This weekend was another exciting one on the Road to the Kentucky Derby® as Mohaymen and Nyquist finally squared off in the Florida Derby. Not since the 90’s have we seen such a highly-publicized East vs. West rivalry. Okay, that’s probably not true, but this clash spurred a ton of discussion in the world of horse racing and pitted two groups against one another: Team Mohaymen and Team Nyquist. Both undefeated, both ranked high on the Road to the Derby leaderboard. Whose side were you on?
California contender Nyquist saw early success during his freshman season in 2015 with wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and FrontRunner Stakes, earning 30 points on the Road to the Derby. With those early wins came questions: Can a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner repeat that success in the Kentucky Derby? Is he a one-hit wonder? Can he go the distance? After a sharpening sprint in the San Vicente Stakes for his sophomore debut in 2016, it seemed clear that trainer Doug O’Neill was leading Nyquist down the same old school path that led to Triple Crown™ wins for greats like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed.
Kentucky native Mohaymen went undefeated in 2015 and solidified himself as a favorite on the Road to the Derby with sophomore wins in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth Stakes this year. He has excellent breeding as well, as his sire was the legendary Tapit – the only horse to command a higher stud fee than American Pharoah. In addition to being an extremely promising prospect based on his performances to date, Mohaymen also has the home field advantage. That is to say, the traveling he’ll have to do in comparison to a west-coast based contender like Nyquist is miniscule.
The field was fairly evenly split on who to root for in the Florida Derby, with Mohaymen edging out Nyquist (6-5) to become a 4-5 favorite. Expectations were high as Saturday loomed, and horse racing fans naturally anticipated a showdown for the ages. Two perfect records belonging to battle-tested contenders were on the line as the field lined up.
As is usually the case, it was anyone’s game as the contenders broke from the gate, but Nyquist had a perfect start while Mohaymen lagged on the outside. Majesto had a strong early showing on the inside and continued to keep Nyquist on his toes (or hooves, rather) throughout the race. Chovanes kept the pressure on as well, just a half-length behind Nyquist after rounding the first bend.
Mohaymen began to creep up on the outside with nearly a half mile to go, moving up into second place as the remaining competition appeared to lose steam. This was when everyone thought Majesto, who had been hot on Nyquist’s tail throughout, was going to forge ahead as the field entered the final stretch and steal first. Nyquist was ready with an answer, though, as he stretched his lead to a commanding 3 ¼ lengths and breezed to the finish line.
Fans were disappointed, to say the least. We all expected a clash of legendary proportions that would come down to the wire. What we got was a race dominated by an undefeated champion with only a brief glimpse of a challenge from another undefeated competitor.
The good news is that everyone is healthy and we can still expect to see Mohaymen at the Kentucky Derby. His trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, was quoted as saying that “We feel like it was a perfect storm of unfortunate things that happened with the track, raining earlier and then later. Basically it was very wet and we were very wide. We ran 54 feet further than the winner, but congratulations to Nyquist and their team. They had to run over the same racetrack under the same conditions and they did it better than us…. We'll regroup and point for the Kentucky Derby and hope for the best.”
Nyquist has shipped to Keeneland already and will remain there to train until the Kentucky Derby in May. Weather conditions won’t be an issue, as the training track is synthetic, so as long as he can stay healthy he’ll continue to be widely held as the colt to beat in the Kentucky Derby.
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