May 8, 2016
Kentucky Derby Day: Nyquist, The Odds, And The Oddities

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The Kentucky Derby, in its 142nd year, crowned Nyquist as the winner, who set a blistering pace in a field of 22 horses, blasting under the wire during the most thrilling two minutes in sports.

The Kentucky Derby's winner had come as no surprise to many, as Nyquist defended his unbeaten record to date.

Derby Day had dawned with the traditional bourbon-flavored ambiance, blooming with roses and rosy-cheeked, hat-wearing equine enthusiasts. The sport has enjoyed an injection of vigor following American Pharaoh's Triple Crown win in 2015, breaking a dry spell of nearly four decades.

Among the 22 horses running, the undefeated Nyquist was the two-to-one favorite. Recognizable in the field by his stop-sign colored face, emblazoned with a red noseband and white nose strip, Nyquist is named after the famed Detroit Red Wings hockey star. He even enjoyed a visit by the Stanley Cup.

But Derby Day 2016 has been rife with weirdness. A sudden rain squall flooded the field before the preliminary Turf Classic, causing a white sheet of roofing or a sign, the size of a car trailer, to blow off its perch.

The piece of debris came floating down from the heavens and tapped race horse Grand Tito on the head.

The horse understandably flipped out, fell down and cracked his head on a concrete edge on a flower bed, smacking the groomer's head too. Grand Tito seemed okay, but had to be scratched.

In watching the sport, it's easy to forget how much a horse must endure when participating in these races. It's asking a lot of a young animal, inherently reactive, to walk amid the crowds and noise and other horses. This is not even including all the potential horse-eating equipment toted by the media, such as cameras and dollies and other monstrosities.

The odds of getting a horse with the mental toughness to handle all this stimulation and still focus on the job at hand, seems multiplied on top of the rigorous physical demands upon the equine athlete.

Following Grand Tito's scary episode, two jockeys hit the turf during the Woodford Reserve. One galloping equine stumbled and fell, rolling and tumbling under the horse behind it, causing a chain reaction of falling horses and flying riders.Both jockeys and horses were able to walk away from the incident, but it leaves a grim reminder of just how dangerous the sport of horse racing is.

With these odds in mind, USA Today had published this Top 10 list of the horses and their odds.

1. Nyquist (Doug O'Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): With prep season over, here's your morning-line Derby favorite. Resume rocks at 7 for 7, including BC Juvenile and Florida Derby. Galloped at Keeneland on Monday. Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7. Derby odds: 3-1.

2. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Your points leader at 151, Louisiana Derby winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 at Churchill on Monday. Has four wins in five races. Next start: Kentucky Derby. Odds: 13-1.

3. Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux): Santa Anita Derby winners have won two of last four Derbys. Hall of Fame jockey seeks fourth Derby win. Next start: Kentucky Derby. Odds: 27-1.

4. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Triple Crown-winning trainer down to final Derby bullet after Cupid declared out. Ran second in Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe. Next start: Kentucky Derby. Odds: 11-1.

5. Brody's Cause (Dale Romans, Luis Saez): If Derby front-runners tire in stretch, Blue Grass winner has a chance. Three wins all came in state of Kentucky. Next start: Kentucky Derby. Odds: 10-1 (mutuel field).

6. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Lost his buzz after running fourth in Florida Derby. Still has a 5-for-6 record. Next start: Kentucky Derby. Odds: 13-1.

7. Outwork (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Wood winner is son of popular sire Uncle Mo. Last Wood-Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. Next start: Kentucky Derby. Odds: 30-1.

8. Destin (Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Eight-week layoff for Tampa Bay Derby winner. Has three wins in five starts. Top rider has mount so colt cannot be overlooked. Next start: Kentucky Derby. Odds: 16-1.

9. Creator (Asmussen, Ricardo Santana): Last-to-first winner of Arkansas Derby gives trainer second contender. Still a likely long shot with two wins from nine starts. Next start: Kentucky Derby. Odds: 58-1.

10. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise Jr., Mike Smith): Moves back in based on San Felipe win, fourth-place finish in Santa Anita Derby. Next start: Kentucky Derby. Odds: 16-1.

Interestingly enough, USA Today had the second and third place runners transposed, but still an impressive prediction.

Even with the odds and oddities, the Kentucky Derby maintains its spirit of tradition, and the whole nation will be turning its attention to watch Nyquist run the Preakness Stakes on May 21.

[Photo by Darron Cummings/AP]