Champion Nyquist in good order after Florida Derby victory

Nyquist, center, ridden by Mario Gutierrez, races past the field on there way to winning the Florida Derby horse race, Saturday, April 2, 2016, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Nyquist, center, ridden by Mario Gutierrez, races past the field on there way to winning the Florida Derby horse race, Saturday, April 2, 2016, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. Gulfstream Park

There were a few intangibles trainer Kiaran McLaughlin pointed to Sunday morning to explain why his previously unbeaten charge, Mohaymen, hit the wire fourth in Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby.

The wide trip didn’t help. The wet track was also not ideal.

Then there was the matter of the champion bay colt 8¼ lengths ahead of him who continued his career trend of not putting a foot wrong.

“We’ll say congratulations to the winner, he was very impressive,” McLaughlin said of undefeated, multiple Grade I winner Nyquist, who dispatched Mohaymen and eight others in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby to stamp himself as the likely Kentucky Derby favorite. “He had to run over the same track that we did and he handled it great.”

The question to the rest of the 3-year-old male contenders is how any of them will handle the reigning juvenile champion come the first Saturday in May. With his 3 1/4 -length victory on Saturday, his seventh win in as many career starts, Nyquist smacked down the horse many had ranked above him pre-Derby and gave no obvious indication that the 10-furlong distance they will all be facing for the first time on May 7 is beyond his scope.

On Sunday morning, Nyquist was all over equine physical therapist Tyler Cerin during a playful stall visit before departing for his Blue Grass-bound flight to Keeneland, where he will do all of his training leading up to the Kentucky Derby. It was the kind of post-race demeanor that highlights why his connections have long heaped favorable terms upon the son of Uncle Mo. No matter what has been thrown at him, he answers the bell with an ambush of class.

“He hasn’t lost any personality that’s for sure,” Cerin said Sunday, laughing. “He’s full of himself and good after the race.”

Trainer Doug O’Neill said post-race that Nyquist would likely have two works before the first leg of the Triple Crown, similar to the two-prep schedule that worked for 2012 dual classic winner — and fellow O’Neill trainee — I’ll Have Another.

O’Neill put a number of stamina-building works into Nyquist in the time between his 1  1/2 -length win in the Grade II San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 15 and the Florida Derby, and the benefit was evident at key points during his most recent triumph. When hounded by extreme longshots Sawyers Mickey and Chovanes down the backside, the bay colt never lost his relaxed stride as he carved out opening fractions of 23.60 and 47.09.

After he put Mohaymen away coming off the final turn, he did get to bearing out in deep stretch — something that O’Neill joked could have been the equine version of showboating since there were no other challengers to entertain the colt.

“It looked like he was just playing around the last eighth of a mile. He switched leads, he was playing around,” O’Neill said. “With this horse, he had five really strong races as a 2-year-old so he had … an old school foundation. If anyone’s seen most of our horses train, they do a lot in the morning. We were really confident that he had enough gallops and stamina works that were equivalent to races.”

Where O’Neill will simply be focusing on fine-tuning an already honed product, Mohaymen’s connections are hoping his first loss in six career starts was an anomaly. McLaughlin said Sunday morning that the son of Tapit bounced out of the race in good shape physically and that they will press on to Kentucky with the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth Stakes winner.

“You’re disappointed because we were so high on him, and we thought he was invincible kind of because had been to date,” McLaughlin said. “It was a perfect storm the wrong way with the weather and the rain and track was sloppy. It just didn’t work out. I don’t know if you take it as a plus or not but he wasn’t blowing at all. It’s like he just wasn’t happy over the track. But he’s great out of race and we will move forward.”

McLaughlin said he and Shadwell Stable general manger Rick Nichols have discussed shipping Mohaymen to Churchill Downs in a couple of weeks and having all of his works leading up to the Kentucky Derby over the host track.

“He’s very fit and if anything we’d like to try and put a little weight on him,” McLaughlin said. “Horses do well in cooler weather and so we might think about going to Churchill in two weeks or so and train there. They did a great job with (Nyquist) and we will regroup and look to turn the tables May 7 if possible.”

Although a firm decision hadn’t been made about Fellowship, third-place finisher in the Florida Derby, trainer Stanley Gold was feeling confident that the Run for the Roses would be a good fit for the son of Awesome of Course.

“I think the next start he will be even better. He’s improved with each race. He’s run good and consistent all three times against the best,” said Gold.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl