This renewal of Gulfstream Park’s Grade 1, $1,000,000 Florida Derby may not have drawn the deepest field from top to bottom, but it does feature the long-awaited matchup between the two most high-profile contenders for this year’s Kentucky Derby, Nyquist and Mohaymen. Both colts bring undefeated records to the table, and, barring a dead heat or shocking upset, only one will proceed on to the Kentucky Derby still sporting an unblemished record.
The Pace Projector is predicting that this race should play out as most are hoping it will, with #4 Nyquist projected to be vying for the lead and #9 Mohaymen shadowing him, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
At what point will Junior Alvarado engage his main rival? Will Mario Gutierrez try to use Nyquist’s speed to break open the race? Will we be treated to that stretch battle that we’ve been anticipating? Let’s take an in-depth look at the main contenders.
The Big Two
#4, Nyquist (6/5):
Though Mohaymen was installed as the slight morning line favorite, few would argue that this California invader brings the strongest overall résumé to the table. He concluded his two-year-old campaign by sweeping three Grade 1 races, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. Though many doubted his ability to negotiate two turns heading into that race off a less-than-inspiring win in the Frontrunner, Nyquist silenced most critics by overcoming a four- to five-wide trip to register a convincing win in that championship race. In his only start since then, he got his three-year-old campaign started off on the right foot with a workmanlike victory in the San Vicente. One thing that we’ve learned about this colt is that he’s a fighter. We saw it in his career debut, and he again showed his willingness to gut out a hard-fought victory in both of his races around two turns last year.
TimeformUS Breeding Ratings for Nyquist (above) show he is better-bred to sprint than route.
We believe that this winning spirit of his has allowed him to outrun his undeniably sprint-oriented pedigree. Indeed, his TimeformUS Speed Figures would suggest that he’s naturally better at shorter distances: His best figure last year came in the 7-furlong Del Mar Futurity, and the 104 and 99 that he earned in his two-turn races last year fall well short of the 115 he ran sprinting in the San Vicente.There’s no faking it when making a full circuit of Gulfstream Park’s dirt oval. It can be a tiring surface at times, and a certain amount of stamina is required to win races over this nine-furlong configuration. The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, with Nyquist likely to be engaged by recent debut winner Takeittotheedge in the opening furlongs. Can he withstand early pressure and still save enough energy to answer Mohaymen’s inevitable challenge? We’ll need him to convince us one more time.
#9, Mohaymen (1/1):
He enters this race as the favorite, not just to keep his unbeaten record intact, but to go on and win the Kentucky Derby. Unlike Nyquist, who has had to work considerably harder for his two-turn victories, Mohaymen has relished the stretch-out in distance, having run perhaps his best race ever going this nine-furlong distance in last year’s Remsen. He’s twice come close to matching the 116 speed figure he earned in that two-year-old finale, but the general consensus is that he has not yet been asked for his best as a three-year-old. Though it briefly appeared as if he might have his hands full with Zulu last time out in the Fountain of Youth, Mohaymen quickly made it clear that he was just toying with that rival. Junior Alvarado only had to ask him to run for about a furlong prior to easing him across the wire. The distance does not figure to be an issue, and he should be sitting in a perfect spot stalking Nyquist, which gives Alvarado some options. Mohaymen has made relatively aggressive backstretch moves in his two races here so far this winter. If Alvarado decides to employ similar tactics this time and engage his main rival midway through the race, it could turn this into a test of stamina to the wire. If that’s the case, our money’s on Mohaymen to stay the course and secure his place atop the list of Kentucky Derby contenders.
There will surely be a sizable gap in the odds back to the rest of the field. While we’re hardly suggesting that any of the remaining competitors has a realistic chance to come away with a victory, there are a few that are worth discussing in terms of their chances to round out exactas and trifectas.
#2, Fellowship (15/1): Having already finished third behind Mohaymen twice at this meet, if the pace does indeed quicken through the early stages, as the Pace Projector suggests it will, this colt seems most likely to come running on late to pick up the pieces.
#3, Majesto (20/1): He’s never tested the waters outside of maiden company, but Majesto hasn’t actually run that much slower than Fellowship. He also may be in slightly better form than his speed figures suggest, since he’s overcome wide trips in his last two starts.
#7, Takeittotheedge (20/1): This runner will certainly have an impact on this race, as he appears most likely to press Nyquist through the early stages. His debut was visually impressive, but he was allowed to set a slow pace (color-coded in blue) and was hardly beating a stakes-quality field. Given the hurdles he’ll have to overcome, an in-the-money finish may be asking a lot.
We’re not willing to take a short price in the win pool on either of the main contenders, so we will instead focus on exacta and trifecta wagers. Since we prefer MOHAYMEN (#9) to Nyquist in this spot, we will focus on trying to get two of the aforementioned longer prices into the second and third slots.
Exacta: 9 with 2,3
Trifecta: 9 with 4 with 2,3
Trifecta: 9 with 2,3 with 4