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.

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

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To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

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Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.