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.

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.