How do you follow in the hoofprints of American Pharoah?
Twenty colts will break from the gates in the 142nd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in the early hours of Sunday morning UAE time, and it is the undefeated Nyquist who is favourite to take the place of last season’s Triple Crown winner in Louisville.
Nyquist swatted aside Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s previously undefeated Mohaymen in the Florida Derby last time, and by doing so illustrated that in seven runs, he is the most versatile and brilliant runner in the field.
Nyquist has won at four different racecourses, criss-crossing America twice. He has adapted to rain-affected surfaces and fast ones, has won from wide draws and inner post positions and has tasted success from the lead, from behind or just stalking his prey.
Only one Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner has gone on to land the Kentucky Derby the following season since the self-styled World Championships were inaugurated in 1984, partly due to America’s three year old programme decimating potential champions.
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American Pharoah put to an end 37 years of waiting for a horse that could add the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to the Kentucky Derby, and Doug O’Neill’s Nyquist at least fits the bill as a horse who can go some way to replacing last season’s equine comet.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for all of us in the horse racing world to take advantage of what American Pharaoh and his connections did,” O’Neill said.
“I mean he took horse racing from the back page of the sports section, sometimes not even covered in the sports section, to the front page. I look forward to having Nyquist on the front of the sports section. I look forward to it being a real positive, good story for a great business that there’s a lot of great people in. I’m excited about the possibilities of us following up the great year American Pharaoh had.”
Nyquist will break from gate 13 under Mario Gutierrez, who teamed up with O’Neill and owner Paul Reddam in 2012 to land the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another.
I’ll Have Another was retired a day before the Belmont Stakes due to a swollen tendon, but he was bred to get the 2,400 metres of the Belmont, whereas Nyquist is barely bred to get Sunday’s distance of 2,000 metres. O’Neill does see some similarities between the two colts.
“I think Nyquist has displayed a lot more level-headedness than I’ll Have Another,” he said. “I’ll Have Another was a little bit of ‘let’s go and let’s do it now,’ whereas Nyquist is more, he’ll wait for Mario’s cue to go. That’s an added bonus really.
“If they were in theatre they’d both be the lead actor. They’ve got that kind of quality.”
All racehorses have an Achilles heel, and Nyquist’s might be that he simply does not have the engine to stay 2,000 metres against 19 others.
Nyquist is by Uncle Mo, Todd Pletcher’s brilliant 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. It is clearly early days, but Uncle Mo’s offspring seem much more comfortable over shorter distances.
Smarty Jones in 2004 became the fourth winner from gate 13 and Nyquist’s versatility means that Gutierrez can sit behind likely pacesetters Outwork and Danzig Candy, who are drawn outside him respectively in gates 15 and 20.
It will give the Mexican rider as many options as he could want, which when you are riding the most likely winner of America’s most famous race is all the 31 year old can really ask for.
Gutierrez has ridden Nyquist in all seven starts, and whereas I’ll Have Another caused an upset on the first Saturday in May four years ago, the jockey is confident his mount can confirm favouritism.
"I could tell the first day I worked Nyquist that he was special," he told the Toronto Sun this week. "It's almost like I had been driving cheap cars and, all of a sudden, I'm in a Lamborghini."
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