HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – The Beast of the East vs. The Best in the West.
The showdown that usually takes place on the first Saturday in May will be celebrated five weeks earlier this year when Shadwell Stable’s Mohaymen and Reddam Racing LLC’s Nyquist meet in Saturday’s $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
The Battle of the Coasts in the 65th running of the key Triple Crown prep will be a particularly special occasion since both colts will bring undefeated records into the 1 1/8-mile event for 3-year-olds that drew a field of 10 Wednesday.
“This is why you get up early and go to the barn – for opportunities like this. To have our colt No. 2 and Mohaymen No. 1 and have that matchup five weeks before the Kentucky Derby is awesome,” said Doug O’Neill, trainer of the Eclipse Award-winning Nyquist, rated second at 6-5 behind even-money morning-line favorite Mohaymen for Gulfstream’s signature event.” I think it’s awesome for the sport and exciting for all the connections.”
The Florida Derby will be the centerpiece of a 14-race program featuring eight stakes (seven graded). First-race post time is set for noon.
Nyquist, who went to the track to school in the starting gate Wednesday morning after arriving from his Santa Anita homebase late Tuesday afternoon, will have more at stake than Mohaymen, above and beyond the $600,000 winner’s share of the purse and bragging rights. The connections of the son of Uncle Mo have the added incentive of a $1 million bonus available to any 2015 Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale graduate who wins the Florida Derby.
“Bonuses are great anytime,” said Mohaymen’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, said. “I think it’s great that we have the two best colts in the country racing against each other Saturday. It’s a great race. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often. It’s a plus for the industry and it’s a plus for the owner and trainer, if they happen to win it Saturday.”
Nyquist, who was purchased for $400,000 at the March Fasig-Tipton sale held at Gulfstream Park, was honored as the 2015 2-year-old champion following a perfect season capped by an impressive triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland Oct. 31. The Kentucky-bred colt also captured the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and the FrontRunner (G1) at Santa Anita during his 5-for-5 season. He enters the Florida Derby off a 1 ½-length victory in his 2016 debut in the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita Feb. 15.
J. Paul Reddam, O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez teamed to capture the 2012 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) with I’ll Have Another. Although the $1 million bonus was added incentive to ship Nyquist to Gulfstream, O’Neill maintained the Florida Derby has always in his plans due to its place on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
“We love the five weeks out. That put us strongly on the map for the race. The Florida Derby made all the sense,” O’Neill said.
“After we got lucky in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, that was the decision we made, where he’d go in the San Vicente and then the Florida Derby. Usually in life, when you make a plan, you’ve got to call some audibles, but so far things have unfolded they way we wanted,” he added. “The million-dollar bonus does come into play a little bit, but it was our intent to go in the Florida Derby.”
O’Neill understands the challenge that faces Nyquist in his highly anticipated meeting with Mohaymen.
“What impresses me about [Moyhaymen]? His determination and his will to win. He just gets it done. There were a couple of long stretch runs where no one could get by him. I think his ability to get the job done and his pedigree is second to none. Then, Kiaran McLaughlin and his whole crew are Grade 1. He’s got a lot of strength behind him,” O’Neill said. “We’re optimistic that we can compete with him and hoping we can beat him. He’s got a lot in his corner for sure.”
Mohaymen, a son of Tapit who brought a winning bid of $2 million at the 2014 Keeneland September sale, has more than lived up to his pedigree and price tag. The Kentucky-bred colt, who capped a three-win juvenile season with a victory in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct, has taken to the Gulfstream track in a big way during the Championship Meet, capturing the Lambholm South Holy Bull (G2) by 3 ½ lengths and the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth (G2) by 2 ¼ lengths. Word that Nyquist would ship to Gulfstream didn’t alter McLaughlin’s long-standing plan to run Mohaymen in all three preps at the Hallandale Beach track.
“It didn’t affect a lot. We were staying on course. I liked the five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby and we were here training. We’re going to have to face 19 others or 18 others on May 7th hopefully, so it’s not a big deal. Nothing’s changed,” McLaughlin said. “We’d rather face him later in the Derby than now, but this is an important race, the Grade 1 Florida Derby. We’re not a Grade 1 winner, so it’s a very important race and we’re ready to go.”
Although Nyquist has three Grade 1 wins, O’Neill understands why Mohaymen earned morning-line favoritism.
“I think Mohaymen has home-court advantage and he is every professional handicapper’s pick from what I’ve read,” O’Neill said. “He’s the Derby favorite to this point. We’ve got to beat him to earn our respect that way.”
Although the ultimate goal is the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown, McLaughlin said Mohaymen and jockey Junior Alvarado are prepared to go all out to win the Florida Derby.
“We want to win the race. If we have to empty him out, no problem. It’s a Grade 1 and we need to try to win one,” said McLaughlin, noting that five weeks between the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby would be sufficient time to bring his colt back to peak form.
Nyquist drew No. 4, while Mohaymen the No. 9 at Wednesday’s post position draw.
“It’s hard to gauge. Prior to the draw, we didn’t know if they’d be a bad post for him,” O’Neill said. “No. 4 is just fine. Like the rest of them, we have to leave the gate running and get good position.
“Mario knows Nyquist better than any of us. He’s going to leave there with confidence and play it by ear. When Mario leaves the paddock with the horse, it’s all up to him.”
Jacks or Better Farm’s Fellowship, who finished third behind Mohaymen in both the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, is rated third at 15-1 in the morning line.
“He’s good. He’d better be doing good if he’s going to run against them,” trainer Stan Gold said. “Obviously, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re running against the two best. I’m not going to look for a race somewhere else to avoid them. He gives us reason for optimism. We got beat by one of the top two twice, but he ran good.”
Jose Lezcano has the mount aboard the Gulfstream-based son of Awesome of Course, who captured the $500,000 Florida Sire Stakes In Reality in September.
Bakster Farm LLC’s Takeittotheedge is set to enter the starting gate Saturday to make his second career start in the Florida Derby at 20-1. The son of Broken Vow debuted with a front-running 7 ¾-length victory at seven furlongs at Gulfstream March 5.
“This is the time of year, and this is a really good horse. It’s a strong Florida Derby field—you’ve got the two best horses in the country. They usually all wait until they get to Kentucky, so it’s going to be very interesting,” trainer Dale Romans said. “But we have a horse with a lot of talent. It’s the time of year—you’d hate to have him run big in just an allowance race.”
Trainer Nick Zito is scheduled to saddle Fashionable Freddy (30-1) in search of his third career Florida Derby success. The Hall of Fame trainer visited the winner’s circle with High Fly (2005), Ice Box (2010) and Dialed In (2011).
Rounding out the field: Chovanes (30-1), Copingaway (50-1), Isofass (30-1), Majesto (20-1) and Sawyers Mickey (30-1).
Source: Gulfstream Park