Nyquist wears Kentucky Derby roses
Nyquist. Photo Coady Photography/Chuchill Downs.
by Frank Vespe
At every turn, Nyquist has answered the questions and silenced the critics. Now he’s a Kentucky Derby champion.
The bay Uncle Mo colt stalked a sharp early pace, eased back nearing the far turn, powered to the lead entering the lane and held the late-running Exaggerator at bay to earn a 1 1/4 length victory in 2:01.31 for the mile-and-a-quarter in the $2 million, Grade 1 event. Exaggerator was second, more than three lengths clear of Gun Runner, who outbobbed Mohaymen and Suddenbreakingnews for the show spot.
A pair of Pennsylvania-breds, Mor Spirit and Tom’s Ready, did not have much impact on the outcome. Mor Spirit, a Grade 1 winner who had never previously finished worse than second, finished 10th here. And Tom’s Ready, with had won just once in nine career starts but was a solid runner-up in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, finished 12th.
Nyquist, the post-time favorite, paid a short $6.60 to win and topped a modest $30.60 exacta. He remains perfect, with eight wins in eight starts, and he has earned more than $4.9 million.
“It’s unreal,” said Mario Gutierrez, Nyquist’s rider. “No words can describe it.”
Gutierrez, the only rider to have ridden Nyquist in a race, and trainer Doug O’Neill previously teamed up with I’ll Have Another, who won the 2012 Derby and the Preakness Stakes but was scratched just prior to the Belmont Stakes and did not race again.
This time, Gutierrez gave the push-button Nyquist an astute ride, revving him up out of the gate just enough to make speedster Danzing Candy, breaking from the far outside of the 20-horse field, hustle to clear by the first turn. With that rival intent for the front, Gutierrez was content to take Nyquist back and off the rail and sit four lengths off the leader through a half-mile in 45.72 seconds.
Gun Runner, the Louisiana Derby winner, cruised up inside of Nyquist along the backstretch to set up a three-horse lead group. Gun Runner made the first move rounding the turn, bidding up to and then passing the tiring Danzing Candy, who rider Mike Smith suggested may have flipped his palate during the race, causing breathing problems.
“When I hit the top of the stretch, the horse was just coasting along,” said Florent Geroux, aboard Gun Runner. “He broke very nice, clear. I thought I had it for a minute.”
Just a minute, however.
For nearly as soon as Gun Runner made the lead, Gutierrez gave Nyquist his cue, and Nyquist almost immediately seized command and opened a lead that grew to nearly four lengths.
At that point, Exaggerator and jockey Kent Desormeaux had overcome some early traffic trouble and were making a spirited run in the center of the track.
“My horse slammed on the brakes at the 3 ½ [furlong pole], ducked back to the inside and then took off,” Desormeaux explained.
Exaggerator’s late rally, however, could get him no closer than 1 1/4 lengths behind the winner by the time the wire arrived. It was the fourth time in as many meetings that Nyquist bested Exaggerator, and it made another point clear: the California horses once again seem to have the edge on their East Coast rivals.
For Nyquist, the next stop will, barring the unforeseen, be a visit to Pimlico Race Course for a shot at annexing the second leg of the Triple Crown, the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes, on May 21. With a win there, he would head to the Belmont Stakes with a chance to become the second consecutive Triple Crown champion and 13th overall.