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Nyquist posts convincing victory, earns $1 million bonus in Florida Derby; Mohaymen fourth

By James Scully

Nyquist turned a highly-anticipated showdown with Mohaymen into a one-horse affair, dominating Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park in wire-to-wire fashion. Trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, the Uncle Mo colt likely assured himself favoritism at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby points’ race.

With the 3 1/4-length decision, Nyquist extended his perfect record to seven for owner Reddam Racing. The 2-year-old champion also picked up an additional $1-million bonus for being a Fasig-Tipton Florida March sales graduate last year.

“Obviously we’re high as a kite right now,” O’Neill said. “But he seems like you could run him on just about anything. He’s trained on synthetic. It doesn’t seem like footing really bothers him. Johnny Garcia, his daily exercise rider, commented that the one day that he galloped (at Gulfstream), that the track was just much more tight than Santa Anita. So he felt like (Nyquist) was really ready to run on a tight track after training at Santa Anita, which has a little more cushion.

“Maybe he was just really legged up, but you know, going a mile and an eighth in only his second time out as a 3-year-old — we’d be lying if we didn’t say we were optimistic, but you never know, and he exceeded our expectations for sure.”

Nyquist left the starting gate as the 6-5 second choice, with Mohaymen favored at 4-5 following authoritative local wins in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Holy Bull (G3). But after advancing into contention on the far turn, Mohaymen had little left for the stretch drive, sustaining his first defeat as he weakened to fourth.

Over a sealed track rated as “good,” Nyquist broke alertly and took a short lead into the clubhouse turn, with longshots Sawyers Mickey and Chovanes applying early pressure through an opening quarter-mile in :23.60. Nyquist was always traveling comfortably as he made his way down the backstretch, reeling off splits of :47.09 and 1:11.39 with a half-length advantage.

Nyquist drifted about five wide off the far turn, repulsing challenges from Mohaymen to his outside and Majesto along the rail as he accelerated clear in upper stretch. After opening up by about three lengths, he drifted out in midstretch, and alternated leads, but Nyquist was always in complete command as he proved much the best to the wire, completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.11.

With the $1,589,000 payday, Nyquist nearly doubled his career earnings to $3,322,600.

“It was always part of the plan (to go to front),” Gutierrez said. “It just depends on the break; how the other horses were going to be acting, so coming out of the gate, I broke so clean and so fast so I just had to take the lead.”

Jockey Junior Alvarado was at a loss to explain Mohaymen’s disappointing performance.

“I didn’t really have much excuse,” Alvarado said of Mohaymen after the race. “I was where I wanted to be the whole race and he didn’t fire this time. That’s all I really can tell you. There’s nothing wrong with him. Something was probably going on with him today, he just didn’t run the race that we were expecting. I’m a person that doesn’t like to blame the track all the time. I would say the only difference is that he never took me. He’s a horse that all the time drags me and jump in the bridle right away so when we turn to the backside he’s pulling me. This time he wasn’t pulling me. It got me a little worried.”

“He was pretty wide throughout, but the track is wet and we wanted to stay out in the clear,” added Mohaymen’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. “Congratulations to the winner. He ran big. We were awfully wide throughout and with the track you never know. We’ll regroup.”

Majesto easily held second at 21-1 odds while never a threat to the winner, finishing a length better the late-running Fellowship. It was another four lengths back to Mohaymen, who was followed by Sawyers Mickey, Copingaway, Takeittotheedge, Fashionable Freddy, Chovanes and Isofass.

Bred in Kentucky Summerhill Farm, Nyquist passed through the sales ring twice – bringing $180,000 as a Keeneland November weanling and $230,000 as a Keeneland September yearling – before being purchased for $400,000 by Reddam.

The bay is out the winning Foresty mare Seeking Gabrielle, a daughter of Grade 2 winner Seeking Regina, who also produced Grade 3 winner Seeking the Sky, the dam of Grade 1 hero Sahara Sky.

After capturing his career debut at Santa Anita in early June, Nyquist reeled off consecutive wins in the Best Pal (G2), Del Mar Futurity (G1) and FrontRunner (G1) before shipping to Keeneland to score by a half-length in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). He was a near unanimous selection for champion 2-year-old male, garnering 255 first-place Eclipse Award votes.

Nyquist opened 3-year-old season with a 1 ½-length victory in the 7-furlong San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita on February 15. He’ll head straight to Kentucky from Gulfstream, taking up residence at Keeneland before shipping to Churchill Downs for the May 7 Kentucky Derby.

“I feel really good (about Kentucky),” O’Neill said. “We drew up thinking two preps before the Derby would leave him with fresh legs. He’s got a lot of miles underneath him in the morning and we have a fresh horse for the afternoon.”

These are the same connections (owner/trainer/jockey) of 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another.

“It’s such a team effort,” O’Neill said. “Like Paul (Reddam) said, I had reservations a month or so ago—Mohaymen in his own backyard, do we really want to do something like that? But we all very quickly got on the same page and, you know, I think we just had a very lucky trip. Mario broke great and did a great job riding and everything just went right. This whole trip other than being delayed one day, everything else went right. So many things can go wrong in this business.

“Nyquist traveled well, looked well. Leandro Mora, my main guy here, who’s at the barn 24 hours a day, seven days a week — don’t tell the labor law that — but Leandro basically sleeps with the horse. It’s a credit to the whole team how he came over, how he looked and how he ran.”

First Nyquist photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese

Second Nyquist photo courtesy of Kenny Martin/Coglianese Photography