The biggest Kentucky Derby prep season race so far will take place on Saturday at Gulfstream Park as Mohaymen and Nyquist will face each other (and a field of eight other horses) in the $1 million Grade 1 Florida Derby. Both horses are undefeated and although Mohaymen has been anointed as the ‘darling’ of the ‘serious’ horse racing media there’s a compelling case to be made for the superiority of each. Nyquist won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and his only race as a three year old, the Grade 2 San Vincente at Santa Anita. Mohaymen has raced twice at three, winning both (Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park). Mohaymen has the ‘familiarity’ edge due to his experience at Gulfstream but Nyquist has wins at three different tracks (Santa Anita, Del Mar, Keeneland).
But the racing media hype campaign that is propping up Mohaymen and dismissing Nyquist appears to have worked. Mohaymen was installed as an even money favorite with Nyquist a 6/5 second choice. Nyquist arrived from California on Tuesday and took a visit to the track and gate on Wednesday. According to trainer Doug O’Neill everything is going well: “He’s doing well; he’s settled in nicely to Mark Hennig’s barn. The gate crew spent good, quality time with him. Everything went perfectly the first day.” O’Neill was asked about drawing the #4 post position: “I don’t think there’s really a bad post for him. He’s got enough gate speed to get good position. Like all the others, you just have to leave there running.”
What about the larger than expected ten horse field? O’Neill says it isn’t a concern and that he gets it completely: “When you offer a million dollars and they pay down to fifth or sixth place, whatever they do, and there is an opportunity to get Kentucky Derby points, I don’t blame some of the others for going in. If this race was at my home track, I’d have probably put another one in myself.”
The winner of the Florida Derby will receive 100 qualification points and essentially be guaranteed a spot in the May 7 Kentucky Derby at Louisville’s iconic Churchill Downs race track.