Unbeaten, unblemished, and unrelenting.
Whatever has been thrown at Reddam Racing’s Nyquist, he has been able to handle. And May 7 at Churchill Downs he added the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) to his already impressive résumé.
The son of Uncle Mo broke like a champion from post 13 and was out front in the early strides, but was able to settle into position just off the pace set by Danzing Candy, who broke poorly from the outside post and needed to be rushed up entering the first turn.
Following a blazing Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) pace, Danzing Candy set sizzling fractions once again, ticking off splits of :22.58, :45.72, and 1:10.40 through six furlongs. Nyquist relaxed in second, then in third, as Gun Runner moved up on the inside to challenge Danzing Candy heading into the final turn and took command momentarily in the bend.
The patience of jockey Mario Gutierrez paid off at the top of the stretch, as Nyquist broke away from Gun Runner and held off a strong late drive from Exaggerator to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Gun Runner held for third, another 3 3/4 lengths back. Nyquist hit the wire in 2:01.31 on a track rated fast.
“The trip was amazing,” Gutierrez said. “We had a beautiful start. And there is pressure—the horse is undefeated and it’s the Kentucky Derby. We have 19 other horses who are trying to get to the wire first, but I have confidence in Nyquist.”
Beyond the top three, the superfecta was completed by Mohaymen, followed by Suddenbreakingnews, Destin, Brody’s Cause, Mo Tom, Lani, Mor Spirit, My Man Sam, Tom’s Ready, Creator, Outwork, Danzing Candy, Trojan Nation, Oscar Nominated, Majesto, and Whitmore. Shagaf did not finish.
The win gave trainer Doug O’Neill, Gutierrez, and Reddam Racing their second Kentucky Derby victory, following I’ll Have Another in 2012.
The bay colt has done everything asked of him in his relatively short career. Sprints? He has won three graded one-turn races—the Best Pal (gr. II) and Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) as a 2-year-old in 2015 and the San Vicente (gr. II) in his 2016 debut. How about a troubled trip? A bumped start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) had him eighth early on, but he was able to rally for victory. And what about that pesky mile and a quarter? That was taken care of Saturday.
“He’s just a special horse,” O’Neill said. “I mean, now it’s safe to say—Lava Man is unbelievable and I’ll Have Another is unbelievable—but this is the best horse I’ve been around. This horse is so strong and does everything so easy, and he’s just never tired. It doesn’t seem like we’ve ever really gotten to the bottom of him.”
“He has been able to win by five lengths, he has been able to win by a nose—that’s how I’ve had so much confidence in him,” Gutierrez added. “I know he’ll have something to respond.”
As for Exaggerator—who raced as many as 17 3/4 lengths behind in 15th under jockey Kent Desormeaux through the first six furlongs—the closing drive came up short, but the Curlin colt has been in that situation before. He has now finished behind Nyquist on four occasions.
“I thought we had time to catch Nyquist,” trainer Keith Desormeaux said. “He had clear running room the entire (quarter-mile) stretch. I thought for sure we would catch him. I didn’t see where Nyquist was during the race until after it was over and he was right there on the pace. What a horse. I can’t respect that horse enough.”
Gun Runner also looked like a potential winner under Florent Geroux, in command late in the turn with Nyquist looming.
“We tried to win. You know what I mean?” trainer Steve Asmussen said of the early move as Nyquist dropped to third, unhurried by Gutierrez. “We tried to win. A solid pace (and) Nyquist was the horse to beat. I thought Florent tried to win the race.”
As for the future, with the Preakness (gr. II) two weeks away, Keith Desormeaux expressed some eagerness to get another race against Nyquist, a notion the Kentucky Derby winner’s owner J. Paul Reddam met with a playful jab.
“I would have thought he was sick of us by now,” Reddam said. “His horse obviously ran great. If I were him, I’d want a rematch too.”
And for the immediate future of Nyquist, who pushed his earnings to $4,954,200 with the Derby score, up next is a walk of the shedrow May 8 and a trip to Baltimore May 9. And beyond that, O’Neill might be looking toward a higher power.
“Mom, can you light a candle at Sunday mass?” O’Neill said in response to a question about his Triple Crown chances. “We need some higher power there to keep this guy injury free. One race at a time.”
Article courtesy of Bloodhorse; photo by Rick Samuels