NYQUIST LOOKS FOR ANOTHER ANSWER IN KENTUCKY DERBY
The days leading up the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby will certainly be full of questions. One of the more decorated runners will be looking to do just what he has done throughout his career, provide the answer.
Nyquist is a brilliant runner that will likely entering the starting gates as the post time favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Unbeaten in seven lifetime starts, this Doug O’Neill trained colt has done nothing but win. Much to his credit, this son of Uncle Mo has exuded his class in both street fights and romps on his way to the winner’s circle. Having battled the best in a talent rich California crop, Nyquist has also traveled to take on what has been perceived as the best of the beasts east of the Mississippi.
“He has done everything we have asked of him,” says O’Neill. “He is very professional in his approach and has just been phenomenal. He has faced some real challenges in his career and to this point he has always risen to the occasion.”
Perhaps the finest moment of his young career came at the end of his two-year old season. Traveling outside the state of California to race for the first time, Nyquist headed to Keeneland for a showdown with the best two-year olds in the Breeders’ Cup. Breaking a bit awkwardly and floated wide into the first turn, things did not look promising for O’Neill’s prized pupil. Facing fourteen other talents, Nyquist ran just off the pace and waited to pounce. Again forced a bit wide coming out of the far turn, this grandson of Indian Charlie bolted to the front under the urging of jockey Mario Guiterez. Assuming command at the eighth pole, Nyquist held off a late charge from Swipe inside the race’s final sixteenth of a mile. The win secured the Eclipse Award for top male two-year old, but more importantly, it provided proof as to the quality of this Reddam Racing runner.
“I think the Breeders’ Cup was his most impressive win,” says O’Neill. “To be able to overcome the obstacles he faces says a lot about him. Considering the bad break and all the other stuff that went against him, he just really accomplished a lot. Nyquist showed the versatility of a real champion.”
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win was indeed impressive but is considered good news-bad news by some. Since its inception in 1984, only once has the Juvenile winner (Street Sense 2007 Ky. Derby) went to the Kentucky Derby the following year and won. This so-called “Juvenile Jinx” naturally is another question the public will ask, but horseman quickly dismiss it as just the nature of the game.
“It really is just about the numbers,” says Carl Nafzger who trained Street Sense. “There are about 23,000 horses foaled every year and of those only 1 is going to win the Breeders’ Cup two years later. Of that same group, three years after those 23,000 are born, only 1 is going to win the Kentucky Derby. There are so many things that go into winning a race like that and when you consider the competition it really is tough to win either one let alone both.”
Health and development are two of the biggest things that go into the Juvenile-Derby double. Nafzger quickly points to Triple Crown champion American Pharoah as a classic example as he missed the Breeders’ Cup at the end of his two-year old season with a hoof injury. O’Neill completely concurs with the thoughts of two-time Derby winner Nafzger in his theory.
“The biggest challenge is developing your horse and remaining injury free,” says O’Neill. “They are still developing physically and mentally and so many things can happen. We have been very fortunate so far and we just hope to keep Nyquist going in the right direction.”
The three-year old season has started off quite well with two more huge wins and the blessing of sound health. After a nice win at Santa Anita in February (San Vicente Feb 15), Team Nyquist traded coasts and traveled to south Florida for a showdown with also unbeaten Mohaymen. The Florida Derby was supposed to expose the California-based Kentucky-bred as distance impaired. The knock on Nyquist has been bloodlines will limit how far he can run. When he faces a horse like Mohaymen, surely he will wilt in the stretch under the pressure. On April 2, the doubters found those thoughts to be…WRONG!
Breaking alertly from post 4, Nyquist bolted to the front and lead a contested pace while putting up solid early fractions (23.6 opening quarter, 47.09 half mile). Turning for home, Mohaymen tried to challenge but Nyquist said nay. Displaying the acceleration in the stretch that made him an Eclipse award winner at two, O’Neill’s champion made it look all too easy as he pulled away to a three length win. Covering the mile and an eighth distance 1:49.11, Nyquist looked as if he had plenty left in the tank as he triumphantly crossed the finish line with eyes on the mile and a quarter distance of the Kentucky Derby.
“I think the Florida Derby showed us he can get the distance,” says O’Neill. “We shipped in and he handled that hurdle and then continued with another great run. Our entire team did a great job in Florida, now we just need another big effort in Kentucky.”
O”Neill has drank from the Kentucky Derby cup once before in 2012. In 2016 he will hope to call on his former Derby champion’s name when it comes to the current blanket of roses awarded to the winner…I’ll Have Another.