For the past 37 years, all horse racing fans have been hoping, praying, and yearning for the Triple Crown drought to end. This year we are all asking ourselves, “Will we see another championship performance like the one American Pharoah provided us last year? Will we see a Triple Crown winner in successive years for the first time since Seattle Slew and Affirmed won back to back in 1977 and 1978?” The fastest two minutes in sports has yet again found a way to give its fans something to watch for this year.
The field this year looks to be wide open, yet again. At the top you have Nyquist, undefeated in seven starts and the Eclipse Awards 2015 American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse. He has impressive wins at the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, San Vicente Stakes, and the Florida Derby. Nyquist has already beaten the likes of Mohaymen, Exaggerator, and Brody’s Cause, who currently sit two, four, and nine in the latest odds to win per Sportsbook.ag. The three-year-old is trained by Doug O’Neil and will be ridden by Mario Gutierrez. You all may remember Doug O’Neil for his 2012 run at the Triple Crown. He led I’ll Have Another to wins at the Derby and Preakness only to scratch him for the Belmont Stakes and a shot at the Triple Crown (O’Neil was also in the midst of receiving a suspension at this time, but we won’t go into that right now). Gutierrez may also be remembered as the jockey who was atop I’ll Have Another for their 2012 run. Is this the year O’Neil and Gutierrez finish what they started in 2012? This may be the best chance they get as Nyquist currently sits as the Derby favorite at 2-1 (all odds provided by Sportsbook.ag).
Nyquist’s biggest challenger appears to be Mohaymen who currently sits at 4-1 odds to win the Derby. Mohaymen has met Nyquist once before, at the Florida Derby last month. The two entered the race both undefeated. Mohaymen led for most of the race and ran out of gas coming down the home stretch. He will look for his revenge come Saturday. The gray colt is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and jockeyed by Junior Alvarado. McLaughlin has been in the sport since 1993 and has yet to capture the glory of the roses. He will be looking to stand in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs for the first time in his career. Junior Alvarado will also looking to be standing in the winner’s circle for the first time at Churchill. Unlike McLaughlin, Alvarado has never raced in the Kentucky Derby and he will be making his first career start come Saturday. This is a talented trio and if they can put it all together on Saturday, Mohaymen could very well avenge his loss to Nyquist and be your 2016 Derby Champion.
Another Derby challenger looking for some revenge against Nyquist is Exaggerator. This three-year-old was runner-up at the San Vicente Stakes in February after giving Nyquist a late challenge down the stretch. Exaggerator was able to bounce back two months later to take home the Santa Anita Derby and secure his spot in the Derby. Exaggerator is led by the Desormeaux brothers. Trained by Keith Desormeaux and jockeyed by Kent Desormeaux, the two will look to finish what they started in 2008 with Big Brown. Much like O’Neil and Gutierrez, the two came within one race of claiming the Triple Crown before failing to finish at Belmont and becoming the first Triple Crown hopeful to not make it across the finish line. The Desormeaux brothers hope to have learned from their past mistakes in 2008 and capture the Triple Crown they came so close to eight years ago. Exaggerator currently sits at 27-4 odds to be standing in the winner’s circle on Saturday.
One horse not getting as much attention as these other three, but equally as strong of a contender as any of them, is the three-year-old, Gun Runner. This horse has stormed onto the scene with wins at the Risen Star Stakes in February and the Louisiana Derby in March. Gun Runner currently sits atop the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings with 151 points (Nyquist has 130 and Exaggerator has 126). Led by Steven Asmussen and Florent Geroux, this colt will look to prove to the rest of the field that he belongs at the top with the likes of Nyquist and Mohaymen. Asmussen, nor his young jockey Geroux, have ever tasted the sweet Julep of victory at Churchill Downs. Geroux will be looking to make a name for himself in his young career as Gun Runner currently sits at 13-2 odds for getting a taste of the victory Juleps at Churchill.
Now we all remember the trio of American Pharoah, Victor Espinoza, and Bob Baffert that brought us the Triple Crown last year and ended the longest drought the sport has ever seen. While American Pharoah won’t be seen at Churchill this year (he is just an hour away up the road, living the dream, and meeting all the mares he could ever dream of), Baffert will be leading Mor Spirit and Espinoza will be atop Whitmore looking for his third consecutive Kentucky Derby win. Baffert’s horse is at 15-2 odds while Espinoza’s horse is at 22-1 odds.
Baffert’s horse, Mor Spirit, could create some real problems to the favorite, Nyquist, in this race. He will be jockeyed by Gary Stevens, one of the most decorated riders in the sport. Stevens has multiple wins at the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont and is a member of the Horse Racing Hall of Fame. Churchill Downs is also his home track. Baffert, as we all know, is a Triple Crown Champion trainer and he himself has taken home multiple victories at the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. This three-year-old has not yet faced off with Nyquist, but two of the greatest this sport has ever seen are leading him into the race. Do not be surprised when Mor Spirit is giving the favorite a run for his money.
This year’s field is truly wide open and any of these horses could come out on top as the 2016 Kentucky Derby Champion. Nyquist and Exaggerator will be looking to capture the Triple Crowns their trainers and jockeys so narrowly missed out on in previous years. Gun Runner and Mohaymen will be looking to give their trainers and jockeys a taste of Kentucky Derby glory for the first time. Mor Spirit and Whitmore will be looking to continue the recent successes of Baffert and Espinoza. While there are plenty of horses to like in this race, all signs are pointing to a showdown between Nyquist and Mohaymen.
My heart is telling me to pick Mor Spirit and Bob Baffert and continue to ride the Triple Crown high from last year. My head tells me to take the undefeated favorite, Nyquist. Come Saturday afternoon, after all the hype of the week and as the horses load into the starting gate, the crowd will silence for a short moment, all bets will be have been made and all horse racing fans across the nation will await to see our next champion.
And they’re off in the Kentucky Derby…
Photo Credit: Sporting News