LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The main story line heading into Saturday's Kentucky Derby was that there wasn't a horse like Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the field.
Continue Reading Below
The undefeated Nyquist instead is making his own run at history and is now a Derby winner.
"He's a special, special horse," Nyquist's trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He knows how to bring his 'A' game. If he was a human athlete, we'd celebrate him as a super star."
Nyquist was quick out of the starting gate as the field of 20 ran past the grandstand for the first time, but Nyquist's jockey Mario Gutierrez conceded the early lead to Danzing Candy. Gun Runner, running along the rail, raced third.
With Danzing Candy setting fast fractions, going 22.58 for the first 1/4 mile and 45.72 at the half-mile mark, Gun Runner rushed up on the inside, passing Nyquist to challenge the tiring leader on the far turn.
"When I hit the top of the stretch, the horse was just coasting," Gun Runner's jockey Florent Geroux said. "I thought I had it."
Continue Reading Below
But Gutierrez and Nyquist stayed on Gun Runner's flank as the horses rounded the turn for the final run down the stretch. That is when Nyquist seized control of the race.
With Gutierrez urging his horse to the finish line, Exaggerator made a late charge but it wasn't enough. Nyquist crossed the finish line 1 1/4 -lengths in front for his eighth win in eight career starts. Gun Runner held off Mohaymen for third.
After the race, O'Neill was full of praise for the ride that Gutierrez gave Nyquist. "Mario has got ice in his veins," he said. "And he's the guy you want at the free--throw line at the end of the game."
Gutierrez said everyone in the race had pressure but all the success was the connection he has with his horse. "I trust him," Gutierrez said. "And I believe he trusts me as well."
The final time for the 1 1/4 -mile race was 2:01.31. It is the first time in Derby's history that the top four betting choices finished in the same exact order as their odds.
For Gutierrez, O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam, it is their second Derby victory, after I'll Have Another in 2012. That horse went on to win the Preakness but had to withdraw on the eve of the Belmont Stakes because of a tendon injury in his left front leg.
Although he had never lost a race and was the reigning Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion, the knock on Nyquist coming into the Derby was that he hadn't run fast enough to win the Derby. His sire, Uncle Mo, had never won a race beyond 1 1/16-miles, so the Derby's 1 1/4 -mile distance was also a question for his progeny.
In the paddock before the race, Outwork, also a son of Uncle Mo, got a bit excited in front of the big crowd gathered for a look at the field, spinning around as his handlers sought to calm him. A few feet away, Nyquist barely moved a muscle, unmoved by the commotion.
Nyquist, named after Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist, paid $6.60 on a $2 win bet. The win also extends the streak of winning favorites in the Derby to four, with Orb (2013), California Chrome (2014) and American Pharoah (2015) as the previous three champions.
O'Neill said Nyquist is likely headed to Baltimore on Monday to begin preparations for the Preakness on May 21.
Before rushing to compare this year's Derby winner to American Pharoah, Nyquist's trainer and jockey didn't want to look too far in the future. "One race at a time," Gutierrez said. "Yeah, one race at a time," replied O'Neill.