Let the campaigning begin.
The leading candidates for the Kentucky Derby are on schedule for a fight to the finish line on April 2 in Florida, racing at full throttle for 1 1/8 miles in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
It's a rare showdown of the top 3-year-olds in the land just five weeks before the Run for the Roses on May 7. And what a matchup: Nyquist, the best in the West with a 6-0 record, vs. Mohaymen, the best in the East with a 5-0 mark.
Toss in a $1 million bonus at stake, the role of Derby favorite on the line and a few other more-than-worthy opponents, and this Florida Derby packs one powerful punch.
''I'm pumped to have Nyquist face the best,'' trainer Doug O'Neill said from his West Coast base at Santa Anita. ''Mohaymen is definitely a best, but so are we. If they both stay injury free, it will be a great race.''
Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Mohaymen, says ''We're going to take one race at a time and we are looking at the Florida Derby in five weeks. He's a very talented horse and he keeps winning. We're all happy. That's all we can do.''
Despite Mohaymen's comfortable win in the Fountain of Youth over the weekend at Gulfstream Park, Nyquist remains No. 1 in the AP's latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Derby contenders.
The two colts are way in front of the field - for now.
The only change in our Top 10 is Zulu moving in at No. 9 following his runner-up finish in the Fountain of Youth. Greenpointcrusader slips into the keep-an-eye-on group.
This weekend's Derby prep is the Gotham at Aqueduct Racetrack. Derby qualifying points are 50-20-10-5.
Withers winner Sunny Ridge looks to be the top contender. Probables include unbeaten Shagaf, Matt King Coal, Conquest Big E, Laoban and Adventist.
Here's our Top 10:
1. Nyquist (Doug O'Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): Best of West heading East for showdown in Florida. ... A perfect 6 for 6, including three Grade 1 stakes. ... Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, April 2. ... Derby odds (pool 2): 7-1.
2. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Impressive finish in winning Fountain of Youth. ... A perfect 5 for 5, including four Grade 2 stakes. ... Leads in Derby qualifying points with 70. ... Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, April 2. ... Odds: 4-1.
3. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Worked 5 furlongs in 59.80 at Santa Anita on Sunday. ... Baffert says colt ''is pretty fit.'' ... Robert B. Lewis winner has three wins, two seconds in five career starts. ... Next start: San Felipe, Santa Anita, March 12. ... Odds: 12-1.
4. Brody's Cause (Dale Romans, Corey Lanerie): Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.73 at Gulfstream on Sunday. ... Ran third behind Nyquist in BC Juvenile in last start. .. Next start: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, March 12. ... Odds: 15-1.
5. Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux): San Vicente runner-up worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 at Santa Anita last week. ... Has three wins in seven career starts. ... Next start: San Felipe, Santa Anita, March 12. ... Odds: 22-1.
6. Suddenbreakingnews (Donnie Von Hemel, Luis Quinonez): Southwest winner worked 4 furlongs in 51.20 at Oaklawn on Saturday. ... Has three wins, two seconds in six career starts. ... Next start: Rebel, Oaklawn Park, March 19. ... Odds: 5-2 (mutuel field).
7. Mo Tom (Tom Amoss, Lanerie): Could be Derby sleeper with big effort in next prep. ... Ran third in Risen Star after bothered in stretch. ... Next start: Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, March 26. ... Odds: 28-1.
8. Sunny Ridge (Jason Servis, Manuel Franco): Gray son of Holy Bull all set for Gotham. .. Withers winner has two wins, two seconds in past four races. ... Next start: Gotham, Aqueduct, Saturday. ... Odds: 5-2 (mutuel field).
9. Zulu (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Runner-up in Fountain of Youth puts colt on Derby trail. ... Won first two starts before loss in stakes debut. ... Next start: Undecided. ... Odds: 24-1.
10. Frank Conversation (O'Neill, Gutierrez): El Camino Derby winner worked 4 furlongs 49.00 at Santa Anita last week. ... Will be shipped to Dubai about two weeks before final Derby prep. ... Next start: UAE Derby, Meydan Racecourse, March 26. ... Odds: 5-2 (mutuel field).
Keep an eye on: Greenpointcrusader, Gun Runner, Smokey Image, Swipe, Whitmore.
Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap