Why Nyquist Won’t Win the Kentucky Derby

Nyquist winning the 2015 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (photo from the Racing Post)

Nyquist winning the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (photo from the Racing Post)

As I’ve grown older and become more annoyed by loud music and kids loitering at the local convenience store, I’ve noticed that my sense of history has condensed.

These days, I no longer think that 50 years is “a long time” like I did when I was young, played loud music and loitered at the local convenience store (I was waiting for the Daily Racing Form to arrive — that’s different).

Yet, it hasn’t escaped my attention that many of my peers don’t share my view of antiquity. To them, what happened 50 years ago… 25 years ago… even five years ago, isn’t germane to their lives today. I have witnessed this mindset in politics and economics, as well as at the racetrack.

Undefeated Derby StartersHence, it’s really not that surprising to me that many believe Nyquist is the second-coming of Secretariat. Since Churchill Downs, Inc. (Nasdaq: CHDN) instituted the Road to the Kentucky Derby point system in 2013, the post-time Derby favorite has won every time.

Nyquist will likely be favored on the first Saturday in May.

What’s more, since 2013, every Derby champion has won its last three starts.

Nyquist has won his last three starts. (In fact, he’s won his last seven starts and will arrive in Louisville as the only undefeated horse in the field.)

But there are some troubling aspects to Nyquist’s past performances that only students of history can appreciate.

To begin with, the son of Uncle Mo is attempting to become the first horse since Bold Forbes to win the Run for the Roses with a sprint (a race less than a mile in distance) among his last two preps. Bold Forbes won the Derby 41 years ago, when the Bay City Rollers were the hot, new “boy band” and two dreamers named Wozniak and Jobs formed Apple Computer Company (Nasdaq: AAPL).

Second, Nyquist won his last start, the Florida Derby, in wire-to-wire fashion. This, in and of itself, is an issue, as only two of 64 Derby starters that led at the first call of their final prep have worn the roses since 1992. However, it is made even worse by the fact that Nyquist failed to widen his lead on the turn in that race. Again, we have to go back in history — this time, to Spend a Buck in 1985 — to find a Derby champ that led at the first call and held sway or lost ground from that point to the second call in their final prep (and Spend a Buck faced 12 rivals, not the 18-19 that Nyquist is likely to face on May 7).

Third (and this may be the most damning of all), Nyquist’s two best Brisnet speed ratings were recorded in sprint races, which, given his questionable pedigree, suggests that 1 ¼ miles (the distance of the Kentucky Derby) might be just outside his wheelhouse.

The fact that he drifted out, which is often a sign of fatigue, in the final eighth of a mile in the Florida Derby tends to bolster this point.

In the past 23 years, only one horse (of 22) that recorded its best Brisnet speed figure in a sprint even hit the board in Louisville.

Of course, I realize none of this means that Nyquist can’t win the 2016 Kentucky Derby. Trainer Doug O’Neill already proved with I’ll Have Another in 2012 that he can keep a fragile horse together long enough to claim America’s top thoroughbred prize. And Nyquist is unquestionably talented.

But, as I always say: bettors need to be compensated for the uncertainties and vagaries in a horse’s past performances.

I’m not sure Nyquist will offer that compensation.

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