NOT. Feeling. The. Love

Cloud Computing won the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes by a head over Classic Empire.  Clap…Clap. The first two legs of the Triple Crown have left me unimpressed in terms of performance and the fields of horses with the exception of Classic Empire.

The race went about as expected in that Always Dreaming and Classic Empire hooked out of the gate and went eye to eye through the first two-thirds of the race.  I have zero problem with that.  It was the Derby champion and the two-year-old champion, presumably the best two horses in the race, doing what was expected and what they were bred and born to do.  Classic Empire, in theory could not just let Always Dreaming loose on an uncontested lead and expect to win.  What nobody expected, myself included, was Always Dreaming wilting like 8-day-old flowers without water and dropping rapidly to an eighth-place finish.  The early pace was respectable, brisk but not blistering, unlike last year when Nyquist incinerated himself early and unnecessarily.  Having not heard anything being amiss with him, I’m going to go back to what I said right prior to the Kentucky Derby about Always Dreaming–nice colt, but a lot was being asked of him in a very short span of time; it caught up to him yesterday.

Classic Empire, for me, was the real winner of the day yesterday in that yet again, he demonstrated he is a racehorse.  Look at his racing year to date: a third in the Holy Bull where he went into the gate agitated, barely ran, and then it was found that he had a hoof abscess which is extremely painful and often hard to detect. Then he had back issues and refused to train for about a month.  Then he runs a wide, come-from-behind (rather than a stalking trip that is his style) race to win the Arkansas Derby at the wire.  He has the trip from Hell in the Kentucky Derby–body slammed out of the gate and again taken out of his natural stalking style to race from behind, seven wide, AND smacked in the eye by enough mud or something else to give him a swollen-closed eye the next morning, but still he ran on to finish fourth. And then yesterday he throws down against the Derby champ and loses to Cloud Computing who entered the race off six weeks rest. Classic Empire was the winner of three graded stakes races as a two year old.  The experience has paid as he’s run as a three year old.

Now you’ll get zero opposition from me about “new shooters” entering the Preakness and/or the Belmont after not running in the Derby. That’s how the game is played and to be a Classic champion the horse must handle and vanquish all comers. Period.  What I didn’t like yesterday was that (in my opinion and proven to a point in the race) yet another weak field of horses was running at our highest level of racing.  The other horses returning from the Kentucky Derby to contest the Preakness finished more than five lengths behind Cloud Computing in 4th (Lookin At Lee), 5th (Gunnevera), and 9th (Hence).  I must mention here too that only five Derby horses advanced to the Preakness; we need a 20-horse field in the Derby why? A discussion for another day, but also a contributing factor to what happens in the Preakness and Belmont.

These appear to be a very average to below average crop of three-year-old colts attempting to run at the highest level.  It’s really not a reflection on the horses as much as the American tendency to breed for speed over endurance and stamina being exposed in both races so far.  No horse, year to date, is stringing together stakes wins, the wins they have are at average times, and when most of the colts get “looked in the eye” during a race, they crumble. Virtually every Thoroughbred is a natural athlete, even those who fail as racehorses can go on to excel in a variety of other disciplines and competitions.  This crop to date hasn’t demonstrated much consistent aptitude for racing or heart and will to win.  Yes, they are young and in many instances relatively inexperienced; down the road they can mature mentally and physically; there is substantial room for improvement here, but at the moment much as I felt post-Derby I’m not seeing it.  I’m hopeful (horses always surprise), but at the moment FAR from optimistic…

Today, I can’t even guess who will be entered for the Belmont Stakes (I have’t heard any names thrown into the ring yet; STOP! As I write, it’s been announced that Classic Empire is being pointed to the Belmont).  If Classic Empire stumbles, the winner of the mile and a half race will essentially be the last horse standing/still running; Secretariat’s dazzling record of 2:24 for the Belmont Stakes is in no jeopardy on June 10.

need the three-week break at this point as much as any of the colts to hopefully regenerate some enthusiasm for these three-year-olds.

