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Wire-to-wire for Nyquist as No. 1 contender for Derby

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Unlike Pharoah-phever a year ago, Nyquist-mania hasn’t yet struck in the days leading to the Kentucky Derby. It might by next Saturday night if the undefeated colt ends up in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.

American Pharoah came into the Derby off rousing wins in two races in Arkansas, then won the Derby as the favorite and went on to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Nyquist, meanwhile, will attempt to become just the eighth 3-year-old to win the Derby with an unbeaten record. Big Brown in 2008 was the most recent. Nyquist has won all seven of his races, including a showdown over highly regarded Mohaymen in the Florida Derby.

RELATED: How to watch the Kentucky Derby

The son of Uncle Mo has done everything right up to now, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to clinch 2-year-old champion honors. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Nyquist won the San Vicente in his 3-year-old debut prior to being shipped to Gulfstream Park for the Florida Derby.

And with that, Nyquist completes a wire-to-wire run through the prep season at No. 1 in the final AP Run to the Roses Top 10. Last year, Dortmund wired the AP Top 10 as well with six wins in six starts in 2015 before running third in the Derby to stablemate American Pharoah.

“Of course,” O’Neill said of added pressure in having the clear-cut Derby favorite. “But you might say it’s good pressure. I’d rather be the Derby favorite than a horse that snuck in.”

Nyquist seems settled in at Keeneland, and is expected to arrive at Churchill Downs as Derby week begins. He worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 last Saturday under regular exercise rider Jonny Garcia.

“He’s fit and ready,” O’Neill said.

Newly elected Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has two shots at winning his first Derby, with No. 2 Gun Runner and No. 9 Creator. Gun Runner took the Louisiana Derby on March 26 in his last start, and Creator stormed from last-to-first to win the Arkansas Derby on April 16.

“I’m extremely proud of the shape that both of these horses are in going into the Derby,” Asmussen said after both colts had workouts at Churchill Downs earlier in the week.

Also with two horses in the final Top 10 is Todd Pletcher, who trains No. 7 Outwork and No. 8 Destin.

Here’s our final Top 10:

1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): All good on Nyquist front after final workout at Keeneland. … Owner, trainer, rider won 2012 Derby, Preakness with I’ll Have Another. … A perfect 7-0 record. … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7. … Derby odds: 3-1 (future wager).

2. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Trainer now a Hall of Famer in search of first Derby win. … Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner worked 6 furlongs in 1:12.20 at Churchill on Monday. … Geroux has first Derby mount. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

3. Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux): Santa Anita Derby winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 at Santa Anita on April 20. …. Santa Anita Derby winners have won two of last four Derbys. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 27-1.

4. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Can Baffert do it again? … Colt has been first or second in seven career starts. … Runner-up in last two preps, San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 11-1.

5. Brody’s Cause (Dale Romans, Luis Saez): Might be peaking at right time based on Blue Grass win. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.80 at Churchill Downs on Saturday. … First of three wins came at Churchill last year. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 10-1 (mutuel field).

6. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Looks to make amends for only loss in six starts. … Ran fourth in Florida Derby after five Grade 2 wins. … Worked 4 furlongs in 47.40 at Churchill on Friday. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

7. Outwork (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Wood winner is one of three sons of Uncle Mo in Derby. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 at Churchill on Friday … Ran second to stablemate Destin in Tampa Bay Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 30-1.

8. Destin (Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Eight-week layoff for Tampa Bay Derby winner. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 at Churchill on Friday. … Has three wins in five starts. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

9. Creator (Asmussen, Ricardo Santana): Arkansas Derby winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:02.40 at Churchill Downs on Monday. … Likely long shot with just two wins in nine races. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 58-1.

10. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise, Jr., Mike Smith): San Felipe winner among strong contingent of California-based horses. … Ran fourth in Santa Anita Derby. … Worked 6 furlongs in 1:12 at San Luis Rey Downs on April 23. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

 

World’s No. 1 horse Arrogate returns to racing at Del Mar

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Arrogate is returning to racing after a nearly four-month layoff with a bulls-eye on his back.

The 4-year-old colt ranked the world’s No. 1 horse brings a seven-race winning streak into the San Diego Handicap on Saturday at Del Mar. He won the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup in January and the $10 million Dubai World Cup in his last start on March 25.

His career earnings of $17,084,600 are a North American record.

So what’s a big-shot like him doing in a $300,000 stakes?

It’s a tuneup for more prestigious races later on and the first of three potential starts the colt will make at the seaside track north of San Diego. Arrogate’s target this summer is the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19. This fall, he will defend his title in the BC Classic, which he won last year at Santa Anita.

The field for the Grade 2 San Diego was reduced to five on Friday when trainer Keith Desormeaux decided to run Dalmore in Sunday’s $75,000 Wickerr Stakes instead of taking on Arrogate.

That leaves Accelerate, Cat Burglar, El Huerfano and Donworth to challenge Arrogate, who figures to be the odds-on favorite in the 1 1/16-mile race. Bob Baffert trains both Arrogate and Cat Burglar.

Arrogate will carry high weight of 126 pounds, including Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. The colt is spotting Cat Burglar eight pounds, Accelerate nine pounds, Donworth 10 pounds and El Huerfano 11 pounds. In a handicap race, weights are assigned by the racing secretary.

Arrogate hasn’t carried that much weight since winning a minor race at Del Mar last summer. After that, he grabbed the sport’s attention with a record 13 +-length victory in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. It’s been one big-money victory after another ever since.

The colt has distanced himself from the competition in ways not seen in racing recently.

He knocked off fan favorite and Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome in the BC Classic and beat Chrome again in the Pegasus World Cup. Traveling thousands of miles to Dubai didn’t faze Arrogate, either. Despite a poor start out of the gate, he went on to victory in the desert.

Baffert has masterfully managed Arrogate’s career for owner Juddmonte Farm, with the Hall of Fame trainer carefully picking his spots and the colt’s performance backing him up every time. His only loss came in his career debut when he finished third.

Still, Baffert knows better than most what it’s like leading a world-beater to the track only to watch him lose.

That’s what happened two years ago, when American Pharoah was stunned by Keen Ice in the Travers barely two months after becoming horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

And Arrogate’s rivals are spoiling for a similar upset at Del Mar.

“One great thing about this sport is that they’re not machines,” said Doug O’Neill, who trains Donworth. “As much as Arrogate looks unbeatable, they all are beatable. If he’s not feeling it on Saturday and we are, we’ll shock the world.”

Irap wins Indiana Derby; AJ Foyt’s horse finishes 2nd

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SHELBYVILLE, Ind. — Irap won the $500,000 Indiana Derby by five lengths over Colonelsdarkemper, owned by four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.

Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Irap ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.21 on Saturday night at Indiana Grand. He paid $4.80, $3.20 and $2.60 in the Grade 3 race for 3-year-olds. Irap is trained by Southern California-based Doug O’Neill.

Colonelsdarktemper returned $9.60 and $5.80, while Untrapped was another length back in third and paid $2.80 to show.

Foyt is in Toronto for this weekend’s IndyCar race, so he sent grandson A.J. Foyt IV to the track outside Indianapolis.

“He’s always shown a lot of heart and he showed it tonight,” the younger Foyt said about the colt. “He ran a great race.”

The younger Foyt works in the Indianapolis Colts’ front office. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where his father Tony trained horses.

“Horse racing holds a special place in my heart, and I’m glad my grandfather still has it going on,” A.J. IV said.