On this return to Churchill Downs, everything seems sweeter. Even the roses smell better.
Pressure? Forget about it. They’re just enjoying this encore with hopes of a similar outcome. That happens when you’ve already won one Kentucky Derby – and you have the favorite for another.
The crew behind 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another has just that – another Derby contender with championship potential.
This time, trainer Doug O’Neill, owner Paul Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez have loads of confidence that undefeated Nyquist will give them another magic moment in the winner’s circle. The 2015 juvenile champion tops a field of 20 in Saturday’s 142nd Kentucky Derby.
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“We’ve got a really good, positive vibe,” O’Neill said.
When I’ll Have Another won his Derby, O’Neill wondered if he’d ever have a horse that good again, the trainer said.
“Now, with Nyquist trying to fill those shoes, it does get to a point where you’d love to slow things down and really soak up every bit of brilliance of him because you know how unique it is to get a horse like that in your barn,” he said.
Is this déjà vu for his Derby crew?
“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,” O’Neill said, “but yeah, there’s a little déjà vu there.”
Named for a hockey star with the grit to match, Nyquist has demonstrated remarkable tenacity throughout his seven-race career. Trained in California, the 3-year-old bay has won stakes at four tracks in three states. In his last start April 2, he trashed a stellar field in the Florida Derby.
Who wouldn’t think of a Swedish hockey player for a great racehorse name? But unlike most hockey players, Nyquist has all his teeth.
Doug O’Neill, Nyquist’s trainer
Nyquist the horse reminds O’Neill of the colt’s namesake: Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings, Reddam’s favorite team.
“Who wouldn’t think of a Swedish hockey player for a great racehorse name?” O’Neill said. “But unlike most hockey players, Nyquist has all his teeth.”
Playing out that hockey link, Nyquist will get a special incentive in his stall Saturday morning: The Stanley Cup. The colt will get to drink out of the NHL’s championship trophy.
Reddam, a former college philosophy professor who became a dot-com millionaire, bought Nyquist at auction in March 2015 for $400,000. (By comparison, I’ll Have Another cost $35,000 as a 2-year-old.)
Nyquist’s price tag initially seemed outrageously high. The colt is from the first crop sired by Kentucky stallion Uncle Mo, another juvenile champion who missed the 2011 Derby because of a rare liver disease. A son of Indian Charlie, Uncle Mo never won at the Derby distance of 1- 1/4 quarter miles. As a potential Derby sire, he was unproven.
Instead, Nyquist turned into an amazing bargain. He’s won more than $3.3 million – and Uncle Mo will have three starters in this Derby, an unmatched achievement by a first-year sire.
“He’s well-balanced, well-mannered,” O’Neill said of Nyquist. “He’s very professional. He just carries himself like a champion.”
That may be the one Derby rub against Nyquist: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champions are 1 for 31 in the Kentucky Derby. The winner was Street Sense in 2007.
O’Neill’s theory is that most juvenile champions are precocious and by the first Saturday of May of their 3-year-old seasons, they’ve lost that edge.
Not so with Nyquist.
“He’s a very special horse,” O’Neill said. “He’s got a very calm mind about him. ... He’s a smart horse. He’s a very confident horse.”
142nd Kentucky Derby
- When: Saturday, 3:34 p.m. post time
- Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.
- Distance: 1 1/4 miles
- Purse: $2 million
- Favored: Nyquist (3-1)
- TV: Ch. 3, 1 p.m.
- Cal Expo: Gates open 7 a.m. Derby special (two buffets, seat, program), $40; 916-263-3279
Handicapping the field
The Bee’s Steve Pajak forecasts the outcome of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs
Tampa Bay wins flattered when several in his wake – and in this field – returned to win their next races. He wears the roses.
Deserving and undefeated race favorite has proven he can win with any race shape and at multiple racetracks.
The only needs-the-lead type in the field, which makes him ultra dangerous.
Throw out mediocre Wood run in the mud and focus on his Gotham win before that, which is better than it looks.
His tactical speed in a race devoid of the usual speedballs gives him a fighting chance.
He’ll be overlooked big-time, but his runner-up finish to Nyquist in the Florida Derby was impressive.
The best of the bunch coming from Louisiana and Arkansas; love Florent Geroux. his underrated jockey.
Trainer Dallas Stewart’s colts run the best races of their lives when it counts most, so you’ve been warned.
Speculating that breakthrough victory in Santa Anita Derby was mud/pace aided.
Likely to be overbet with Baffert/Stevens calling the shots but seems a cut below California’s best.
One of many in race who needs a total pace collapse that seems unlikely.
He’ll be far back early; predicting that he won’t make anyone forget Mine That Bird when they hit the stretch.
Hard to separate from repeat Oaklawn foes Suddenbreakingnews and Creator, so no thanks.
Hasn’t been able to show best stuff because of troubled trips; still, best stuff probably not good enough.
Taking a stand that Florida Derby flop exposed him as a fraud; many will say it was an anomaly.
My Man Sam
Second in Blue Grass when set up by a wicked pace scenario that he doesn’t figure to get here.
Won Blue Grass after trailing by 19 lengths (see My Man Sam, above).
Winner of the United Arab Emirates Derby and more than $1.3 million in six starts; still, not impressed.
Still a maiden and breaking from the dreaded one post; long odds are about the only thing to like.
Some horse has to finish last; I nominate Oscar, winner of the slowly run Spiral.