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Counting Down, Shaking Up

Six days away for Kentucky Derby 143 and here are some things you should know:

**The connections of Battalion Runner (second to Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial) and Malagacy (fifth in the Arkansas Derby last out) have withdrawn them from the Derby.  As a result, Sonneteer (a charging fourth in the Arkansas Derby) and Lookin At Lee (third in the Arkansas Derby) are now in the gate.

**Louisiana Derby winner Girvin struggled all week to get his final work in at Churchill Downs due to a quarter crack (A split or crack that runs up or down the hoof.  There are several causes for this, but hoof and/or limb conformation is the leading contributing factor.  Big Brown, 2008 Derby and Preakness winner struggled with this during his Triple Crown pursuit).  He finally got the work in and fired 5 furlongs (1/8 of a mile) in :59 + change (very sharp).

**Practical Joke, who has shown a tendency to “hang” (not pass and/or finish in the stretch; basically running in place) worked in blinkers this week and watching his work effort in them I did see some improvement when he engaged his workmate.  Chances are he will wear them in the Derby in an attempt to keep his mind focused and on the task at hand.

**Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE Derby IS going to contest the Kentucky Derby.  He is stateside at Churchill Downs, in quarantine (standard operating procedure) and will be able to stretch his legs on the the track Tuesday.

So as of today, the list of potential Derby starters is:

1. Girvin

2. Classic Empire

3. Gormley

4. Irap

5. Irish War Cry

6. Thunder Snow

7. Always Dreaming

8. Gunnevera

9. Practical Joke

10. J Boys Echo

11. State of Honor

12. Tapwrit

13. Hence

14. Fast and Accurate

15. McCraken

16. Battle of Midway

17. Patch

18. Untrapped

19. Lookin At Lee

20. Sonneteer

21. Royal Mo (Also Eligible in the event of a scratch)

Right now these horses break into four categories for me.

THE CLASS: Classic Empire and Irish War Cry. In my opinion, these two horses are the top of the field with all the ability needed to win the Kentucky Derby.  HOWEVER, both present a nagging concern. Classic Empire–Which version comes to the Derby? Calm, cool, collected, and polished Classic Empire who took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Arkansas Derby or quirky Classic Empire who comes to the gate in a froth and can be unpredictable in behavior?

Irish War Cry–Which one? The talented horse that’s won all his races but one…or the one that finished an inexplicable and very well beaten seventh (in the Fountain of Youth Stakes)?

Still, when these two are on their game, they are very nice racehorses with great potential.

THE STEADY EDS: Girvin, Gunnevera, and McCracken.  There’s nothing flashy about any of these colts, but they generally grind away and get the job done.  Think Gun Runner last year. Girvin is the rare winner of two stakes preps this year in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby.  But he is dealing with a compromised hoof.  It won’t necessarily be an issue based on his good final work and Big Brown’s example of being able to race successfully with the same condition.  But bottom line, at least for me, I want my horse to be as close to physically perfect (and none of them are) as possible; a hoof problem, no matter how deftly handled doesn’t thrill me.  The old adage “No hoof, No horse” IS true; I know.

Gunnevera has won the Delta Jackpot Stakes (at 2) and the Fountain of Youth. His last out in the Florida Derby (3rd) was workmanlike, but not necessarily inspiring.

McCraken. I didn’t like the fact that he didn’t even challenge maiden-breaking winner Irap in the Bluegrass Stakes (finishing 3rd), but he also was in desperate need of a race following his minor setback with a bit of a wrenched ankle over the winter.  Churchill Downs is his home track with victories in the Street Sense and Kentucky Jockey Club stakes over the strip.  His trainer, Ian Wilkes knows his business and was a longtime assistant to two-time Derby winning trainer Carl Nafzger (Unbridled-1990 and Street Sense 2007).

