Don’t look now but Nyquist is back. After several weeks of being savaged by the horse racing press as a phony, the Doug O’Neill trained son of Uncle Mo looked very sharp in winning Monday’s Grade 2 $200,000 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. This helped revive his status as a legit Kentucky Derby contender (assuming it was ever in doubt) and heightened interest in his next prep race. On Tuesday, trainer O’Neill confirmed that the Florida Derby would be up next.
O’Neill had already said that he and owner Paul Reddam were planning to take a similar prep race route that the two did several years ago with I’ll Have Another. I’ll Have Another was poised to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but had to scratch out of the Belmont Stakes due to a tendon injury. The question was whether Nyquist would stay at Santa Anita for the Santa Anita Derby or head East. There was a definite financial benefit to the Florida Derby–Nyquist is eligible for a $1 million bonus on top of the $1 million race purse. He is eligible as he was a product of the March 2015 Fassg-Tipton sale and the auction house is putting up the bonus for any ‘graduate’.
The Grade 1 Florida Derby will take place on April 2 at Gulfstream Park over 1 1/8 mile with a $1 million purse. Making it all the more interesting is that it is currently penciled in as the next race for Kieran McLaughlin’s Mohaymen. Mohaymen was the beneficiary of all of the racing pundits jumping off of the Nyquist bandwagon and now the two horses may face each other before the first Saturday in May. Different connections have different theories about this–some would prefer to avoid this kind of showdown prior to the Kentucky Derby thinking that the important thing is to earn qualification for the race and then worry about the major rivals. Under the revised Derby qualification system this would seem to be more significant than in the past. Mohaymen is being pointed to the February 27 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and we’ll know more about what’s next after the conclusion of that race.