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Healthy, happy and still unbeaten, Nyquist heads to Kentucky

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) The numbers say Nyquist will face a daunting challenge in the Kentucky Derby, and trainer Doug O’Neill is fully aware of that.

He’s also embracing that challenge.

Of the 31 horses who have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, only one – Street Sense, nine years ago – has won the Kentucky Derby. The other 30 champions either fell short or couldn’t even navigate the prep-race calendar well enough to get to the Run for the Roses, sometimes doomed by injury and sometimes just unable to keep getting better.

“The pressure’s off,” O’Neill said. “Numbers say you’re not going to do it. You’re coming in under the radar on that stat.”

That’s the only metric by which Nyquist will be off the radar on May 7 at Churchill Downs. He’s now 7-for-7 in his career, was much the best in Saturday’s Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, and has already turned a $400,000 investment by owner Paul Reddam into $3,322,600 in purse winnings and bonus money.

In other words, despite that 1-for-31 history of his Breeders’ Cup-winning predecessors, meet the Kentucky Derby favorite.

“He keeps proving people wrong,” jockey Mario Gutierrez said.

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He did on Saturday, anyway. The Florida Derby showdown of unbeatens – Mohaymen vs. Nyquist – didn’t turn into much of a matchup. Mohaymen was the 4-5 favorite but never seemed to get rolling on a track that was slowed a bit by three quick showers over the course of the afternoon. Nyquist went right to the front, and when Mohaymen approached to challenge at the top of the stretch the eventual winner pulled away in a matter of just a few strides.

Game over, in a hurry.

“We feel like it was a perfect storm of unfortunate things that happened with the track, raining earlier and then later,” Mohaymen trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Sunday. “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.”

Mohaymen came out of the race fine, McLaughlin said, which means he gets another crack at Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby.

“People thought maybe it wasn’t good to have a tough race right before the Derby,” McLaughlin said of Mohaymen, who lost for the first time in six starts. “It’s not going to be a tough race on him, so we’ll throw it out and move on.”

O’Neill, Gutierrez and Reddam were the connections behind I’ll Have Another in 2012. They won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes that year, but never got a Triple Crown chance because I’ll Have Another developed a tendon problem in the days leading up to the Belmont Stakes and was scratched a day before that race was run.

I’ll Have Another had only two preps in 2012 before the Kentucky Derby, just like Nyquist this year.

“You want to make sure you have a real fresh horse when you start thinking and dreaming Derby,” O’Neill said. “If you get lucky and win it, you’ve got a couple more races coming up quickly and you need to have a lot in the tank. That was the thought process.”

So far, so good.

“It’s all right according to plan,” O’Neill said.

Preakness winner Cloud Computing to skip Belmont Stakes

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NEW YORK —¬†Preakness winner Cloud Computing won’t run in the Belmont Stakes, leaving the final leg of the Triple Crown without the winners of the first two races.

Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming also won’t run in the 1+-mile Belmont on June 10 in New York.

Trainer Chad Brown confirmed Sunday that Cloud Computing would skip the Belmont, which had been expected.

Brown will still have a starter in the $1.5 million race: Twisted Tom, who won the Federico Tesio on April 22. Because Twisted Tom wasn’t already nominated to the Triple Crown series, it will cost $75,000 to get him in the race. He will try to become the third gelding in history to win.

Other confirmed Belmont runners are Classic Empire, Japan-based Epicharis, J Boys Echo, Lookin At Lee, Senior Investment, Tapwrit and True Timber. Irap, Meantime and Multiplier are considered likely.

Also possible are Conquest Mo Money, Gormley, Hollywood Handsome, Irish War Cry and Patch.

The Belmont field is limited to 16 horses.

Lady Eli ends skid with win in Grade 1 Gamely at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Lady Eli won the $300,000 Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares by a half-length at Santa Anita, ending a two-race skid as the heavy 3-5 favorite.

Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., Lady Eli ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:45.29 on Saturday.

Goodyearforroses was second, followed by Avenge, Mokat and Pretty Girl.

Lady Eli paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10. All but $18,388 of the total show pool of $315,505 was wagered on her in the Grade 1 race.

The 5-year-old dark brown mare has eight wins in 11 career starts and has never finished worse than second for New York-based trainer Chad Brown, who won the Preakness with Cloud Computing last weekend.

Lady Eli was coming off two close losses: by a nose in the Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland in April and by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf last November.