THE DARK HORSES: Sonneteer, Gormley, Always Dreaming, and Royal Mo.  All four have shown talent, many people have or will make Always Dreaming their favorite off his Florida Derby win and sharp last work. I’m not on the bandwagon yet, because the Florida Derby was his first stakes race.  It’s impressive that he could step up from allowance company to take the Florida Derby in his first stakes action, but for me it seems/feels a bit too much too fast, with the Kentucky Derby as the next step/ask. In human terms, the progression equivalent might be similar to being the winning quarterback in the NCAA National Championship, then leading a team to an AFC/NFC Conference Championship, and then going on to quarterbacking and expecting to win the Super Bowl right in a row…maybe, but you get the picture in terms of the rapid advancement that’s being asked. I also watched his most recent work at Churchill Downs and was less than impressed.

Gormley showed improvement winning the Santa Anita Derby with his new running style and his stablemate Royal Mo just missed getting there (3rd in the Santa Anita Derby). They both have talent, consistency has been an issue.

Sonneteer has yet to even win a race, but finished exceptionally fast (4th) in the Arkansas Derby, two lengths behind Classic Empire.  It’ll take a hot pace and many meltdowns for him to win, but I certainly think with the right trip he could hit the board.

EVERYONE ELSE: And that’s just what I mean, everyone else.  The only one I’m going to mention is State of Honor because he is absolutely stunning to look at and not just because he’s 17 hands plus (not a real advantage at this stage of his racing life, if ever)!

Wednesday comes with what could well be the dreaded post position draw. If you’re the unfortunate horse that’s drawn into PP 1-2-3, despite all your talents you might as well stay in your stall.  So my fingers will be especially tightly crossed for Classic Empire and Irish War Cry’s draw.

See you after the Post Position Draw.

Return of the King?

The most important news since my last post is that the talented, quirky, questionable Classic Empire, who was on the outside looking in prior to the Arkansas Derby is now second in the points standings (132) for the Kentucky Derby thanks to his victory in the race. Classic Empire was on his very best behavior at Hot Springs before, during, and post race. It wasn’t an easy victory; in the stretch he was hung wide coming off the pace, but he was relentless to the wire.

So now that he’s in, how will he do? Kind of hard to say.  His start in the Derby will be his third start off the layoff he had from the conclusion of his two-year-old season.  For many horses this is an ideal setup for rounding into form for the next race.  So that’s a plus.  Still, Classic Empire had to work for this victory; what, if anything, did this take out of him three weeks before the big race at the longest distance he (and all the other colts) has ever run?  We really won’t know until May 6th around 6:30 in the evening.  It is important to remember, that Classic Empire was the two-year-old champion for a reason. He was that much better than the other colts of his year crop.  He’s had his excuses in 2017 so far, but in terms of raw talent, it’s for real. Barring any regression mentally or physically, he is a solid contender and might well be the favorite for Kentucky Derby 143.

Two other developments since the last post.  The connections of Cloud Computing have opted not to run in the Kentucky Derby and are now aiming for the Preakness Stakes and/or the Belmont Stakes. As a result of his defection, Untrapped, sixth in the Arkansas Derby, will move into the Derby gate.

Jockey Robby Albarado, who had the mount on J Boys Echo, sustained a broken ankle yesterday at Keeneland when he was thrown from his mount out of the gate.  The new rider has yet to be named.

The Kentucky Derby is now 12 days away!!

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Does Anyone Want to Win the Kentucky Derby?

Well of course there are owners, trainers, jockeys, and breeders who do, but the horses? Even this deep into the prep season, 25 days out from the Run for the Roses, I’m not so sure there’s a horse who’s ready to win the Kentucky Derby.

So here’s the story, as prep races, all the way back to fall 2016 go, it’s been a pretty dismal  and wildly inconsistent affair.  There is no real star. There has been very little in the way of outstanding and consistent performances by this crop of colts.  There has been drama in the way of physical setbacks and peculiar behavior and in the case of one colt, both.

