Kentucky Derby Day 2016 will dawn with fans hoping for another worthy contender to have a go at the first leg of the Triple Crown. Twenty horses are lined up to compete in the annual run at Churchill Downs. This year’s hopeful is Nyquist, a leggy bay 3-year-old colt who is as of yet undefeated.
The Derby will mark its 142nd running following last year’s smashing win by American Pharoah, who crossed the finish line with a time of 2:03.02, the second-fastest ever for a Triple Crown winner.
American Pharoah then went on to dominate the Preakness and Belmont, thus being the first winner of horse racing’s Triple Crown since 1978.
No pressure, Nyquist.
But horse racing enthusiasts think Nyquist stands a good chance at victory in Kentucky this Saturday.
The horse’s resume is impressive enough. He is winner of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as well as the 2015 Eclipse Award for Champion Two-Year Old. He brings a seven-win record to the Kentucky Derby.
Bob Baffert, trainer of American Pharoah and three other Derby winners, and whose trademark shock of white hair and dark glasses has become a visual staple in horse racing, praised the colt on ABC News.
“He hasn’t done anything wrong at all. You have Nyquist and you have a lot of horses underneath.”
Despite this, Baffert has his hat in the Derby ring, as well. His 2016 contender is Mor Spirit, whose rider is horse racing’s Hall of Fame winner Gary Stevens.
Nyquist’s name may be inspired by the roots of his trainer, Doug O’Neill, who is originally from Dearborn, Michigan. The colt is named for the Swedish ice hockey player Gustav Nyquist, who plays for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Works | Nyquist makes first impression Sunday at Churchill Downs https://t.co/XumhMUxKBz
— Derby News (@KentuckyDerbyCJ) May 1, 2016
O’Neill and the colt’s owner, J. Paul Reddam, are the same team who won the 2012 Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another. Jockey Mario Gutierrez is also on board.
O’Neill told ABC News he hopes for a repeat performance.
“I hope I have the same ending as I’ll Have Another, at least the first two legs. It’s a little bit more enjoyable this time because we’ve been there before and we can kind of soak it up a little bit more.”
John Cherwa, in the L.A. Times, pointed out that O’Neill has trained Nyquist to run long, rather than use short bursts of speed.
“That goes against the unwritten rules of how to train a horse, where bullet workouts are treasured like (triple) crown jewels.”
Joe Sullivan, writer for the Boston Globe, said there is “something wrong” with all 20 horses in the Derby lineup. Nyquist, he asserts, is nothing special.
“Undefeated but not that fast according the speed figures and his workouts aren’t that fast either. His trainer, Doug O’Neill, is nefarious. Let’s just say if he was in the Patriots organization he’s been good friends with Jim McNally.”
O’Neill admits the Kentucky Derby is a tough race, due in part to the large field of horses in contention.
“You have to have a clean trip and then even if you get a clean trip you’ve got to have a horse that can go a mile-and-a-quarter no matter what time it is. What I love about Nyquist’s chances is he’s won from the rail, he’s won from the 12-hole, he’s won wire-to-wire, he’s won from just off the pace. Mario can call audibles as the race unfolds if it doesn’t unfold perfectly, and that really is a big benefit.”
Baffert, who watched his equine pupil, American Pharoah, gallop to victory last year, said that the Triple Crown win has ignited new interest in the possibilities of horse racing.
“People are really following it now to see if they can watch another horse. Nyquist, he’s been perfect. Everybody’s thinking maybe we’re going to get another horse like that.”
[Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP]