Nyquist still perfect, wins Florida Derby with ease
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) Nyquist and Mohaymen were nearly eye-to-eye as they turned for home in the $1 million Florida Derby, making it appear for a moment like an epic stretch duel awaited between the horses who've long been considered the favorites for Triple Crown season.
Not even close.
In a flash, Nyquist was gone - to a win, to a $1.6 million payday and almost certainly to the favorite's role for the Kentucky Derby in five weeks. Just as Mohaymen looked poised to start his challenge Nyquist pulled away, leaving no doubt in the battle of colts who came in unbeaten and touted as the favorites for Triple Crown season who was better.
''We're high as a kite right now,'' trainer Doug O'Neill said.
Nyquist shipped in from California earlier in the week, a day behind schedule because of some flight issues. That was the only thing that didn't go according to plan. He got to the lead right out of the gate, stayed there the whole way and wound up beating Majesto by about three lengths after finishing the 1 1-8 miles in 1 minute, 49.11 seconds.
''Coming out of the gate, I broke so clean and so fast, I had to take the lead,'' jockey Mario Gutierrez said.
Nyquist took care of the rest. He's now 7-0, six of those wins coming in graded stakes, four of them now of the Grade 1 variety - including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year. Nyquist returned $4.40 for the win, sent off as the second choice behind now-once-beaten Mohaymen, a two-time winner at Gulfstream earlier this year but a colt with no answers Saturday.
''Congratulations to the winner,'' Mohaymen trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. ''He ran big. We were awfully wide throughout and with the track you never know. We'll regroup.''
If there's no health issues over the next five weeks, Mohaymen will see Nyquist again in the Kentucky Derby.
''I didn't really have much excuse,'' Mohaymen jockey Junior Alvarado said. ''I was where I wanted to be the whole race and he didn't fire this time. That's all I can really tell you.''
Gutierrez, O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam are the same team that had I'll Have Another to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2012 - never getting a chance at the Triple Crown because of an injury that ended that colt's career just before the Belmont Stakes.
Here they go again.
''Loyalty has been rewarded, all the way around,'' Reddam said. ''You don't see it that much in racing.''
There were two brief bursts of rain around midday, followed by another shower about an hour before the gate opened for the Florida Derby. The track was listed as good, meaning it was the first time that either Mohaymen or Nyquist raced on anything other than a fast surface.
Nyquist wasn't bothered. In fact, his connections were hoping for some rain - O'Neill's son even did a rain dance, Reddam said, immediately before one of the quick downpours.
''It looked like Mohaymen wasn't handling the track well,'' O'Neill said.
Majesto was second, Fellowship was third and Mohaymen finished just over eight lengths back of the winner. Mohaymen went off as the 4-5 favorite, Nyquist went off at 6-5 - and four of the eight other horses in the field carried odds of 103-1 or higher. The longest of longshots was Copingaway, 180-1.
''Everything just went right,'' O'Neill said.
The plan for Nyquist since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was to have only two prep races before the Kentucky Derby, and coming to Gulfstream made sense for many reasons - a million of them, at least.
He was purchased at a Fasig-Tipton sale at Gulfstream, which meant he was eligible for a $1 million bonus by returning to the track and winning the Florida Derby.
So with $600,000 for the win, then the $1 million check, everyone in Nyquist's camp was all smiles.
''He's got the mindset of a champion,'' O'Neill said.
There were six other graded stakes races at Gulfstream on Saturday.
Celestine ($12.60) dug deep in the stretch to win the Grade 2, $300,000 Honey Fox; Go Maggie Go ($10) won the Grade 2, $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks; Kaigun ($7.60) rallied to take the Grade 2, $200,000 Pan American; Reporting Star ($19) recorded an upset in the Grade 3, $200,000 Appleton; Photo Call ($4) prevailed in the Grade 3, $200,000 Orchid and Valid ($2.80) won the Grade 3, $150,000 Skip Away.