Coming into 2017, all eyes were on the very promising two-year-old champion, Classic Empire, facile winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  Alas, the year for him to date has turned into one issue after another.  Classic Empire has yet to post a win, has run in only one race, and currently doesn’t have the points necessary to get into the gate for the Kentucky Derby.  He is scheduled to run in the last major prep of the year this Saturday, the Arkansas Derby.  If he finishes in the top four he’s in, although the way his year has gone, he’d generate a lot more confidence if he finishes first or second.  What’s the deal?  In his first and only start to date in the Holy Bull Stakes (February 4) at Gulfstream Park, Classic Empire came to the gate cranky and washed out and it just went downhill from there as he finished a well-beaten third behind Irish War Cry.  The next day it was determined that he had an abscess in one hoof, so there was a clear and valid excuse.  But since then his training for his next race has been interrupted by two instances where he refused to train.  Like went out to the track essentially planted his feet and refused to even canter, let alone gallop, around the track.  After the first time, again a physical excuse was determined; he was treated by a chiropractor for back troubles.  The second time there appears to have been no physical excuse, which leaves us at mental (and this is a horse that as a two year old racing at Saratoga last summer broke from the gate and promptly took a sharp turn, dumping his rider in the process).  He’s since moved to a quieter training center and is reported to be training brilliantly.  Well, all I can say is he’d better be to make the Derby gate.

Mastery jumped into the Kentucky Derby picture in March in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in what was the best prep race performance of the season by far as he dispatched the rest of the field to win by nearly seven lengths.  And it was fabulous while it lasted, like about 10 strides past the finish line where jubilation quickly turned to valid dismay as jockey Mike Smith quickly pulled the winner up and he was loaded onto the ambulance for the trip back to his stall.  The next morning it was confirmed that Mastery had sustained a condylar (cannon bone, the long bone of the leg) fracture.  He has since had surgery and is recuperating.

In the meantime, the outcome of the other preps has been a free for all and racing reporter Randy Moss summed it up sweetly when he said Saturday that mostly it has been a case of wildly inconsistent colts scoring a win and then in their next race “not being able to be found with a search warrant.”

At this point, and actually throughout the prep season, the horse that has impressed me the most and that I believe has the most potential is Irish War Cry (Disclaimer: I have a bit of a special interest in Irish War Cry; more later).  He was impressive in his two wins this season where he defeated Classic Empire and Delta Jackpot (and later Fountain of Youth) winner Gunnevera in the Holy Bull Stakes and even more so this past Saturday when he won the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct.  However, in between, he inexplicably crashed and burned in a seventh place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.  Nonetheless, he’s a beautiful, long-striding colt, who when he’s right is a delight to watch run.  A son of Curlin, he should have what it takes to get the Derby distance.

Girvin has emerged from the southeast as the victor of Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby.  He’s not flashy, but he grinds away to the finish line.  Winning two preps this year is a true accomplishment. As I write, Mike Smith has committed to ride Girvin in the Kentucky Derby.

Gormley got himself into the Derby gate following a win in the Santa Anita Derby also run Saturday.  Much like Irish War Cry, Gormley had an impressive victory in the Sham Stakes where he fought American Anthem down the stretch to the wire, but then finished very dismally, fourth behind Mastery, in the San Felipe.  Trainer John Shirreffs changed Gormley’s running style for the Santa Anita Derby to stalking instead of on the pace and it paid dividends.  Gormley is ridden by Victor Espinoza who knows where the Derby finish line is (California Chrome, American Pharoah).

Always Dreaming is the well-thought-of winner of the Florida Derby (off an allowance win), trained by perennial leading trainer Todd Pletcher.  In the Florida Derby he defeated Gunnevera (third).  He’s a nice horse, but I think the leap into a Derby win might be a big ask.

McCraken is another well-thought-of colt.  He won the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay and then wrenched his ankle and was briefly out of training and missed a planned race (the Tampa Bay Derby) in the process.  He returned to the races this past Saturday in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, finishing a respectable third in his first career defeat.  Still, it could be just enough to set up the son of Ghostzapper for his Derby run. He already has a win over the Churchill Downs track, winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall.

