04/03/2016 11:16AM

Watchmaker: Florida Derby leaves some questions unanswered

Barbara D. Livingston
Nyquist dominated the Florida Derby, but earned a relatively modest Beyer Speed Figure of 94.

The most anticipated matchup in a Kentucky Derby prep in years that was supposed to take place in Saturday’s Florida Derby never materialized. But don’t be angry with Nyquist. It’s not his fault that, at least on this day, he was just much, much better than Mohaymen.

There are going to be some who will say that this Florida Derby came down to trips. They will say that Nyquist, who went right to the front from the cozy four hole, had a much better trip than Mohaymen, who was caught four-wide on the first turn after breaking from post 9 in a field of 10 that was unnecessarily inflated by the presence of four horses who went off at more than 100-1, and an 82-1 shot.

(As an aside, when is the last time you saw four horses go off at more than 100-1 and another go off at over 80-1 in a Grade 1 race? No one likes to see short fields in any races, including stakes. But padding races with rank outsiders like this did not make this Florida Derby a legitimate 10-horse race. It was, in practice, a five-horse Florida Derby with five automatic throw-outs whose only possible contribution would be to get in the way.)

But while it is true that Mohaymen was indeed caught four-wide on the first turn, I will counter by saying that if he was the horse many of us thought he was, a wide trip on the first turn would not it itself have been reason enough for Mohaymen’s empty performance.

Moreover, Mohaymen’s wide trip on the first turn was mitigated by the fact that Nyquist was hounded early from the inside by Sawyers Mickey, a 124-1 maiden, and from the outside by Chovanes, a 136-1 maiden claiming winner. In other words, Nyquist was being dogged by two horses who had no business even being in a race like the Florida Derby. Thank goodness neither bumped, stepped on, or impeded Nyquist, and were only minor annoyances through the first half or so of the race.

No, this Florida Derby wasn’t about trips, because Mohaymen had his clear shot at Nyquist on the far turn, and Nyquist turned him away with ease. And Nyquist went on to score with total authority.

As for Mohaymen, whether it was the wet track or something else, there has to be a legitimate excuse for his fade to fourth. Mohaymen crushed Fellowship in the Holy Bull in January and in the Fountain of Youth in February. He beat him by six and 6 1/4 lengths in those races, and it easily could have been by more. But on Saturday, Mohaymen finished four lengths behind Fellowship. Fellowship was making his 11th career start in the Florida Derby. We pretty much know exactly what he is. When good horses like Mohaymen fall victim to such a dramatic form reversal, there is usually a real reason.

Nyquist’s Florida Derby win vaults him over Mohaymen and makes the undefeated champion 2-year-old male of 2015, who is now 7 for 7, the ante post favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Beyond that, unfortunately, what Nyquist’s Florida Derby victory means in regard to his chances in the Kentucky Derby is less clear-cut than his score Saturday. Nyquist is still a son of Uncle Mo and is still out of a Forestry mare, and as phenomenal as the Uncle Mos have been, that pedigree still does not shout 10 furlongs.

In fairness to Nyquist, the Florida Derby was the first time he raced as far as nine furlongs, and he certainly had no difficulty with the distance, at least in relation to the competition offered. However, the 94 Beyer Figure he earned for his effort, seven points less than what he was given for his win in the seven-furlong San Vicente in his 3-year-old bow, but his best two-turn Beyer to date, was not strong. Depending on how one chooses to read it, that 94 Beyer could be an indication that distance for Nyquist is indeed an issue, and he won the Florida Derby the way he did mainly because Mohaymen didn’t show up, and the others were hopelessly overmatched.

Either way, this adds an additional layer of intrigue to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby, and is likely to make him an unusually polarizing Derby favorite.

 Spiral Stakes miscast as Derby points race

Oscar Nominated won Saturday’s Spiral Stakes, and earned 50 Kentucky Derby points, which easily puts him in the starting gate for the Derby. Don’t worry about the fact that Oscar Nominated is not Triple Crown-nominated, or that it will cost a lofty $200,000 to supplement him to the Derby. If Oscar Nominated is mobile at entry time of the Derby, he’ll be in there, because he’s owned by Ken Ramsey, and that’s how Ramsey rolls.

While Oscar Nominated deserves a tip of the cap for winning the Spiral at 23-1 over 11 opponents, it is fair to wonder about the wisdom of the Spiral being essentially a win and you’re in Derby race.

The Spiral was run on a Turfway Polytrack that resembles the dirt track at Churchill Downs over which the Derby will be run on only in the regard that both are brown. Otherwise, they are completely different animals.

Yes, I know that Animal Kingdom used the Spiral as a springboard to a Derby victory. Nevertheless, making the Spiral an automatic Derby berth race is not unlike making a turf race the same thing, and I would think we’d all agree that would be ridiculous.

In fact, a turf horse is exactly what Oscar Nominated is. All six of his career starts before Saturday were on turf, and he won two of them – a maiden claimer last fall at Belmont from which he was claimed by Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker from none other than Bill Mott, and the listed Black Gold Stakes, a $50,000 event, at Fair Grounds.

The basic question here concerns the fairness of a points system that would award a Kentucky Derby start to a horse who is a total unknown on the surface over which the Derby is contested because he has never even run on it, and do so at the expense of a horse who is a Grade 1 winner on dirt, or another who is multiple Grade 1 stakes-placed on dirt.



SkinnySheet More than 1 year ago
Oscar Nominated won't be keeping a worthy rival out of the gate.  When was there ever a time 20 horses had a chance to win the Derby?  Every year there is at least 5 horses who don't belong.  Oscar Nominated is certainly a better choice than Tencendur, Frammento, Mr. Z or Bolo, who graced the field last year.
Charles More than 1 year ago
With all due respect, there are NO questions left unanswered after the Florida Derby, anything behind Nyquist,  needs a suicide horse to keep Nyquist honest and that still might not work, due to the fact that there might not be any of his calber who wants to match strides with him early.  The only thing that might work,  is if Mohaymen is equipped with Blinkers and goes right after the Champ early, it could work, but will McLaughlin take that route in the Derby.  I thought he should have done it in the Fla Derby, I'll bet he feels that way now. We learn all the time, that's why it's such a great game for us handicappers
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Florida Derby came down to the fact that the only horse in the race with any shot at beating Nyquist did not fire, for whatever reason. No need to over-analyze it. No need to look for excuses.

The field was one of the absolute worst fields that has been assembled for a Grade I race in quite some time. Especially for a GI with the implications of  a Derby prep. Other than Mahoymen the competition Nyquist faced was paper thin....tissue paper thin in fact. They could have run around the track two or three more times and none of those horses would have caught him.

Assuming Mahogany just had an off-day and is back to top form for the Derby, the question then becomes who are these two going to be facing in the Kentucky Derby?

The usual questions have started to circulate about whether Nyquist can get the distance in the Kentucky Derby and of course most of those who have taken to pontificating about the subject really have no idea whether he can or not. The fact is that most American horses are challenged at distances beyond nine furlongs and like Nyquist nobody really knows whether any of the other Kentucky Derby horses are going to be competitive at ten furlongs. At least not in the heat of the battle.

The best advice anyone can give for handicapping the Kentucky Derby is to pay attention to any horse that Bob Baffert trains and to not over-emphasize the winners of the high profile prep races with the exception of one...The Florida Derby. The winner of this race has gone on to win five of the last twenty-one Kentucky Derbies. By far the most of any single Kentucky Derby prep.

The dominance of this race in determining the winner of the Kentucky Derby should not be underestimated. Since 1953 the Florida Derby has produced no less than 21 winners of the Kentucky Derby, by far the most of any Derby prep

In recent years the most over-rated preps as far as winners that have gone on the win the Kentucky Derby are the Wood Memorial and the Bluegrass Stakes. Combined, these two races have produced ONE winner in the last twenty years that has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby and that was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

There have been four Kentucky Derby winners since 1995 who prepped in the Wood or the Bluegrass but did not win, the most recent of which was Street Sense in 2007. But as far as winners of prep races that go on to win the Kentucky Derby, the NOW race is by far the Florida Derby.

California's two major prep races, the Santa Anita Derby and the San Felipe Stakes are perhaps the most interesting as far as their impact on the Kentucky Derby. Since 1952 horses who have raced in both of these races and won at least one of them, have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby eleven times. All but one, Fusaichi Pegasus, was was victorious in the SA Derby in their last start before the Kentucky Derby.

