Many folks love to find reasons to love a horse like Nyquist, but I keep finding reasons to not like him. It’s not that I don’t respect the horse, there are just factors I don’t care to see and I believe those begin to stack up at the most inconvenient times, such as on the First Saturday in May.
The Florida Derby was the battle of the unbeaten. Going into the race, Mohaymen and Nyquist were the focal points of the race. They were the first and second betting choices in a field in which every other horse was double-digit odds. There was a case to be made for each horse — both for and against.
Going in, Mohaymen had never faced a horse as good as Nyquist. He had beaten mostly subpar rivals. Sure, he defeated a Grade I winner in Greenpointcrusader, but what does that mean? Greenpointcrusader has not won a race since the Champagne Stakes last season. You can only defeat Fellowship so many times before one questions your true capability. However, Fellowship ran right by Mohaymen in the Florida Derby, so that poses even more questions following the race.
In the case of Nyquist, he had never faced a horse as seemingly good as Mohaymen. Nyquist also had not run nine furlongs, unlike Mohaymen. In fact, the Uncle Mo colt had not run two turns since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in October 2015.
Nyquist won the Florida Derby convincingly over a 23-1 shot named Majesto and 16-1 Fellowship. Mohaymen was way back in fourth after seemingly not enjoying his time in the race like he had in the Fountain of Youth. He did not have his usual turn of foot and seemed to look Nyquist in the eye and say, “not today,” while Nyquist took off.
So why am I knocking Nyquist off a convincing victory in a very important and successful Kentucky Derby prep race? His switching leads in the stretch and drifting badly.
I have heard those say that it was because Mario kept looking over his shoulders, wondering where his competition was… but doing this should not have caused the insane drifting displayed in the stretch. I have not seen Nyquist race so greenly throughout his entire seven-race career.
Nyquist’s drifting tells me that he was getting tired. How can a horse get that tired and be considered a future Kentucky Derby winner? Nyquist will need to continue running his hardest for another furlong and hold off nineteen other challengers in Louisville.
Ten furlongs doesn’t seem like a distance Nyquist is exactly bred for. Uncle Mo never won a race further than 8.5 furlongs (1 1/16 miles), when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2010. He had been considered a top choice in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, but was a scratch after coming down with an illness. In his only try going ten furlongs, Uncle Mo finished 10th in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic, behind top horses Drosselmeyer, Game on Dude, Ruler on Ice, and Havre de Grace.
With Nyquist shipping to Keeneland to train on the synthetic surface, it could give him a fitness advantage, which is a tactically sound idea by trainer Doug O’Neill. However, Nyquist has never raced over the Churchill Downs surface. While this applies to more than half the horses in the Kentucky Derby, it could pose a problem.
What Nyquist does have on his side is, since the implementation of the points system, the post-time favorite has won the Kentucky Derby three times — beginning with Orb in 2013 and continuing through 2014 with California Chrome and 2015 with American Pharoah.
The Run for the Roses is celebrating its 142nd year and this year may be one of the best ever, as it follows a Triple Crown year. The Kentucky Derby is scheduled to run, rain or shine, on May 7, 2016 at the famed Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.