Other (kinda) notables this year are Bluegrass Stakes winner Irap (who in the process got his first-ever win at 31-1), J Boys Echo (Gotham Stakes winner, fourth in the Bluegrass), Tapwrit (Tampa Bay Derby winner in stakes and track record time for a 1 1/16th-mile race, fifth in the Bluegrass), and Practical Joke (second in the Bluegrass).

As of Sunday morning the top 20 colts in terms of qualifying points are:

1.Girvin

2. Gormley

3. Irap

4. Irish War Cry

5. Thunder Snow

6. Always Dreaming

7. Gunnevera

8. Practical Joke

9. J Boys Echo

10. State of Honor

11. Tapwrit

12. Malagacy*

13. Hence

14. Fast and Accurate

15. McCraken

16. Battle of Midway

17. Patch*

18. Battalion Runner

19. Cloud Computing

20. Untrapped

21. Classic Empire (racing in the Arkansas Derby Saturday, April 15)

*Colts that did not race as two year olds. Only one horse, Apollo in 1882 has won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two year old.

The standings will likely change a bit after the Arkansas Derby is run and, as always, there will probably be a few defections before May 6 due to injury or connections deciding to go in another direction.  My advice this year, more than any past year is, if you can, bet the field to win.  I think there’s a good chance that with a simple $2 wager on every horse you could cover your $40 outlay as I think there’s a very good chance a longshot wins the 2017 Derby.  I don’t expect any horse to go off at odds shorter than 2-1; the favorite could go off at 3- or 4-1.

This. Race. Will. Be. Wide. Open!

What a Weekend

SATURDAY

The Jim Dandy Stakes (1 1/8), at Saratoga Racetrack was run with a field of six: Belmont Stakes winner and runner up, Creator and Destin, respectively; maiden Laoban; Governor Malibu (fourth in the Belmont); Mohaymen (fourth in the Kentucky Derby); and Race Me Home. When the gates broke, Mohaymen promptly fell to his knees, but quickly recovered. Laoban took the lead and Destin, Governor Malibu, and Race Me Home stalked, while Creator took his usual spot at the rear.  Laoban under red hot jockey Jose Ortiz set moderate fractions in the first three quarters at :24, :49, and 1:12, bordering on slow.  And it worked! Governor Malibu and Destin offered a mild challenge to Laoban’s lead, but never made a dent; they finished second and third. Mohaymen basically ran in place for fourth, Race Me Home dropped out to fifth, and Creator never made a move from last as if he didn’t realize he was even in a race.

It was entirely fitting that Laoban would win his first-ever race in the Jim Dandy Stakes. In 1930, Jim Dandy was the horse that at odds of 100-1 defeated Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox.

SUNDAY

The Haskell Invitational was also run at a mile and an eighth at Monmouth Park at Oceanport, NJ.  The outcome of the race was likely determined overnight into race day as it rained…and rained some more throughout the day, leaving the track sloppy.  Lining up to contest the Haskell were six more colts: Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator, Gun Runner (third in the Derby), Sunny Ridge, winner of the Withers Stakes in January, Iowa Derby winner American Freedom, and Awesome Slew.  When last seen, Exaggerator finished a dismal 11th in the Belmont. Nyquist didn’t get to contest the Belmont because he spiked a fever post Preakness; this was the awaited rematch between the two.

Well, if you saw the Preakness you basically saw the Haskell as it was essentially the same race repeated.  Despite trainer Doug O’Neil (who took the blame for the Preakness Stakes run strategy of Nyquist) and jockey Mario Gutierrez indicating Nyquist would be handled differently in the Haskell it didn’t turn out that way. Nyquist again hooked up for the lead with American Freedom and Awesome Slew and although the fractions weren’t as blistering as those set in the first two quarters of the Preakness they were swift enough that they appeared to soften the Derby champion up.  In the meantime, Exaggerator had taken his typical spot at the rail and the rear of the field although he wasn’t too far off the other horses. Exaggerator was hung four wide as he made his move out of the final turn and swept past all the other colts to take the lead and the win.  Once again he was a big kid colt, happily splashing though the mud. Nyquist fell back to fourth, his first-ever out-of-the-money finish of his career.  Sunny Ridge ground on to nip him, taking third.  Gun Runner never seemed happy with the conditions and finished fifth.  Awesome Slew plummeted to last, while American Freedom carried on for the runner up position.

