Whoever said that you cannot knock an unbeaten horse should really have their head examined.
I know Nyquist is unbeaten. I know he is a champion. I know that he must be the second coming of Man O’War, but guess what? Even Man O’War got beat. Horses are flesh, blood and bone, not machine… which is why, sooner or later, they almost always lose.
In the Florida Derby, Nyquist will face his toughest test, not based on the overall depth of the field, but due to the circumstances he will face.
Some of the circumstances are already well documented, such as his lack of preparation. The Florida Derby will represent Nyquist’s second race of 2016 and his first around two turns, not to mention his first time traveling the distance of 1 1/8 miles. He will also be shipping cross-country to run at Gulfstream Park, a track that he has yet to run a race over.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Nyquist will also be facing his toughest competitor yet in Mohaymen, who is also undefeated. Mohaymen won’t be shipping in and he has already run two races going two turns at Gulfstream Park.
Knowing all of these facts made me extremely leery of Nyquist’s Derby plan ever since trainer Doug O’Neil unveiled it early on in the season. Now, after the field has been drawn, my belief that Nyquist will struggle in the Florida Derby has only been cemented.
Nyquist drew post position four in a 10-horse field that is brimming with speed. Being that most of it is cheap speed, I normally wouldn’t worry; however, of the other nine horses, five have shown the need to be near or on the front end to run their best race. All five of those horses have drawn outside of Nyquist.
This set-up leaves Nyquist with two options:
1) He guns from the gate to establish a clear lead and tries to run his opponents off their feet. Off of just one seven-furlong prep, stretching to 1 1/8 miles, after a cross-country trip, I just don’t think he’ll be fit enough to sustain that type of style.
2) He takes back off the pace, conserving his energy, then makes his run for the lead on the final turn. The problem with this approach is that it will be extremely easy for Nyquist to encounter traffic trouble. Being that he drew inside of the others, it will be incredibly easy for them to box him in, if he chooses to take back. It would also pose the hazard of a tiring leader stopping in front of him.
Another thing to consider with this approach is that he will be closer to Mohaymen and that one’s scintillating turn of foot. That is not good at all when Mohaymen is known for mowing down his competition by making decisive moves on the far turn — moves that are sustained into the stretch.
For example, Mohaymen ran the final 5/16 of a mile of the Holy Bull Stakes in 29.55 seconds, getting his final sixteenth in 6.03 seconds. That means he clocked his final internal quarter in 23.52 seconds. For a two-turn race, that is simply flying.
Nyquist, by comparison, ran the final 5/16 of a mile in the Breeders Cup Juvenile in 31.01 seconds. That isn’t, by any means, a bad time — it is actually quite respectable, but it isn’t in the same league as a horse that can travel the same distance 1.46 seconds (approximately seven lengths) faster.
So, with these being the only two options for Nyquist in this Saturday’s Florida Derby, I just can’t envision a win being in the cards for him. A very good run, a game second or third place, perhaps… but definitely not a win.
Unfortunately for Nyquist, the circumstances just aren’t in his favor.