Both unbeaten colts are already qualified for the Kentucky Derby thanks to previous victories, but the Florida Derby on Saturday is likely a last chance for the other eight horses in the field to earn a shot at the Run for the Roses.
A total of 170 Derby qualifying points are at stake — 100 to the winner, 50 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
In the weekend’s other prep, the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, 85 points are on the line. None of the 12 3-year-olds entered, including favorite Airoforce, have enough points to qualify for the Derby entering the race.
Mohaymen is a slight favorite over Nyquist in the most anticipated Derby prep of the season. Mohaymen has 70 points; Nyquist 30. In the past, 20 points usually has been enough to qualify for a Derby field limited to 20 starters.
Trainer Dale Romans is sending out 20-1 long shot Takeittotheedge in the Florida Derby in just the second start of his career. He won his debut a few weeks ago at Gulfstream Park, and a third-place finish could make him Derby-eligible.
“This is the time of year, and this is a really good horse,” Romans said. “It’s a strong Florida Derby field — you’ve got the two best horses in the country. They usually all wait until they get to Kentucky, so it’s going to be very interesting.
“But we have a horse with a lot of talent. It’s the time of year — you’d hate to have him run big in just an allowance race.”
And you never know. In the 2005 Belmont Stakes, Romans’ winless Nolan’s Cat finished third behind Afleet Alex and Andromeda’s Hero.
As for the much anticipated Mohaymen-Nyquist showdown, both trainers are eager to see what happens. There’s added incentive for Nyquist owner J. Paul Reddam, who purchased the colt at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Florida sale. In addition to the $600,000 winner’s share of the $1 million purse on the line, there’s a $1 million bonus for any horse winning the Florida Derby that came out of that sale.
“Bonuses are great anytime,” Mohaymen trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “I think it’s great that we have the two best colts in the country racing against each other Saturday. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often. It’s a plus for the industry and it’s a plus for the owner and trainer, if they happen to win it Saturday.”
The Florida Derby field, from the rail out, is Sawyers Mickey, Fellowship, Majesto, Nyquist, Copingaway, Chovanes, Takeittotheedge, Fashionable Freddy, Mohaymen and Isofass.
Airoforce, with 10 Derby qualifying points, comes into the Spiral off a 10th place finish in the Risen Star in his only 3-year-old start. Trainer Mark Casse is hoping for a return to form that saw his colt run second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and then win the Kentucky Jockey Club.
The field for the Spiral, from the rail out, is That Makes Sense, Surgical Strike, Jensen, Don’t Be So Salty, Oscar Nominated, Two Step Time, Strike Up the Band, Kasseopia, Swagger Jagger, Airoforce, Ralis and Azar. Also eligible, in case any in the full field are scratched, are Crescent Drive and Diplodocus.
The biggest Derby prep weekend is April 9, with three races — the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park.