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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.

Baffert hoping Arrogate gives him third Dubai World Cup win

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Having taken over the mantle as the world’s best racehorse from California Chrome, Arrogate will attempt on Saturday to wear another crown that last fitted his illustrious American compatriot, the Dubai World Cup.

All eyes are on the 4-year-old Arrogate, who lost on debut 11 months ago but hasn’t lost since.

He’s won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup this year to stretch his unbeaten streak to six. In both races, Arrogate defeated Chrome, who won the Dubai World Cup last year at Meydan Racecourse by five lengths despite jockey Victor Espinoza hanging on to a loose saddle for most of it.

Under jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate has forged a winning combination in his last three Group 1 races: Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.

In Dubai, they have drawn stall nine among 14 contenders, a position which fails to douse the confidence of his trainer Bob Baffert.

“Nine is fine,” said Baffert, who also trained 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“He’s settled in pretty well. As long as he shows up, that’s the key. If he runs his race, we know what he can do.”

Smith was all praise for his mount, ranked the No. 1 racehorse in the world.

“I have been blessed with some really, really good horses, but I am not sure I have ever sit on one like this,” Smith said.

“Everything about him, his disposition, his mechanics, the way he gets over the ground … at times you feel as if you are running downhill instead of a level ground. What amazes me most is when the race is over, it looks as if he did not put much effort into it. His recovery time is so quick.”

Arrogate’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup wins came over 2,000 meters on dirt, the same distance and conditions as the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Baffert hopes Arrogate can give him a third Dubai World Cup victory after Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001).

He suffered a heart attack during his last visit to Dubai in 2012, and watched the World Cup five nights later with stents in two of his blocked arteries. He also watched from even farther afield last year as his other horse, Hoppertunity, finished third behind Chrome and Mike de Kock’s Mubtaahij.

He’s giving Hoppertunity another chance.

“Both my horses are happy and healthy,” Baffert said. “He (Hoppertunity) should be collecting a check again. That is what he does, picks up the pieces in these big races. He reminds me of Pac-Man, he just keeps going. A Dubai World Cup 1-2, that would be something.”

Mubtaahij is also back, although he will start under Christophe Soumillon from the widest of stalls.

“Like everyone, we wanted low,” the Belgian jockey said. “I will have to … hope for some luck.”

The Dubai World Cup features a nine-race card offering $30 million across six Group 1 and three Group 2 races on turf and dirt.

Six three-year-olds nominated late to Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas, is among six 3-year-olds made eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the late nomination period.

The late nominees, which required a payment of $6,000 each, raise the total nominations to 425 for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The late nomination period closed Monday. The early nomination window closed in January and required a payment of $600.

Ireland-bred Thunder Snow, owned by Godolphin Racing, is set to run Saturday in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. The colt has three wins in seven career starts for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

The other late nominees are Hollywood Handsome, trained by Dallas Stewart; More Than Words, trained by Charlie LoPresti; Parlor, trained by Eddie Kenneally; Rapid Dial, trained by Ingrid Mason; and Stretch’s Stone, trained by Bruce Levine.

Thoroughbreds that weren’t nominated to the Triple Crown have one final chance by paying a supplemental fee. The fee for the Derby is $200,000; $150,000 for the Preakness; and $75,000 for the Belmont.