICKEY to his inside and CHOVANES to his outside. He continued to lead while under restraint all the way to the three-eighths pole, when Mohaymen loomed up outside to challenge. He was let out a notch at that point by Gutierrez and staved off Mohaymen while drifting wide in a move that had to bring an appreciative smile to the face of Angel Cordero Jr., kicked clear anew in upper stretch, started to drift again out soon after Gutierrez looked back with about 150 yards to go, swapped over to his wrong lead with a sixteenth to go but was never in any danger while polishing off the final furlong in a respectable 12.73 seconds. I would be more concerned about the late lead change if it looked like he was getting tired, but the final furlong and the way he ran through to the wire indicate he wasn’t. Perhaps he was given the wrong cue when Gutierrez looked back, and got to goofing off?

 MAJESTO, who was second, was mid-pack while saving ground around the first turn, remained on the rail while following Sawyers Mickey down the backstretch and into the far turn, got through inside Sawyers Mickey just past the quarter pole, loomed a threat when Nyquist drifted out in upper stretch, kept to his task but was outrun by Nyquist through the lane. This was a good effort for him, but it’s hard to envision him ever having a better trip; he saved every inch of ground.

 FELLOWSHIP, who was third, lacked speed per usual and was at the back of the pack, through saving ground, around the first turn. He followed Majesto down the backstretch and into the far turn, was angled off the rail midway on the far turn and followed Mohaymen into the lane while about five paths wide, and finished up well. He gets a piece every time.

 Mohaymen, who finished fourth, was caught four paths wide on the first turn after breaking from an outside post. In prior races he was far more aggressive, but this time he had to be asked down the backstretch to hold his position. He made a bid into and around the far turn while four paths wide, ranged up outside Nyquist near the quarter pole, was no match for Nyquist entering the lane, and dropped back. Perhaps he had an off day, because he was not into the bit like he had been in prior races, but the fact is that his Beyer figures have not improved since the 95 he got in the Remsen in his final start at 2, three races ago. I’ve been a big fan of this colt, believing he would step up off the Fountain of Youth, but this was a disappointing effort.

 The rest were all beaten by at least 15 lengths.

 Sawyers Mickey, who was fifth, pressed the pace of Nyquist while inside Nyquist around the first turn and all the way down the backstretch, could not keep up nearing the quarter pole and tired.

 COPINGAWAY, who was sixth, broke a half-step slow, was just behind the leaders into the first turn while trading bumps with TAKEITTOTHEEDGE, drafted right behind  Nyquist down the backstretch while still between rivals, advanced to third with three furlongs to go, came under an aggressive ride near the quarter pole, was slow to change leads in upper stretch and tired.

Takeittotheedge, who was seventh, stumbled badly leaving the gate, moved up to race three paths wide into the first turn while between Copingaway and Mohaymen, remained between those two down the backstretch, could not keep up beginning with three furlongs to go and readily yielded.

 FASHIONABLE FREDDY, who was eighth, broke a bit awkwardly, was near the rear while between horses into the first turn, was right alongside Fellowship with a half-mile to go, but had nothing to offer when asked hard beginning three furlongs out.

 Chovanes, who was ninth, left alertly and raced three paths wide while outside Nyquist around the first turn and down the backstretch, then quickly dropped back through the field beginning with about three furlongs to go.

 ISOFASS, who finished last of 10, broke a step slow from his outside stall, went into the first turn near the back of the pack while three paths wide, continued wide down the backstretch, was last into the far turn and never showed a thing. He was eased in the lane, but the chart denotes he walked off the track under his own power.