The starting gate will once again be full with 20 horses for the 142nd Kentucky Derby.
Even though the majority of horses have little chance of winning and over the half the field is typically eliminated in the opening quarter-mile, owners and trainers cannot resist the prestige of having a horse in America’s greatest race.
Most of the 3-year-olds will be running 1 1/4 miles for the first time on May 7, leaving it up for grabs to see which handles the distance, track surface and traffic-choked conditions the best.
Trainer Doug O’Neill has the likely wagering favorite in undefeated Nyquist.
Three trainers are expected to have two horses each in the race. Steve Asmussen will saddle Gun Runner and Creator, Todd Pletcher has Wood Memorial winner Outwork and Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin, and Chad Brown has Shagaf and Blue Grass runner-up My Man Sam.
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A son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. He’s trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame jockey who is Keith’s younger brother. The colt has three wins in eight career starts and earnings of $1 million. He has lost to Nyquist three times, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Exaggerator is a versatile sort who can press the pace or stalk the leaders. He is coming off an impressive 6 1/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby on a sloppy track.
The colt topped the Derby leaderboard with 151 points earned in prep races. He has four wins in five career starts, including the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star this winter. Trainer Steve Asmussen, recently elected to racing’s Hall of Fame, is seeking his first Derby victory. He will also saddle Creator. Gun Runner has the second-highest earnings of $1.6 million among the horses expected to make the field.
The colt had his five-race winning streak snapped in the Florida Derby, when he finished fourth behind Nyquist as the 4-5 favorite. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin tosses out the clunker, saying Mohaymen has had “only two bad minutes in his entire life.” The colt is one of two (Shagaf is the other) in the race owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the 70-year-old deputy ruler of Dubai. The Maktoum family is 0 for 8 at the Derby. Mohaymen’s blood lines include Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Seattle Slew.
Any Derby horse trained by Bob Baffert is worth consideration. The Hall of Fame trainer has four Derby victories, including last year when American Pharoah began his journey to Triple Crown glory in this race. Another Hall of Famer, Gary Stevens, will ride the Pennsylvania-bred colt. Stevens has three Derby wins, the last coming in 1997 aboard Silver Charm, who was trained by Baffert. Mor Spirit has never been worse than second in seven career starts.
The colt brings a 7-0 record into Churchill Downs, bettering the marks of Seattle Slew in 1977 and Smarty Jones in 2004 when they were 6-0 and won the race. He comes in off a five-week layoff, having last won the Florida Derby. The colt has won from just about everywhere: on the rail, from the far outside, leading all the way or coming from off the pace. Nyquist is a son of Uncle Mo, who also went undefeated in his 2-year-old season. Uncle Mo was the early favorite for the 2011 Kentucky Derby, but he was scratched the day before because of illness and was later diagnosed with a rare liver disease. The colt is named for Detroit Red Wings player Gustav Nyquist; owner Paul Reddam is a big fan of the hockey team. Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez were the same team behind I’ll Have Another, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012 before being scratched on the eve of the Belmont Stakes with a career-ending leg injury. Nyquist is the richest horse in the Derby field, having earned $3.2 million. He was purchased for $400,000.