Last year, when American Pharoah captured the first Triple Crown since 1978, most experts agreed he had conquered one of the more accomplished and higher end three-year-old classes in recent memory. While AP went off at a shade under 3/1 in the Kentucky Derby, third-place finisher Dortmund was just over 4/1, and both Carpe Diem and Firing Line were less than 10/1 in a field of 18 horses.
This year, one horse will tower over the field on the first Saturday in May: Nyquist. Favorites have not fared particularly well over the years at the Kentucky Derby, but six of the last ten winners went off at 6/1 or better.
Let’s look at some of the options two weeks ahead of the big event and see if we can find some value.
The price seems like a bargain based on his unblemished credentials and the lack of a clear second choice. He’s never lost a race (seven for seven lifetime) with a win in the Breeders Cup Juvenile last year. Earlier this year, he beat top challenger Exaggerator with relative ease in the San Vicente Stakes. The chart said of the second place finisher: “bid outside the winner in midstretch, could not quite match that one in the final sixteenth.”
Once Nyquist dispatched of Exaggerator, it was on to the Florida Derby to face what many thought was his equal, Mohaymen. In fact, Nyquist wasn’t even the favorite at Gulfstream Park, but he won by over three lengths, while Mohaymen “lacked needed kick and flattened out.” Ridden by Mario Gutierrez and trained by Doug O’Neil, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nyquist at 5/2 or lower when the race starts.
Though Nyquist already beat him thoroughly, this son of Curlin will come into the Derby hot. Exaggerator was ultra-impressive winning the biggest California prep race, the Santa Anita Derby. (The prep races in California look like the highest level of competition for this year’s Derby hopefuls.) Kent Desormeaux (brother of trainer Keith) had Exaggerator shooting out of a cannon on the turn on a sloppy track. In just a quarter of a mile, he went from sixth place and 3.5 lengths back to a 4.5-length lead. Santa Anita confirmed some of the great promise he showed last August when he won the Saratoga Special.
The rest of his resume isn’t as impressive. He won the Delta Downs Jackpot, but that was against suspect competition. And he was a well beaten fourth in March’s San Felipe Stakes.
Prior to the Florida Derby, Mohaymen was the Derby favorite. (He was five for five, lifetime, before that.) Can one setback be excused, given that he raced wide through most of it?
Ridden by Junior Alvarado and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Mohaymen was clearly the best at the Fountain of Youth in February. In fact, he rarely had been challenged prior to his first loss.
Todd Pletcher is among the best trainers in the business. Destin’s level of competition hasn’t been top flight, but you can’t take away his last two victories: in March, he won the Tampa Bay Derby under the direction of top jockey Javier Castellano; in February, he cruised to victory in the Sammy Davis Stakes (also at Tampa Bay Downs). Lightly raced, he is three for five lifetime, and is a bit of an unknown at this point.
If you don’t think Nyquist is going to run away and hide from this field, instead of taking short odds on a horse he has already beaten, might a big long shot be the way to go? Bred in Kentucky, owned and raced by Japanese connections, and coming off of an impressive prep race in Dubai, Lani is a complete wild card. He stood out in the U.A.E. Derby and has great bloodlines (Tapit and Sunday Silence). He has been working out at Churchill Downs for over a month and will be very familiar with the track.
(Photo credit: Roderick Elme (flickr) [https://www.flickr.com/photos/rodeime/12478066455]. Photo has been cropped.)
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