In-form Nyquist fancied for Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby hopeful Nyquist, ridden by Jonny Garcia, gallops at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Washington - Trainer Doug O'Neill is confident unbeaten Nyquist can win
Trainer Doug O'Neill is confident unbeaten Nyquist can make Saturday's Kentucky Derby his eighth win in eight races - and take the first step toward US flat racing's coveted Triple Crown.
Last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner counts four Grade One stakes among his seven victories.
However, he arrives at Churchill Downs for the 1 1/4-mile Derby with little fanfare, few besides O'Neill and his other connections predicting he could emulate the feat of American Pharoah - the super horse who swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes last year to become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
"There's still a little American Pharoah hangover," Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert said this week when asked about the lack of buzz surrounding Nyquist. O'Neill is trying to take it in stride.
"I think that's the beauty of all sports is that you can always find a reason to knock a favorite or knock a team or a horse that's on a current roll. That doesn't bother me," he said, but added: "It does bother me when you read an article and they're knocking him. It's like they're knocking a member of your family."
O'Neill is no stranger to a Triple Crown campaign.
He trained 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, who was scratched late from the Belmont with a tendon injury and retired the same day.
Mario Gutierrez, who rode I'll Have Another, will be aboard Nyquist when he breaks from the 13th post in a field of 20 three-year-olds on Saturday.
The big field makes for even more variables, but O'Neill believes Nyquist, the early 3-1 favorite, is versatile enough to cope with whatever comes up.
"What I love about Nyquist's chances is he's won from the rail, he's won from the 12-hole, he's won wire-to-wire, he's won from just off the pace," O'Neill said.
He was delighted with the number 13 post, which he expects will allow Gutierrez to make full use of Nyquist's tactical speed.
Exaggerator, the 8-1 second choice trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by his brother, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, will break from the 11th post - a draw that didn't delight his rider.
"It sucks," said Kent Desormeaux, who doesn't like the wait his mount will have in the gate. "But it's like 100 years to the first turn. The only way you get in trouble is with a bad horse."
The draw added intrigue in that Danzing Candy, the only real speed horse, drew the far outside post.
"It'll be interesting to see what they try to do with Danzing Candy," O'Neill said. "Will they try to clear everybody? It can sometimes take a lot out of your horse to rush to the front from the outside."