In an age where everyone seems to dodge each other until the big race day arrives, how refreshing is this going to be on Saturday? We are merely days away from a showdown between the two top contenders for the Kentucky Derby, and it’s only April! Saturday’s Grade 1 Florida Derby is sure to have a small field, but to many that will be just fine as undefeated stars Nyquist and Mohaymen are set to square off in what could be an epic dual. Both horses have kept to their own paths leading up to this weekend’s big event, but thanks largely in part to a $1 million bonus awarded to the Florida Derby winner if the horse went through the Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale of two year olds in training we’ll get to see these two stars in the same starting gate before the first Sautrday in May.
Nyquist is the horse that qualifies for that bonus, and the bonus is the major reason he’ll leave his friendly confines of California and take a swing at the Grade 1 Florida Derby. This payday will match the payday he’d have for winning the Kentucky Derby so in many ways this race could be one of his most important. Sure, winning the Kentucky Derby will add a huge amount to his resume, but lets not forget that resume is already fairly hefty. After dominating his rivals in California as a two year old, Nyquist came into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a soft favorite and won yet again. He easily and almost unanimously ended up winning Two Year Old Horse of the Year honors, and has since made his three year old debut a winning one in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita.
While Nyquist received 255 of the Eclipse Award votes for Two Year Old Horse of the Year there happened to be one horse that received three. That horse was Mohaymen who like Nyquist was also brilliant as a two year old as he went three for three and won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes to close out his season. The Remsen is the biggest stakes race in New York for two year olds late in the year, and with that win Mohaymen actually became the number one Kentucky Derby prospect on the majority of people’s lists. Again like Nyquist, Mohaymen has kept his undefeated record alive with wins as a three year old in both the Grade 2 Holy Bull and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
So how can you separate these two horses and begin to break down who is going to win on Saturday? I believe, as always, there are two huge keys to winning these big stakes race: class and distance preference. Lets start with class. Who have these horses beaten?
- Mohaymen – He beat graded stakes winner Flexibility twice in the Grade 2 Nashua and Grade 2 Remsen Stakes. He also beat another graded stakes winner Greenpointcrusader in the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes. These wins looked solid when they happened, however both of the horses mentioned have come back to disappoint in recent races. Mohaymen also beat the highly thought of Zulu in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, but we do not know how good he is just yet considering that was his first stakes race and match up with top level horses.
- Nyquist – He’s beaten a long list of graded stakes winners in Exaggerator, Ralis, Brody’s Cause, and Greenpointcrusader. That’s the very good news. The bad news is all of those horses haven’t exactly ran all that well recently. Nyquist has actually beaten up on Exaggerator the most out of those stakes winners with three wins over him. A couple of those wins were at one turn distances which actually looks to be where Exaggerator excels at the most. Ralis has turned out to be horrible and Brody’s Cause didn’t look much better in his most recent start. We’ve already mentioned the disappointment of Greenpointcrusader. Then there is Swipe. He’s beaten Swipe so many times, however Swipe hasn’t ran since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile so we truly do not know how good he might end up being.
Overall I’d give the slight edge in class to Nyquist, although it isn’t a wide gap one way or another. How about this mile and one eighth test facing them in the Florida Derby?
- Mohaymen – Distance pedigree on both top and bottom is what people have been excited about for awhile now with Mohaymen. He also has already won a race at a mile and one eighth so distance wise he should be in ok shape.
- Nyquist – Uh oh…this could be the big question mark. His sire Uncle Mo excelled at a mile or less with a mile and one sixteenth being his max distance. His dam side is filled with sprinters. Nyquist’s speed numbers have also regressed when running in two turn races. Read more about this Uncle Mo dilemma.
When it comes to distance it’s advantage Mohaymen.
Of course this is horses racing. Upsets happen every day and could obviously happen in this race. While most of the field will be defined as “fillers” and have no shot to win there is one horse that could pull off an upset. Fellowship, who is getting better with each race, is a lightly raced horse for Stanley Gold that could be improving. He ran solid enough in the Fountain of Youth to give his backers hope, and his recent workouts have been solid. He certainly fits the bill as a horse that could run a big one, and we all know Gold can be super tough at Gulfstream Park.
However, I will not get fancy with this race. It’s a two horse race for me between the two big stars, and I do believe they’ll put on a show for us this Saturday. For me the race comes down to one simple question: Can Nyquist (or any other Uncle Mo offspring) get the distance of a mile and one eighth and ultimately a mile and a quarter? I’m going to say no until they prove me otherwise. So with that being said it will be Mohaymen for this dude in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.