Nyquist wins 2016 Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The racing world wondered if there was a worthy successor to last year’s Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.

Enter Nyquist.

The bay colt who lacks any distinctive markings won the Kentucky Derby by 1 ¼ lengths on Saturday, improving to 8-0 in his career as the fourth consecutive favorite to win the race.

Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Nyquist ran 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.31. The 3-year-old colt became the eighth unbeaten winner in the race’s 142-year history, and the first since Big Brown in 2008. He paid $6.60, $4.80 and $3.60 as the 2-1 favorite in the full field of 20 horses.

“We got a beautiful trip from the start to the end,” Gutierrez said.

Nyquist delivered a second Derby win for Gutierrez, trainer Doug O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam. The Southern California-based team was behind 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another.

“This is such a special horse,” O’Neill said. “You can see it in his eye on a daily basis and he’s such a professional. Any human sport, he’d be the top-notch athlete. He’s just first class.”

Nyquist enjoyed a perfect trip over the Churchill Downs dirt in front of 167,227, the second-largest crowd in Derby history. The colt broke well out of the 13th post and showed some early speed getting away from the gate. Gutierrez eased Nyquist back to let speedster Danzing Candy take the lead going into the chaotic first turn.

“His run was awesome,” Reddam said. “Obviously, we were going to take it to ’em. I love the way that we fired out of there and he sat behind Danzing Candy. This horse, he’s really something. We’re just really lucky to be a part of that.”

Nyquist stayed just off the lead and Gutierrez kept him in the clear, steering him to the outside on the final turn. Nyquist and Gun Runner overtook tiring leader Danzing Candy at the top of the stretch.

“I thought I had it for a minute,” said Florent Geroux, aboard Gun Runner. “He started pricking his ears back and forth at the top of the stretch.”

But Gun Runner was only in front briefly before Nyquist showed a strong finishing kick. He put away his closest rival and sped to the finish line, with Exaggerator closing but never threatening after coming from well back.

Exaggerator fell to 0-4 against Nyquist, including two runner-up finishes under the brother team of trainer Keith and jockey Kent Desormeaux.

“What a horse,” marveled Keith Desormeaux. “I can’t respect that horse enough.”

All week long, optimism had filled the air in O’Neill’s barn. The humans took their cues from the horse. Nyquist settled right in, showing an obvious liking for his surroundings.

“You just felt there was no way you could be nervous because you just felt like you were going in the gym with Kobe Bryant,” O’Neill said. “You just knew he was going to figure out a way to pull it out at the end and he did. Mario gets a lot of credit, too. What a ride, what a ride.”

Nyquist began Derby day with a visit from the Stanley Cup, which he playfully took a nibble at. Fitting, since he’s named for Detroit Red Wings player Gustav Nyquist. Reddam is a fan of the NHL team and O’Neill was born in Michigan.

The bay colt is from the first crop of sire Uncle Mo, who never got the chance to run in the Derby after being the early favorite for the 2011 race. He was scratched the day before with a stomach illness. Uncle Mo had two other offspring in this year’s race: Mo Tom and Outwork.

“Congratulations to Nyquist, he’s still undefeated,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Mohaymen. “He’s a star. I don’t know about the Triple Crown, but we’ll have a great year.”

Exaggerator returned $5.40 and $4.20, while Gun Runner was another 3 ¼ lengths back in third and paid $6 to show.

Mohaymen finished fourth and Suddenbreakingnews was fifth.

Destin was sixth, followed by Brody’s Cause, Mo Tom, Lani and Mor Spirit, trained by Bob Baffert, who guided American Pharoah last year. My Man Sam was 11th, followed by Tom’s Ready, Creator, Outwork, Danzing Candy, Trojan Nation, Oscar Nominated, Majesto and Whitmore. Shagaf didn’t finish.

American Pharoah became racing’s first Triple Crown champion in 37 years. The sport has had only one pair of back-to-back Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.

Now Nyquist is the only horse in position to replicate the feat.

Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming to skip Belmont Stakes

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NEW YORK — Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming will skip the Belmont Stakes next month after finishing eighth in the Preakness.

Trainer Todd Pletcher says the 3-year-old colt will be pointed toward either the $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 29 or the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on July 30, according to the Daily Racing Form.

Trainer Chad Brown says he will wait until after the Memorial Day weekend to announce where Preakness winner Cloud Computing will run next. However, it appears unlikely he will run in the Belmont.

The Belmont field is limited to 16 starters. Besides Classic Empire, who came in second at the Preakness Stakes, other horses expected to run are Conquest Mo Money, Japan-based Epicharis, Gormley, Irap, J Boys Echo, Lookin At Lee, Meantime, Multiple, Patch, Senior Investment, Tapwrit, True Timber and Twisted Tom. Other possibilities are Irish War Cry and Hollywood Handsome.

With no Triple Crown in play, Belmont lacks a singular buzz

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BALTIMORE — Cloud Computing stole the Preakness, and any hope of a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

The 13-1 shot did it on six weeks’ rest, having skipped the 20-horse roughhouse that is the Kentucky Derby even though he had enough points to get in that race. With another three weeks until the Belmont in New York, Cloud Computing could return to run on his home track.

“We haven’t ruled it out,” trainer Chad Brown said Sunday. “We’re just going to evaluate the horse this week and probably by next weekend we may have a decision.”

Cloud Computing didn’t race as a 2-year-old because of injury, so he is among the freshest horses out there.

Brown prefers to give his horses a month or more between starts. Trainer Todd Pletcher also favors long layoffs, although he made an exception to run Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming back in two weeks. The colt responded with an eighth-place finish – the worst of his career – on Saturday.

“He looks good, bright, alert, sound, healthy, happy,” Pletcher said. “We’ll head to Belmont and regroup.”

If the Derby and Preakness winners skip the Belmont on June 10, the likely favorite would be Classic Empire, who was runner-up Saturday after finishing fourth in the Derby.

It would be the first time since 2010 that neither the Derby nor Preakness winner run in the Belmont. That year, Derby winner Super Saver, trained by Pletcher, and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky sat out the third leg.

Trainer Mark Casse said Classic Empire is being pointed toward the Belmont, barring any unforeseen developments.

“He was a better horse yesterday than he was two weeks ago for the Kentucky Derby,” he said.

Among other horses likely for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont – the longest of the Triple Crown races – are: Senior Investment (third in Preakness), Lookin At Lee (fourth in Preakness) and Japanese invader Epicharis.

Lookin At Lee finished second in the Derby, when Classic Empire was fourth.

Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee would face off for the sixth time in the Belmont, and they could be the only horses to run in all three Triple Crown races. Classic Empire has three victories against Lookin At Lee, including this year’s Arkansas Derby.

“You’re looking at horses that traveled at 2, ran at as high a level as we have, so you’re not surprised,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Lookin At Lee and won last year’s Belmont with Creator.

“They’ve been able to maintain themselves physically. That puts them in a different position than horses who have not consistently run on that stage.”

Possible Belmont starters are Multiplier (sixth in Preakness) and Conquest Mo Money (seventh in Preakness). Gunnevera (fifth in Preakness) and Hence (ninth in Preakness) won’t run in the Belmont.

Epicharis, one of the top 3-year-olds in Japan, will make his North American debut in the $1.5 million Belmont. That would make him eligible for a new $1 million bonus offered by the New York Racing Association to any Japan-based winner of the race. The winner’s share of the purse is $800,000.

Epicharis would be the second Japanese horse to run in the Belmont. Last year, Lani finished third after running in all three legs of the Triple Crown.