A lot can change between now and the 1st Saturday in May but here is your early 2016 Kentucky Derby favorite. Nyquist, named after Detroit Red Wings hockey player Gustav Nyquist, won the FrontRunner Stakes and demonstrated a willingness to fight for the win in extreme heat at Santa Anita Park. The Doug O’Neill-trained colt is perfect thus far, 4 starts, 4 wins.
The race played out exactly as I had predicted in my preview blog, a Nyquist-Swipe 1-2 finish. American Pharoah won this race last year with a time that was almost a full 3 seconds faster than Nyquist’s time of 1:44.89 (the 2nd slowest in 27 years). But I am not concerned, they were moving up post times and throwing buckets of water on winning horses due to the heat. With the win, Nyquist has assured himself of a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Sentient Jet) along with Cocked and Loaded on October 31st.
The Zenyatta Stakes
Beholder won the Zenyatta Stakes (shown below) in easy fashion. Jockey Gary Stevens said in a post-race interview that he never asked her to run. She has now won six straight races and three straight Zenyatta Stakes. My Sweet Addiction, ridden by Mike Smith, finished 2nd. Beholder secured herself a starting spot in the Longines Distaff but her owner has committed to entering her in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The Awesome Again Stakes
Smooth Roller was the surprise winner in the Awesome Again Stakes (shown below). Just who is Smooth Roller and how does a horse, who had three career starts entering this event, find himself qualified to race against the top thoroughbreds in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in October?
He beat race favorite and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern, who finished 3rd. The 4 year-old gelding’s winning time of 1:48.08 in the extreme heat condition was very impressive as this tops the time of three great horses who had won this event the past three years: Shared Belief in 2014 (1:48.58), Mucho Macho Man in 2013 (1:48.30) and Game On Dude in 2012 (1:48.98). He received a 111 Beyer Speed Figure for his performance.
Smooth Roller will likely be one of the longer shots in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but he proved yesterday that he deserves a chance against racing’s best.
Coming on Wednesday, my updated Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings.