Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Derby favourite Nyquist running in the shadow of American Pharoah

Published:Saturday | May 7, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Groom Elias Anaya (left) uses a sponge to clean the face of Kentucky Derby favourite Nyquist outside Barn 41 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on Thursday. Holding the horse is Fernel "Lefty" Serrano.

LOUISVILLE, Ky (AP):

Go ahead and pity Kentucky Derby favourite Nyquist. He has the unenviable task of following in the hoof prints of Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, and so far isn't getting the respect expected for the only undefeated horse in the race.

Nyquist heads into the Run for the Roses today at Churchill Downs as the early 3-1 favourite in a full field of 20 horses. Deservedly so, based on a record that includes being a champion at age two, victories at four different tracks in the east and west, and an ability to overcome all sorts of obstacles in his races.

Still, Nyquist isn't the buzziest of horses. Heck, even his owner J. Paul Reddam said that as a fan he'd bet against his horse. Handicappers and racing fans haven't been talking up the bay colt named for Detroit Red Wings player Gustav Nyquist (Reddam is a fan) either.

Nyquist has won his seven races, including four prestigious Grade Ones, by a combined 15 lengths - an average of just over two lengths. He rarely does more than he needs to and nothing dazzling. He tends to drift out in the stretch, which could indicate the distance he's run is about as far as he wants to go. He doesn't even have any markings - no blaze on his head, no white stockings on his feet.

JUVENILE CHAMPION

His sire, Uncle Mo, was a juvenile champion and the 2011 Derby favourite scratched the day before the race with an illness. Nyquist is one of his three offspring in the race, but nobody knows if Uncle Mo's first crop of foals can run the classic distance of 1-1/4 miles because there is no proven pedigree.

Yet Nyquist has a supporter in Bob Baffert, the Hall of Fame trainer who guided American Pharoah.

"He does it workmanlike, but he does it fast. When you're fast and you stay out of trouble in a 20-horse field, that's a big edge," Baffert said. "He's got the heart, and a horse with heart will go further than they're supposed to go."

In a year of can-you-top-a-Triple-Crown winner, Nyquist has already done so financially. He's earned a record $3,322,600, including a $1 million bonus for winning the Florida Derby in his last race.

None of the doubt deters Doug O'Neill, who trains Nyquist.

"I'm optimistic we're going to win," he said. "He's definitely shown us that he's going to run a big race."