Derby Showdown: Nyquist vs. Mohaymen

By Laurie Ross

Nyquist and Mohaymen

Nyquist (left) and Mohaymen (right) have been getting a lot of attention as they prepare for a potential showdown in the Kentucky Derby.

In ten weeks, the clang of the starting gate bell and roar of the crowd will announce the start of America’s most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby.  The 1 ¼-mile event is limited to the top twenty three-year-olds that have earned the most points competing in 32 qualifying Kentucky Derby prep races.  The leader board will be in flux over the coming months as horses earn — or fail to earn — their right to compete for $2 million dollars.

Although the leading point-earners may change weekly, two colts remain in the forefront of every racing fan’s mind:

  • California-based Nyquist, last year’s Champion Two Year Old is undefeated in six lifetime attempts, including his first start of 2016, the seven furlong San Vicente Stakes.
  • Mohayman is the big horse on the East Coast. He’s undefeated and has been untested in his four career starts. Based in Florida, the pretty gray colt was never challenged while capturing the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes.  Mohayman will face a tough test while navigating 1 1/8 miles in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.  He may face the undefeated Zulu and Awesome Speed, who has won his last three races.

Which Colt is Better Suited for the Kentucky Derby Distance?

Studying a horse’s pedigree is just one of the facets in determining distance capabilities. Agility, competitiveness, running style and training regimen all play a part in the determination.

Nyquist’s pedigree for negotiating 1 ¼ miles is questionable.

His sire Uncle Mo was American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt in 2010. Like his son, the dark bay was undefeated at two and won his first start as a three-year-old. After a shocking third-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial, it was discovered that Uncle Mo was ill and he was removed from 2011 Kentucky Derby contention.

Uncle Mo was successfully campaigned in shorter races for the rest of the season. His one attempt to negotiate the 1 ¼ mile Breeders’ Cup Classic in his career finale resulted in his finishing tenth.  The classy Uncle Mo is the leading first-crop sire.  Many of his offspring have displayed their sire’s brilliant speed and determination to win. We don’t know how far Uncle Mo’s offspring will want to run, but given his win-early nature and success at shorter distances, his progeny will likely be best up to 1 1/16 miles. Some with stamina in their female family may handle 1 1/8 miles.

Nyquist’s female family is filled with stakes winning sprinters and his damsire Forestry contributes miler speed to his progeny and that of his daughters.  A few of his daughters’ babies have won at 1 1/8 miles or farther when the sire of those offspring contributed stamina.

Nyquist has proven his capabilities as an athletic, fierce competitor. His trainer Doug O’Neil won the 2012 Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another.  All of these assets will aide Nyquist in his Kentucky Derby quest. Whether he can carry his speed 1 1/8 miles in top company remains to be seen.

Mohayman’s pedigree for navigating 1 ¼ miles is borderline, but stronger than that of Nyquist’s. Mohayman’s sire, Tapit, is a leading world-class stallion. The bulk of his progeny are best up to 1 1/8 miles. However, about 20 have been successful at classic distances, between 1 ¼ to 1 ½ miles.

Mohayman’s dam Justwhistledixie won a stakes race at 1 1/8 miles and others in this female family are proven at 1 1/8 miles.  Dixie Union, Mohayman’s damsire, was victorious up to 1 1/8 miles. His offspring showed the same capabilities, but only one, Union Rags, was able to go farther. Union Rags won the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes.

The pretty gray Mohayman has a versatile running style. He can lead the pack or sit farther back. His pedigree is solid to 1 1/8 miles, and that is where his conditioning and competitive nature will kick in. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has never won the Kentucky Derby, but he captured the 2006 Belmont Stakes.  Last year, McLaughlin’s main Triple Crown contender Frosted, who is also a son of Tapit, was fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Belmont Stakes.

March Showdown?

Nyquist may be lured east by the prospect of earning a $1 million dollar bonus if he can win the Florida Derby.  Nyquist and other prospects that were sold through the Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale of selected 2-year-olds in training at Gulfstream last March are eligible for the prize.  This would sweeten the Florida Derby pot to $2 million dollars for Nyquist’s connections.  Whether the two undefeated giants will face each other in Florida remains to be seen.  Mohayman will contest the Fountain of Youth this Saturday.  Should all go as planned, McLaughlin must make the tough decision to face Nyquist in the Florida Derby or duck the Juvenile Champ.  The other option for Mohayman would involve shipping to New York for the Wood Memorial.  No matter the route to the Kentucky Derby, both colts are worthwhile adversaries.


Laurie RossLaurie Ross is a handicapper, pedigree consultant and published author. She is also a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. Laurie maintains her pedigree website Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds and pedigree handicapping blog, IMTBreds, where she focuses on two-year-olds and maidens through the Triple Crown Trail. 

Since 2008, Laurie has been a featured writer and pedigree analyst with Horse Racing Nation. Laurie’s yearly publications contain tremendous insight and value for bettors and horsemen. The Freshmen Sire Guide has received accolades from leading trainers and handicappers. Her Triple Crown e-books continue to be a best-selling feature. Laurie’s work has been featured on numerous websites and she is a recurring guest on sports radio programs.

Laurie has been around horses for most of her life, working in racing stables as a hot walker and exercise rider in her teenage years, and later as a volunteer with rescued and retired racehorses. She attends thoroughbred auctions year round on behalf of clients and manages the breeding operations for a racing/breeding syndicate.

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