He’s the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion; undefeated in five lifetime starts; and the current single-entrant favorite in the Kentucky Derby Future Pool #2.
Yet, I don’t think Nyquist stands a snow cone’s chance in a fat man’s freezer of winning the Kentucky Derby.
To begin with, he is doing something on Monday that no Derby winner since Monarchos has done — he’s making his three-year-old bow in a sprint (a race less than a mile in distance).
Now, you might wonder why this is a big deal. After all, for many years, making one’s sophomore debut in a sprint was the norm. During the 1980s, five Derby winners did it; in the 1970s, only Cannonade and Dust Commander did not.
But times are different. Today, every start brings a horse — especially a star horse — one step closer to retirement. Cannonade was racing for the 22nd time when he won the 1974 Kentucky Derby. Dust Commander was making his 23rd start when he captured the Run for the Roses in 1970.
Last year’s Derby champ, American Pharoah, retired with just 11 career starts (the lowest ever for a Triple Crown winner).
Hence, the emphasis is on making every race count, which makes Nyquist’s return in the seven-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita today kind of odd… unless one believes, as I do, that Nyquist has distance limitations.
Look, this is a son of Uncle Mo whose dam sire is Forestry. Call me a cynic, but I don’t see classic breeding there. Now, I admit: Nyquist’s two route tries have been pretty good — especially the pace figures.
In the Grade I Front Runner on Sept. 26, the Doug O’Neill trainee earned a -7 late speed ration (LSR) after recording a -10 early speed ration (ESR) — good for a 75 Pace Profile, which is outstanding. Then, in the BC Juvenile five weeks later, Nyquist tallied a -5 LSR and showed he could handle adversity after getting bumped and jostled early.
I fully expect Nyquist to give a good account of himself Monday, but beware the Ides of March and beyond. When the going gets tougher, I suspect Nyquist won’t get going.