Tag Archives: Kentucky Derby

Triple Crown Contender Profile – Nyquist

Despite an unblemished record at two and an Eclipse Award trophy on his mantle, Nyquist has had to earn the respect of many racing fans the hard way. His performances in the February 15 San Vicente Stakes (G2) and the April 2 Florida Derby (G2) now send him to the Spring Classics as the most accomplished unbeaten colt since Seattle Slew in 1977. How's that for respect?

In both his 2016 starts Nyquist seemingly had formidable foes to deal with. The speedy multiple graded winner Exaggerator awaited in the San Vicente and while the previously unbeaten multiple graded stakes winner Mohaymen had the home track advantage in the Florida Derby. Nyquist dispatched both colts with ease.

Exaggerator's trainer Keith Desormeaux, for one, was duly impressed.

"Goodness gracious," Desormeaux, said after the race. "Anybody not a believer in Nyquist now—that was an awesome race. To set those kinds of fractions and still finish in close to track record time for a 3-year-old in February? Wow. Hat's off to Nyquist."

Perhaps a narrow, wire-to-wire debut win in a 5F Maiden Special in early June is one of the reasons Nyquist has had an uphill battle to prove his quality and two-turn acumen. Many horses that race that early and that well at that distance don't train on to be serious Classics contenders. But he was certainly impressive in sweeping the subsequent 6.5F Best Pal Stakes (G2) and the 7F Del Mar Futurity (G1) last summer by a combined nine lengths.

Despite a victory in his two-turn debut, the FrontRunner Stakes (G1), the effort was largely panned by racing observers, this one included, as too slow on the teletimer and too pedestrian to the naked eye.

Post 13. Two bumps shortly after the break. At least five-wide on both turns. Those are all things Nyquist overcame in his Breeders' Cup Juvenile victory in which his believers were rewarded with a nearly 5-1 payoff on the undefeated colt. His fellow Californian Swipe ran a close second, further confirming the 2015 West Coast juvenile division form.

No matter how impressive the body of work a horse accumulates one season, there is always some question whether we see a better or worse version of the animal the following year. Nyquist has proved any doubts to be folly with his two impressive 2016 victories. With his Florida Derby score, Nyquist has now won Grade 1 races from 7 furlongs to a mile and one eighth and have been victorious over four different racetracks all over the country.

Nyquist is by the young sire sensation Uncle Mo, also an unbeaten Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Eclipse Award champion. We never got to see Uncle Mo's full potential as a runner as illness derailed his Classics aspirations and he was kept to one-turn events when he did make it back to the races in late summer of his sophomore season. Uncle Mo does descend from more of a middle distance sire-line. His sire, Indian Charlie won the Santa Anita Derby and placed third to Real Quiet and Victory Gallop in the 1998 Derby. Nyquist's grandsire, In Excess, won races like the Met Mile as well as the Suburban Handicap when that was race still a mile and a quarter. Uncle Mo is out of a mare by the Roberto grandson Arch, so there is some stamina influence there.

On the other side of the pedigree, Nyquist's dam, Seeking Gabrielle, is by Forestry out of a daughter of Seeking the Gold, two sires who on occasion sired Classic types but are more widely regarded as speed influences.

Nyquist was purchased by Reddam Racing last March at the Fasig-Tipton Two-Year-Old in Training sale for $400,000. That sale has produced other current Classics contenders like Los Alamitos Futurity/Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Mor Spirit, impressive Maiden & Allowance winner Zulu and Mucho Macho Man Stakes winner Awesome Speed.

Largely because of a $1 million bonus offered to a graduate of that sale who also wins this year's Florida Derby, Nyquist is targeted Gulfstream Park's signature race. Time will tell if he'll join Monarchos (2001), Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008) and Orb (2013) as Florida Derby/Kentucky Derby winners this century.

Triple Crown Contender Profile – Mohaymen

The superlatives began flying around Gulfstream Park (and the internet) the second Mohaymen crossed the finish line in the January 30 Holy Bull Stakes (G2). And with good reason. The Kiaran McLaughlin pupil didn't have an easy go of it yet still drew off under a hand ride to score by 3 1/2 lengths.

"He took my breath away," McLaughlin said of his perfect 4-for4 colt after the race.

“Just chills up and down the back. He’s just really good," added Shadwell Farm Racing Manager Rick Nichols.

Those impressions were confirmed four weeks later with his powerful score over Zulu in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

Watch the Fountain of Youth Stakes

But his flop in the April 2 Florida Derby left his connections and many racing pundits scratching their heads. Handicappers will have to decide if his fourth-place run to Nyquist, while wide and over a drying-out track he many not have handled, can be forgiven. His previous form was certainly outstanding.

Moyahmen showed good adaptability in his three juvenile victories in 2015, including a pair of graded triumphs in the Nashua Stakes (G3) and Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct. In the Remsen, in particular, he was faced with a narrow opening between two rivals at the top of the stretch, showing good courage and acceleration to burst through to daylight.

The roan colt found himself in a similar situation in the Holy Bull Stakes, this time on the backstretch, where he was purposely bottled up by a trio of rivals including John Velasquez on second choice Greenpointcrusader. But Mohaymen once again used a tactical burst to extricate himself from a potential trap. As soon as he was in the clear he relaxed back for rider Junior Alvarado for another furlong before bounding away in-hand from Greenpointcrusader down the stretch.

"I just waited and waited to see what Johnny (Velazquez aboard Greenpointcrusader) was going to do," Alvarado recounted in a post-race interview. "He left me a little room, but sometimes that can be a little trap. I just waited and waited and then it got to a point where he didn't come inside and the horse in front was backing up, so I said, 'I've got the best horse. It's time to be making my own move. After that it was pretty much over."

In the past 24 years only Sea Hero (1993), Thunder Gulch (1996), Giacomo (2005) and Mine That Bird (2009) finished off-the-board in their final Derby preps. Thunder Gulch may prove to the most comparable to Mohaymen. The D. Wayne Lukas-trainee made a successful run through the Gulfstream Park three-year-old series before a faltering fourth over a tricky Keeneland surface in the Bluegrass Stakes.

On the plus side for Mohaymen, he's a $2.2 million yearling so you can bet he has exceptional looks and conformation. His pedigree is flawless too for a Classics contender, being a son of North America's top sire Tapit, a grandson of 1992 Belmont Stakes/Breeders' Cup Classic champion A. P. Indy. The Tapits can excel on any surface and at any distance. His 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, who also captured the Met Mile, is a good example of that versatility.

Mohaymen is certainly in good hands with Lexington, Kentucky native Kiarin McLaughlin, who has been battling MS for the past couple decades. He is right up there on the list of the best trainers who have yet to win a Derby. He came close in 2005 with Closing Argument, a desperate neck shy of Giacomo, and had a good one last year in 4th-place finisher Frosted. For that reason alone, if Mohaymen should wear the roses on May 7, there won't be many racing industry folks upset with the result.