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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.

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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.


Native River gets wire-to-wire win in Cheltenham Gold Cup

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Native River delivered an exhibition in front-running to outlast favorite Might Bite in a thrilling duel to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Britain’s most prestigious jumps race, on Friday.

Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, 5-1 shot Native River took the lead right from the start and was never passed in the race over 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs in front of a crowd of 70,000.

After they jumped the last fence, Native River and Might Bite were neck and neck, but Johnson got a kick out of the Colin Tizzard-trained horse on the uphill finish and Native River won by 4 1/2 lengths – a year after finishing third in the race.

For Johnson, it was a second victory in the Gold Cup – 18 years after his first on Looks Like Trouble.

“It’s been a long 18 years,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I was a passenger.

“The more I asked from him, the better he jumped.”

Might Bite’s handler, Nicky Henderson, was looking to become the first trainer to capture the Cheltenham Festival’s three signature races in the same year – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup.

It was Might Bite’s first defeat over fences, and Henderson said the heavy going didn’t do the horse any favors – especially against a rival who is a past winner of the Welsh National and the Hennessy Gold Cup

“It was the right thing to track Native River because no other horse got into the race, he had to be in the right place,” Henderson said of the 4-1 favorite.

“On better ground, stamina wouldn’t have been an issue. But in that ground you have to work so much harder. The winner is a Welsh National winner and the reason I’ve never won that race is because I can’t find horses that go in that ground.”

Native River won his owners 369,822 pounds ($515,000).

Anibale Fly, a 33-1 shot, was third.

Jockey Ruby Walsh to miss rest of Cheltenham Festival

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Jockey Ruby Walsh will miss the remainder of the Cheltenham Festival after aggravating a leg injury when falling off his horse during the RSA Insurance Novices’ chase on Wednesday.

Walsh, the most successful jockey in the festival’s history with 52 wins, had only recently returned to competition after a four-month layoff due to a broken leg. He was taken to a hospital for X-rays and his sister Jennifer said in a statement that “unfortunately he has aggravated a recent leg injury and will see his consultant in Dublin next week for further assessment.”

Walsh had been set to ride Killultagh Vic in Friday’s Gold Cup.

On Wednesday’s second day of the festival, Altior extended his unbeaten record over jumps to 13 in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Altior had a slow start eventually powered seven lengths clear of the Willie Mullins-trained Min.

It was also a good day for trainer Gordon Elliott who took home three wins, headlined by Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

The 8-11 favorite beat Black Op by two and three-quarter lengths.