Nyquist being compromised by inside posts similar to California Chrome

Profile Picture: James Scully

August 1st, 2016

The similarities are striking. California Chrome sustained the first defeat of his 3-year-old season after breaking from post 2 in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and came back to run poorly in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) from post 1. Nyquist has followed the same pattern from the same post positions, losing for the first time in the Preakness (G1) before an unplaced effort in the Haskell (G1).

Despite earlier successes, both have developed into outside trip dependent horses.

California Chrome won from the inside early in his sophomore season, bounding forward from post 2 to record a rail-hugging, wire-to-wire romp in the San Felipe (G2) two months prior to his Kentucky Derby (G1) triumph. But everything changed after a rough trip in the Belmont in which California Chrome was beaten two lengths in fourth.

The Art Sherman-trained chestnut clearly resented being stuck down on the inside when returning from a layoff in the Pennsylvania Derby, spitting the bit by the far turn in a dull sixth-placed effort. He shrugged off the clunker with an outstanding neck third in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), traveling wide on both turns before just missing from post 13 at Santa Anita.

An inside post would be a concern in upcoming races.

California Chrome received the innermost gate when prepping at Meydan for this year’s Dubai World Cup prep in late February and as my colleague Kellie Reilly noted in her recap, the rail was golden that evening. Jockey Victor Espinoza would have none of it despite towering over the competition, at first negotiating Chrome between horses before guiding him about five paths away from the rail entering the backstretch.

It hasn't been an issue in the most recent starts, with California Chrome drawing wide in the Dubai World Cup (G1) and San Diego (G2), and we can witness Espinoza’s commitment to keeping him outside in the February 25 Trans Gulf Electromechanical Trophy Handicap:

Nyquist weakened to fourth as the even-money Haskell favorite, with Exaggerator blowing past him in upper stretch, and the 2-year-old champion has now lost two straight to the Preakness winner after capturing the first four meetings.

But there’s no use blaming jockey Mario Gutierrez. Similar to Espinoza, Gutierrez needs to learn from these setbacks and get Nyquist to the outside in upcoming engagements.

Nyquist benefited from outside posts in the biggest wins of his career, the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). And while he’s won races like the 7-furlong San Vicente (G2) via forward inside trips, that strategy is simply not going to work anymore in Grade 1 route races.

As he showed in the Derby and Juvenile, Nyquist’s tractability is an asset. California Chrome has the same versatility. And if saddled with an inside post in future engagements, Gutierrez must guide Nyquist outside to get the most out of him.

Photo of Nyquist (purple silks), who was kept well off the rail most of the way in the Kentucky Derby, courtesy of Coady Photography