There was a brief inquiry based on American Freedom’s jockey Rafael Bejarano’s objection against Kent Desormeaux and Exaggerator  for a bump in the stretch that was disallowed.

As of today, Laoban, Mohaymen, and Exaggerator are being pointed to the Travers Stakes August 27 at Saratoga.  There has been no word on the next race for the remainder of the colts that participated in the two races that typically are used to prep for the Travers. There is also no word as to any reason for Creator’s poor effort Saturday.  As I indicated in my previous blog, I anticipated that some colts might move forward (Laoban and American Freedom) since the Triple Crown races while others might start to regress (Mohaymen and Nyquist).  Only time will tell if some colts just had a bad weekend and who ends up at the top of this year’s three-year-old class.  We shall see.

No Crown, Fun Race

This Saturday, Triple Crown races for 2016 come to a close with the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes.  Some of the drama was lost when Nyquist had to be withdrawn (he’s back in California and may return to light work next week), but this should still be an interesting race.  And yet again, weather may play a significant role in the outcome.

Here’s the surprisingly large field:

1.Governor Malibu

2.Destin

3.Cherry Wine

4.Suddenbreakingnews

5.Stadivari

6.Gettysburg

7.Seeking the Soul

8.Forever D’Oro

9.Trojan Nation

10.Lani

11.Exaggerator

12.Brody’s Cause

13.Creator

With the exception of Governor Malibu, Gettysburg, Seeking the Soul, and Forever D’Oro, we’ve seen all the starters at least once before in the Kentucky Derby (of those 20, only Exaggerator and Lani have contested all three races). Of the four newcomers, Governor Malibu is the only one with a possibility of hitting the board.  He was second in the Peter Pan Stakes earlier in the Belmont meet.  It’s a traditional prep race for the Belmont and the race that positioned Tonalist for his Belmont win in 2014.  I don’t think Governor Malibu is quite the horse Tonalist was on the track. Gettysburg is primarily in the race as something of a rabbit to insure an honest pace. Seeking the Soul and Forever D’Oro are both recent allowance race winners.

The forecast for Saturday had looked pretty nice up until this morning and now there’s the possibility of severe weather at Elmont, New York Saturday afternoon. If the track does come up sloppy, I don’t think I need to tell you who benefits significantly in those conditions; you saw Exaggerator’s performance in the Preakness Stakes!  Lani and Cherry Wine will also move up if the track is wet.  Even if it doesn’t rain, I still believe this is Exaggerator’s race.  He appears to have taken to the Belmont track, his weight and coat are good, and he’s found his most effective running style.  I’ll also be interested to see if Lani can move up a few more places as he did in the Preakness and if Suddenbreakingnews can be closer to the pace to make that come from behind kick pay off.

Of the other horses in the race Destin, Stradivari (who I still think is being asked for too much too soon), and Creator could hit the board, but it’s harder for me to see them as the winner.  Super longshots–Trojan Nation and Brody’s Cause. It’s a horse race and that means anything can happen!

Post time Saturday is 6:37 p.m.

Foundation

“And on this rock, I will build my Church.”–Matthew 16:18

“Own a piece of the Rock.”–1970s Prudential Advertisement

“Solid. Solid as a rock.”–Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson

Nothing of value, nothing that endures, nothing that succeeds has a chance unless it’s built on a sound, solid foundation.  Nyquist’s victory in yesterday’s 142nd edition of the Kentucky Derby exemplifies the importance of a sound foundation for success.  The four horses that finished immediately behind him are evidence of the same.

At two, Nyquist ran five times (with five victories). Hard closing second-place finisher Exaggerator ran six times. Gun Runner and Mohaymen had three starts each. Suddenbreakingnews (SBN) was also in five races at age two.  Successful Thoroughbred racehorses aren’t just born; that innate gift is also shaped, molded, and conditioned to peak performance.

