Not even the relentless cheerleading of the ‘serious horse racing media’ could help Kieran McLaughlin’s Mohaymen at Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby. Reigning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Nyquist dominated his nine challengers winning the race by 3 1/3 lengths over second place Majesto. Now undefeated in seven career starts, Nyquist will be heading to Keeneland to prepare for the Kentucky Derby and will almost certainly go off as the morning line favorite in the 142nd ‘Run For The Roses’.
Nyquist went off as an even money second choice and left race favorite Mohaymen–a 4-5 post time chalk–to finish a disappointing fourth. Mohaymen’s rider, Junior Alverado, said that he realized early in the race that his horse was in trouble admitting: “He wasn’t his best today.” Despite getting less than an ideal trip and encountering some traffic Alverado did everything he could and had what on any other day would have been a perfect late race position for the hard closing Mohaymen. On this day, however, when Alvarado urged him to ‘go’ the horse had nothing left.
After the race, Mohaymen’s trainer Kieran McLaughlin was visibly disappointed and sounded slightly dazed as he tried to process what had happened. McLaughlin alternately mentioned the weather and the poor trip before taking the high road and commending the race winner: “Obviously it was not what we were looking for. The track was wet, he got hung out wide, but we wanted to keep him out in the clear. So congratulations to the winner. He ran big. He was very impressive.”
By contrast, ‘Team Nyquist’ was all smiles. Trainer Doug O’Neill admitted that he wasn’t extremely confident heading into the race after shipping in from California but that his tactics perfectly executed by jockey Mario Gutierrez worked better than he could have imagined. The rain and wet track were also not an issue–O’Neill said that “When it rained, we were happy.” He continued to explain that Nyquist had “never trained on a wet track, but he seems like he can run on just about anything. This was only his second time out as a 3-year-old and we’d be lying if he said we were completely optimistic going into the race. He exceeded our expectations for sure.”