It is a gambler’s mentality to try to beat the house. Because if one looks at a product from enough angles and calculates enough formulas trying to find vulnerability, some edge is sure to be discovered.
Owner Paul Reddam appreciates and supports that mindset, even more so now that he owns the horse the masses are trying to find a way to conquer. So when he was asked to put on his betting cap Friday and come up with a scenario that would lead to his unbeaten champion Nyquist suffering his first career loss in Saturday’s 142nd Kentucky Derby, Reddam obliged.
“If Mario screws up,” Reddam laughed, gesturing to jockey Mario Gutierrez, who will pilot the bay colt with the 7-for-7 record in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Reddam is understandably biased and, given his colt’s track record, has every reason to be optimistic that the first Saturday in May will have the same result as Nyquist’s previous career starts. Yet, vulnerable is exactly how the reigning juvenile male champion and 3-1 morning-line favorite has been viewed even as he moves forward without finding a challenger who can pass him.
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The most popular knock is that Nyquist’s bloodlines — by Uncle Mo and out of the Forestry mare Seeking Gabrielle — are not what 10-furlong horses are made of. His sire carried the same burden as he marched toward the 2011 Kentucky Derby but never got a chance to answer the question as illness forced Uncle Mo to be scratched the day before that year’s race.
Those who follow speed figures say they have deemed Nyquist too slow — never mind that some of those rated ahead of him have already tasted defeat at his hands.
The above evidence against Nyquist is all circumstantial. And in the opinion of those trying to beat him, they aren’t sure any of it is enough to actually condemn him.
I don’t know (why Nyquist isn’t getting the respect he deserves), I think he’s a very good horse and I was very impressed by his Florida Derby (win on April 2. I think Mohaymen’s a very good horse and he was able to beat him on his home track, so yeah, I think he’s getting slighted. But I don’t have a good explanation for why.
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Outwork and Destin
“I don’t know (why Nyquist isn’t getting the respect he deserves). I think he’s a very good horse and I was very impressed by his Florida Derby (win on April 2),” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle Grade I winner Outwork and Tampa Bay Derby victor Destin in Saturday’s classic. “I think Mohaymen’s a very good horse and he was able to beat him on his home track, so yeah, I think he’s getting slighted. But I don’t have a good explanation for why.”
Trainer and co-owner Keith Desormeaux doesn’t either, especially since his Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner Exaggerator has been beaten by Nyquist in each of their three meetings, including the Grade II San Vicente on Feb. 15. Desormeaux said this week that Nyquist has proven himself “a faster horse” but also offered up the theory that if Nyquist has already reached his peak, those contenders still improving could finally get the best of him.
“Some horses mature faster than others and again it goes back to pedigree,” said Desormeaux, who will have his brother and three-time Derby winner, Kent Desormeaux, in the irons. “My horse is built differently than Nyquist and probably still has some growing to do where Nyquist probably leveled out. I don’t know. That’s all I can hope for.”
Exaggerator has been tabbed by more than just Desormeaux as one who could fit that label. The son of Curlin has always been able to hold his own against the best in his class but it wasn’t until his sustained, sweeping move in the Santa Anita Derby en route to a 6¼-length triumph that he was able to put everything together in a big spot.
By contrast, Gun Runner — one of two runners in the field conditioned by Steve Asmussen — hasn’t done much of anything wrong in his career, winning four of five career starts including his 4½-length victory in the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 26.
The six-week layoff Gun Runner is facing is something that only Needles (1956 Derby winner) and Animal Kingdom (2011) have pulled off since 1929, but the son of Candy Ride proved he could run well fresh when he won the Grade II Risen Star on Feb. 20 in what was his first start since late November.
Where Nyquist is handy enough to either dictate the pace or lay off the early going, multiple Grade I winner Brody’s Cause will probably be part of the pack of closers hoping to get the fractions needed to come with an effective kick.
What those fractions look like will largely depend on what Grade II San Felipe winner Danzing Candy does out of the outside post No. 20. Danzing Candy is a confirmed front-runner but jockey Mike Smith will need all his Hall of Fame skills if he is to get his dark bay mount to clear the pack and settle up front.
The wild card to the mix is if multiple graded stakes winner Mohaymen can rebound from what trainer Kiaran McLaughlin called “two bad minutes” and show the form that made him the favorite on the Derby trail prior to his fourth-place finish behind Nyquist in the Grade I Florida Derby. That loss was the first defeat Mohaymen had suffered in six career starts and the son of Tapit has been one of the most eager horses on the track each morning since arriving at Churchill Downs.
“That’s the game — what have you done for me lately. I understand, but we haven’t lost any confidence,” McLaughlin said. “Nyquist beat us fair and square and had to run over the same track. But we’re happy to be here. We’re here and we feel like we have a big chance.”
142nd Kentucky Derby
Where: Churchill Downs
When: 6:34 p.m.
Distance: 1 1/4 miles
Total purse: $2,391,600 (Grade I)
Morning-line favorite: Nyquist (3-1)