We are officially less than two weeks to the Kentucky Derby.
After the expected favorite Nyquist worked Saturday morning at Keeneland, Doug O’Neill was asked if he had started sizing up the field for the first Saturday in May or did he even pay attention to such things?
“Oh yeah,” said Nyquist’s trainer. “Oh yeah.”
After all, things are starting to take shape. The Derby leaderboard, based on points earned during the prep races, is set with what figures to be a full field of 20. Based on his unbeaten record, his win in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and this year’s Florida Derby, Nyquist is expected to be the favorite come post time May 7.
He’s certainly done nothing to change that status during his three weeks at Keeneland. Yes, the son of Uncle Mo showed an elevated white blood cell count after stepping off the plane on April 3, causing him to miss a couple of days of training, but he’s settled in since, turning in respectable works the last two weekends.
I think there’s a tad more swag with this guy, being undefeated and being able to follow up an amazing 2-year old campaign with a solid 3-year-old campaign so far.
Doug O’Neill on Nyquist
He’ll have one more work at Keeneland next Saturday before shipping to Churchill Downs on Sunday where the challengers await.
“It looks like you’ve got a lot of closers, which is good for us,” O’Neill said. “It looks like Outwork, the other Uncle Mo (colt) for Todd Pletcher, looks very similar to Nyquist, his style. Danzing Candy has got a lot of speed. My little bit of brief handicapping, it looks like us three would be kind of forwardly placed. And then a lot of horses that look like they want to be behind us.”
Owned by Mike Repole, who also owned Uncle Mo, Outwork led the Tampa Bay Derby until the stretch before finishing second to Destin. He was settled into second in the Wood Memorial on April 9 before taking the lead in the stretch and continuing on to the victory.
Danzing Candy, trained by Clifford Sise and ridden by Mike Smith, scored a wire-to-wire win in the San Felipe back on March 12. He led the Santa Anita Derby after three-quarters only to fade to fourth.
Cupid would have added early speed had the Rebel Stakes winner been able to go, but a breathing problem discovered during his 10th-place finish in the Arkansas Derby caused trainer Bob Baffert to pull the plug on his Kentucky Derby chances.
That leaves the closers, who as O’Neill mentioned are plentiful and should probably start with the Japanese horse Lani, who went from dead last in the early going to first to win the UAE Derby. Or you could start with Creator, who last weekend came from 12th to win the Arkansas Derby.
Right here at Keeneland, Brody’s Cause was 11th on the backstretch before closing quickly to win the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 9. A little later that day, Exaggerator made a huge move to come from seventh, flying by the leaders to win the Santa Anita Derby over the Baffert-trained Mor Spirit.
Spiral Stakes winner Oscar Nominated, owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trained by Mike Maker, went from sixth to first. Gun Runner came from off the pace to win both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. The Steve Asmussen-trained entry was fifth early in the Risen Star and didn’t take the lead until the stretch run. He was sitting third in the Louisiana Derby, but also did not make the lead until the stretch.
Of course, O’Neill won the 2012 Kentucky Derby from off the pace with I’ll Have Another. So, two weeks out, how does it feel with Nyquist compared to how it felt with I’ll Have Another?
“I think there’s a tad more swag with this guy,” O’Neill said of Nyquist, “being undefeated and being able to follow up an amazing 2-year old campaign with a solid 3-year-old campaign so far. It’s awesome like I’ll Have Another was, but it’s a tad more incredible if that’s possible.”
There’s less than two weeks to go.
Kentucky Derby leaderboard
My Man Sam