By Mary Cunningham
Each first Saturday in May, up to 20 horses line up in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, each with a shot at capturing America’s most famous horse race and going on to sweep the Triple Crown.
And so 22 horses (two on the also-eligible list) have been entered in in this Saturday’s $2 million race.
Nyquist, the undefeated 2-year-old champion, drew post 13 and was made the 3-1 morning-line favorite by the Churchill Downs oddsmaker, Mike Battaglia.
Lured by a $1 million bonus from the auction company Fasig-Tipton as a graduate of its Florida 2-year-old in-training sale, Nyquist’s connections took him from his home base of California to face the previously undefeated Mohaymen last month in the $1 million Florida Derby — an almost unheard-of meeting ahead of the Kentucky Derby. Nyquist won with ease as Mohaymen, who drew the No. 14 post for the Kentucky Derby and was listed at odds of 10-1, was pushed wide throughout and never found his footing on the wet track at Gulfstream Park, finishing fourth.
“I feel very confident with the way he’s been training since then,” said Mohaymen’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. “We had plenty of excuses in Florida.”
Nyquist’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, and owner, Paul Reddam, are familiar with the hubbub surrounding the Kentucky Derby, having won the race with I’ll Have Another in 2012. They are also familiar with the heartbreak that often strikes on the Triple Crown trail: I’ll Have Another, who also won the Preakness Stakes, was scratched a day ahead of the Belmont Stakes with a tendon injury. Still, that memory did not prevent them from feeling excited when Nyquist drew a favorable post. “I’m very happy,” O’Neill said.
Bob Baffert, the trainer of American Pharoah, will be trying for his fifth Derby victory. Although Baffert is here with Mor Spirit, it would be easy to think that American Pharoah was still in his barn. Wearing an American Pharoah jacket on Wednesday, Baffert autographed race programs and bourbon bottles commemorating last year’s sweep. He has been asked about American Pharoah far more often than he has been asked about Mor Spirit, and he has no problem with that.