Nyquist spectacular in both looks & performance
BY DICK POWELL
I had the good fortune of attending this year’s Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park. Even though the Saratoga area has not had the worst winter, the 88-degree weather was fantastic, even if the humidity was oppressive.
There was supposed to be a front heading down from the north and the forecast for Saturday was evening showers. However, I hit two rainstorms driving down I-95 Saturday morning and the skies opened up a couple of times during the afternoon. They were not part of the front but just the normal South Florida cell that pops up and hits a limited area.
Many horses on Saturday showed up in the walking ring hot but it was mostly due to the heat and humidity. When the horses arrived before the Florida Derby, last of 14 races run that day, most looked very good.
Second choice NYQUIST (Uncle Mo) looked spectacular and it seemed like the cross country trip did nothing to him. Cool, calm and collected, his appearance was striking. I was out of ear shot from Gabby Gaudet’s paddock commentary and am curious to what her impressions were.
Favored MOHAYMEN (Tapit) looked kind of dull and listless. Sometimes it’s hard to judge a gray horse’s appearance, but he certainly wasn’t on his toes or eager to get going.
Originally, there were only a few horses willing to take on the top two sophomore colts of this year. The Gulfstream Park race office got to work and at one point, it looked like there might be six. When entries were drawn on Wednesday, 10 horses entered which was good news for the track but not Mohaymen who drew post 9.
With the short run going into the first turn, Junior Alvarado was going to be faced with a difficult decision: does he gun to the front to try to gain position but run the risk of using too much energy or does he drop back in behind the inside speed horses on a track that usually favors early speed?
Neither option was desirable. And at the start, it looked like Alvarado decided to do neither. He tried to press the pace from the far outside and while he may not have used up too much energy, he was losing a ton of precious ground.
Mario Gutierrez, who gained a world of big-race experience riding I’ll Have Another (Flower Alley) in 2012 to victories in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1), put Nyquist on the lead but kept him off the rail. The track was listed as “Good” after another shower hit about an hour before the race, Gutierrez was taking no chances about trying to run down loose speed horses.
Nyquist covered his first six furlongs in 1:11.39 and around the far turn, Mohaymen began to make a race of it as he cruised up outside the leaders. For a fleeting moment, it looked like we might have a race but Gutierrez carried Mohaymen wide and the race was over.
Nyquist, racing about five paths off the rail, drifted out even farther at the eighth-pole and then switched back to the wrong lead. Still, he drew away to a 3 ¼-length win in the time of 1:49.11. He earned a BRIS Speed rating of only 97. It was a hard race to gauge since the rain came and went while the track changed throughout the day. At this point, wouldn’t you rather go to Kentucky off this kind of race than a career-best one?
Majesto (Tiznow) rallied up the rail for second and the 17-hand ridgling had a perfect trip down on the inside. He’s on the improve but the clean trip certainly helped him.
Mohaymen was a badly-beaten fourth, 8 ¼ lengths behind. Yes, he did have some excuses in the race. He ran 48 feet farther than the winner, according to Trakus, and 79 feet more than Majesto. Considering how he looked before the race and then having to break from post 9, maybe it’s the type of race that you can draw a line through.
But if Mohaymen is going to be a Kentucky Derby contender, he is going to have to train up a storm in Kentucky and show that the Florida Derby was an outlier in his development.
As great as Nyquist looked and he picked up $1.6 million purse aided by a $1 million bonus put up by Fasig-Tipton, the big winner was Mike Repole and his sensational sire Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie).
With his first crop now three, and no 2YOs having raced yet, Uncle Mo’s progeny have now earned more than $7.25 million with 11 stakes winners. In 2016, with only one crop to race, he is the second leading sire in North America and only $2K behind leader Tapit (Pulpit).
Speaking of Tapit, his former trainer, Michael Dickinson, returned from an 8 ½-year layoff to win with his first starter at Laurel Park on Saturday.