By Amy Nesse
a now perfect 7 for 7, has proven himself worthy of being ranked the current Kentucky Derby
favorite. Speed, endurance, heart, and class, he seemingly has it all. Despite my personal doubts, he has proven me wrong. This California star has made an impression, but can this Uncle Mo colt handle the 10 furlongs that await him? Can he face the challengers that are yet to face him? Time will tell, but before he makes his Run for the Roses let’s learn a bit about this colt.
is a Kentucky bred bay colt sired by the hot young sire, Uncle Mo, out of a Forestry mare Gabrielle. He was named after the Swedish hockey player Gustav Nyquist, who plays for the Detroit Red Wings. He was purchased for $400,000 by trainer Doug O’ Neill’s brother Dennis, at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale for 2-year-olds in training. He made his first start 3 months later
in a MSW at Santa Anita and impressed his whole team with a game win. After leading from the start while facing pressure, Nyquist
fought gamely in the stretch and won, running 5 furlongs in 0:56.43. From there, he went directly into Stakes company in the 6 ½ furlong Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, where he again scored a game victory. He followed that win with another impressive score, this time in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. Nyquist
went 2 turns for the first time in the 1 1/16 mile Grade 1 Front Runner Stakes at Santa Anita and won handily. Nyquist
was at that point one of the hottest 2 year olds in the country.
With his perfect record going into the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he went off as the favorite and did not disappoint. Bumped twice early near the start, Nyquist
was sixth as the early pace was set by Riker and Unbridled Outlaw through fractions of :23.49 and :47.62. Nyquist
and jockey Mario Gutierrez made their move rounding the turn, kicked clear going into the stretch, and held off the closing challenge of Swipe to score a half-length victory in 1:43.79 for the 1 1/16 miles. The victory was his 5th consecutive win and put him on top of the Kentucky Derby leader board with 30 points. Trainer Doug O’Neill stated after the race, “The race didn’t unfold like I expected,we thought, being on the outside there, with kind of a short run to the first turn, we’d be up on the lead, saving ground. I have to watch the replay, but from my recollection we were five or six wide. But Mario (Gutierrez) did his Mario thing where he just never panicked. From day one, before this horse ever debuted, he had the mind and the stride of a two-turn horse. He was pressured early, and I think with that race under his belt, he turned it around today.”
With his undefeated 2 year old season and Breeders’ Cup victory, it came as no surprise when he won the 2015 Eclipse Award for Champion 2 year old Male. It was now on to his highly anticipated 3 year old season.
did not make his debut as a 3 year old until February
in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. The Uncle Mo colt showed no signs of wear and tear as he held off Exaggerator in the stretch to win by 1 1/2 lengths, running the 7 furlong distance in 1:20.71. Nyquist
got out of the gate well from the rail, and raced on the front with Sheikh of Sheikhs through a half-mile in :44.49. Nyquist
ran the 3rd fastest San Vicente in the race’s history. “There were some anxious moments when I saw the fractions, and you’re better off on the outside tracking than on the inside being tracked,”
O’Neill said. “The post wasn’t an advantage at all and I think we got pushed by (Sheikh of Sheikhs) a little bit early, but Mario is smart. He knew what he had.”
. Other horseman were also impressed with Nyquist’s performance, “Goodness gracious”
runner up Exaggerator’s trainer, Keith Desormeaux, said.
While many were now convinced Nyquist
was a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender, others, myself included, were a bit skeptical. Some doubted that he could handle the challenge that awaited him in the 1 million dollar Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in April. There he would have to face undefeated East Coaster Mohaymen, who would have the home track advantage, and some experience at the 1 ⅛ Mile distance. The Florida Derby became a huge spectacle as almost a match race was anticipated between the 2 undefeated colts. There were fairly equal numbers of handicappers, players, and fans pulling for both colts, but on race day Mohaymen was the favorite.
Walking in the post parade, both colts looked superb, with Nyquist looking smooth and alert, and Mohaymen looking so calm that some would even say he looked almost sleepy. Despite earlier rain, the track was rated good, but it was visibly wet and had plenty of water on it. Although all were hoping for an epic stretch duel between these two, it never materialized. Mohaymen the 4-5 favorite was 4 wide throughout the race, with Nyquist setting the pace. Although Mohaymen rallied to challenge at the turn, he quickly faded to a distant fourth as Nyquist cruised to a beautiful victory. Nyquist made it a it a perfect 7 for 7, winning the 1 million dollar Florida Derby by 3 ¼ lengths over 21-1 Majesto. He also earned a 1 million dollar bonus from Fasig Tipton, for taking The Florida Derby as a Fasig Tipton Florida sales graduate. He finished the 1 1/8 miles in a final 1:49.11.
“He’s got the mindset of a champion” O’Neill said. “Now it’s up to the whole crew and the racing gods to keep him injury free.I feel today was a step forward for the challenge of getting a mile and a quarter against a huge field”. And a champion he undoubtedly is. With his Florida Derby victory, Nyquist has put himself at the top of The Kentucky Derby points leader board, and will most likely remain the favorite until Derby Day. He will ship to Keeneland on April 3rd to begin preparations for the May 7th Kentucky Derby.
I will admit I have refrained from writing a Nyquist profile simply because I had my doubts about him. Yes the colt was undefeated in 6 starts, but none of them particularly caught my attention, and I never really thought he could handle distance…until The Florida Derby. As a loyal Mohaymen fan, I was bitterly disappointed by the 4th place finish ( which I am blaming on the track and the 4 wide trip) but was impressed with Nyquist’s dazzling performance. He looked all class in The Florida Derby, handling the distance and pace beautifully, but still questions loom whether he can handle the Derby’s 10 furlong distance.
I still have doubts, yet he continues to prove me wrong and will most likely continue to do so.What I do love about this colt is his beautiful, long, low, and smooth stride that just glides over the track. While many are already declaring him the winner of the 2016 Kentucky Derby, history is against him. Street Sense, the 2007 Kentucky Derby winner, is the only other Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner (which has been run since 1984) to take the first jewel of The Triple Crown. Can he do it? Time will tell, but if one thing is certain, this colt has stamped himself as The Derby favorite, and will be immensely popular among fans and media leading up to the first Saturday in May. So the question looms…are you now on the Nyquist train?