Pegasus did not race in the SA Derby but won the San Felipe prior to winning the Wood Memorial...and he was, by the way, the only Wood winner since 1981 to go on to win the Kentucky Derby.

George More than 1 year ago
It's all about speed..if a quality front runner gets the lead without any other quality speed in the race it's usually all over by he time they hit the stretch..
Joey Dekarski More than 1 year ago
So now people are question to what races they enter there horses because you think there getting in the way 
??You gotta be kidding me ,I find it funny how good a handicapper you think you are now when your completely wrong 9 outta 10 times unless you do the safe thing and take the Favorite ,DRF has gone to your head along with Beyers..I think it s hilarious that if a horse now loses a race people want to question the field size and competition , you can say it was the field ,the trip but you are wrong .He didn t like the footing and thats what it comes down to,he may have been over rated alittle also ,because every year some thinks theres a Secratarit among the 3 yr olds which is never the case. 
Ange More than 1 year ago
I seem to recall Nyquist was packed wide around both turns during the BC Juvenile but still managed to win... If a horse can't go wide and still win, they're not as good as people thought they were. The great ones overcome all obstacles and still come out on top. Nyquist is a good horse and he has a very good shot of winning the Derby.
psell2flat03 More than 1 year ago
Didn't War Emblem also win "the listed Black Gold Stakes, a $50,000 event, at Fair Grounds"?
Rich Pavone More than 1 year ago

Beyer figures attempt t o give a number that represents how fast a horse ran that are independent of distance, speed of the surface  and track configuration.  The average horse that ran a 79 at Parx ill defeat the average horse that  a 72 at Belmont.

The high Beyer figure in a race wins about 1/3 of the time similar to favorites with a similar flat bet loss.  Due to tier popularity and availability in he form , they tend to be baked into the odds. So it has become increasingly difficult to make money by looking at beyer figures alone.

You might want to follow this link for a better definition


Steve Kendall More than 1 year ago
I can't even see the Beyer Figures anymore Rich.  All I see is 2/11    3/12    4/7    5/9.  What a disgrace Huh????
Rich Pavone More than 1 year ago

Beyer figures do not predict if a horse will get the derby distance.  Some horses can run top beyer figure any distance.  Forego comes to mind.  He won grade one races at 1 /4  7 furlong and 2 miles in consecutive races all in exceptionally fast times and would have gotten similar high beyer figures.  Forego was a exceptional race horse.

Typically horses have a best distance and it's usually reflected in Beyer Figures.  Best figures being earned at the horses best dance. 

Up to a 1 18 a horse canften to win on talent even though it's not his best distance.

This Particularly true if here is only one horse that has similar quality in he feld.. 

I mentally divide Grade Winners in two groups.. horses that can win a grade 1 race no matter how many quality horses are in the field.  The other group may be able to defeat a field if there is only 1 other grade 1 horse.   

The derby, breeders cup classic and breeders up races  general are unique races in that they are the only game in town.  You can't ship out of town to find a softer grade one race with an easier field.  Typically these races have the largest % of grade 1 horses in the fields. t takes unique qualities in a horse to run  that beyer figure every part of he race is contested by true grade 1 horses.

! 1/4  also seems to be a distance that is a dividing iine, particularly for three year olds. Many 3 yo's  and older hoe that can get high Beyer figures at shorter distances have been unable  to reproduce those figures at a 1 !/4.

The Sartin Methodology that measures  how a horse distributes its energy has had some success in predicting whether a horse will be able to produce the same figure when going a 1 1/4 for the first


See the site www.chef-de-race.com forDr. Romans thoughts on breeding and distance.

He also publishes a free sped sheet with other numbers besides Beyer Figures..  Notably The %E r percent early figures that sometimes predict ability to stretch out..  Lower Numbers combined wih high beyers being better

So Partly because of distance limitations,  unusually fast past scenarios, traffic problems due to that large field size, The crazy loud chaotic scene at Churchill, and a unique racing surface (fine silt)  all make the derby an unusual handicapping problem.  One where beyer figures alone are not enough to find the winner.


Bruce Battaglia More than 1 year ago
Can somebody be so kind to explain what a bever is,how it is computed? Do you just take the highest bever on average for several races then go to the windows? Does it produce the derby winner every year,or 2 of the last 3..Surely it tabbed the best horse I've ever seen in last years sensation  Triple Crown winner and California Chrome? Thanks for your help.