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.

 

Jason Servis, trainer of Maximum Security, pleads guilty to drugging his horses

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NEW YORK – Trainer Jason Servis, whose horse Maximum Security was the 3-year-old champion in 2019, pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges involving a widespread scheme to drug horses.

The 65-year-old New Jersey-based trainer faces four years in prison when he is sentenced next May in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. He was the last defendant facing charges in the scheme, and now 23 of the 31 individuals charged have pleaded guilty.

Servis pleaded guilty in connection with his role in the distribution of adulterated and misbranded drugs intended for use on horses in his stable.

“Servis’ conduct represents corruption at the highest levels of the racehorse industry,” Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “As a licensed racehorse trainer, Servis was bound to protect the horses under his care and to comply with racing rules designed to ensure the safety and well-being of horses and protect the integrity of the sport.”

Servis’ attorney, Rita Glavin, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Servis was charged in 2020 after a wide-ranging investigation into doping in the horse racing industry. Racing authorities suspended his trainer’s license.

Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby but was disqualified for interference during the running of the race. The colt finished first in the $10 million Saudi Cup shortly before Servis’ arrest in March 2020. Saudi officials later withheld the winner’s share of the purse, citing Servis’ arrest and indictment.

“I don’t take any solace in other peoples misery, actually quite the opposite I feel some empathy for them,” Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Graham Motion tweeted, “but the reality is that those of us who were beaten by Jason Service’s (sic) horses have little to show for it other than losing money, owners and horses due to his success.”

Another New Jersey-based trainer, Jorge Navarro, is serving a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty a year ago. Eleven of the defendants were trainers and seven were veterinarians.

Servis is the brother of trainer John Servis, who trained Smarty Jones to victories in the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness before the colt lost his Triple Crown bid in the Belmont.

Irad Ortiz sets single-season record with 77th stakes win

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NEW YORK – Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. earned his record 77th single-season North American stakes victory when he guided Dr B to victory in the $200,000 Go for Wand at Aqueduct.

The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico broke the old mark of 76 set by the late Hall of Fame rider Garrett Gomez in 2007.

“This is great. Amazing feeling,” said Ortiz, Jr., who won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey from 2018-20. “Gomez did it in 2007 and he was a great rider, one of the best in the game. I’m so happy just to be a part of this. I love this sport.”

Ortiz Jr. won the Belmont Stakes with Mo Donegal in June to go with Breeders’ Cup victories in the Juvenile, Filly & Mare Sprint and Sprint. He also earned nine other Grade 1 wins in New York, including Life Is Good in the Woodward and Whitney and Nest in the Alabama and Coaching Club Oaks. He won riding titles at Belmont’s spring-summer meet and Saratoga’s summer meet.

Ortiz Jr. leads North American riders with 304 overall victories this year. His purse earnings totaled over $35.8 million going into Saturday’s races, which already surpassed his single-season record of $34.1 million in 2019.