By contrast, Shagaf, who was pulled up (due to tiring according to his jockey Joel Rosario) before crossing the wire ran once at two, as did Outwork (14th). Whitmore (19th), Majesto (18th), and Danzing Candy (15th) all started two times as two year olds.

It’s not to say that the last five finishers didn’t deserve to run in the Derby; they qualified for the race through victories and/or top three finishes in the most important preparatory races leading to the Derby through the early months of 2016.  However, in my opinion, they show that despite these successes, the seasoning–experience and foundation were lacking.  Starting in the mile and a quarter Kentucky Derby and succeeding in it as a fourth or fifth start is a particularly demanding feat and, more likely than not, a serious reach for still very much developing three-year-old colts.

But it’s time to celebrate the newest Derby champion, the now 8-for-8 Nyquist.  Although I’d had respect for Nyquist prior to the Derby, he hadn’t enthralled or enchanted me the way American Pharoah did.  Yesterday, he won me over in a performance that highlighted his innate talent, good mind, tractability, and tenacity. It also reminded me of why I had been so highly impressed with his jockey, Mario Gutierrez, in his first and winning Kentucky Derby ride on I’ll Have Another in 2012.

This Derby, as most are, was won in the earliest stages of the race.  Nyquist broke sharply and Gutierrez rode him into position while keeping an eye out for expected pacesetter Danzing Candy who he wanted to stalk while not stride for stride engaging him in the early phases of the race.  He and Nyquist executed this crucial move to perfection.  Although they were ahead and inside of Danzing Candy in those initial strides, once Danzing Candy got in full gear and took the lead, Gutierrez “tapped the brakes” ever so slightly, Nyquist responded, they took off the rail and to the outside of the leader, and were free and clear from that point on for their run  to the wire.  Nyquist just galloped along until deep stretch where he willingly passed Gun Runner who had briefly taken the lead. He then drove on holding off the late, hard-charging finish of Exaggerator (who appeared to sustain that move for at least a sixteenth of a mile) to win by a length and a quarter.  Gun Runner yielded to third while Mohaymen and Suddenbreakingnews were also driving well in the final strides of the race after both encountered their share of traffic issues to take fourth and fifth place, respectively.

In the process, Nyquist became the first undefeated two-year-old champion colt to win the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977.  Additionally, he became only the second winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (following Street Sense in 2007) to also win the Kentucky Derby.

As of this morning the news is good for Nyquist who appears to have come out of the race no worse for wear and will be shipping on to Baltimore shortly for the Preakness.  Interestingly, in this early stage, it appears Exaggerator will be the only Derby participant to accompany him on the trip to contest the Preakness.  Two horses also stabled at Churchill in the past few weeks as the “also eligibles” (horses who would have got in the Derby gate if one of the starters had scratched prior to Saturday morning) Laoban and Cherry Wine are also being pointed to the Preakness Stakes, May 21.

The field for the Preakness will be smaller if only for the fact that only 14 horses can start in that race.  But after watching Nyquist’s performance yesterday, unless he’s not at his best that day, for whatever reason, it seems only Exaggerator stands a chance of beating him in that race; to date, after four meetings Exaggerator has yet to nail him.  He gets very much in striking distance, but hasn’t been able to pass Nyquist.

And of course, now, with an undefeated Kentucky Derby champion, the talk of back-to- back Triple Crown champions is being kicked around.  I’m not ready to think about, let alone tout that possibility at the moment. I will say that I’d love to see Suddenbreakingnews take one more shot at a Classic and return to the series in the Belmont Stakes, which with (typically) a smaller field and the mile and a half, just seems to scream his name.  Outside of Nyquist and Exaggerator, no other horse in yesterday’s Derby showed me they’d want or maybe even thrive at that distance.

For now Pimlico waits and in 13 days we’ll know if the developing legend of Nyquist grows or hits a speed bump.  On to Baltimore!!