The most anticipated matchup of the Kentucky Derby prep season becomes a reality Saturday at Gulfstream Park with the running of the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby.
The likely Derby favorite will emerge from this race as the 10-horse field could turn into a two-horse dual. The undefeated Nyquist ships in from California to take on the undefeated Mohaymen on his home turf.
On paper, the horses are nearly equal as Nyquist comes in with five graded stakes scores, most recently taking the seven furlong, Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita in his first start of 2016. Mohaymen has won four graded races in a row, including a pair of route scores at Gulfstream in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth this year.
The edge in the Florida Derby sits with hometown favorite Mohaymen for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Junior Alvarado. Owned by Shadwell Stable, Mohaymen has shown his versatility, moving early to control a slow pace in the Holy Bull. In the Fountain of Youth, he settled further back off quick early fractions, easily picking off the competition in the lane.
Mohaymen draws post nine in the field of ten, but with ample pace to his inside, expect him to rate in the second flight while in the clear and respond when asked.
Nyquist has more to prove in the Florida Derby as he makes only his second start in 2016 for trainer Doug O’Neill and owner Reddam Racing LLC. Regular rider Mario Gutierrez makes the trip to ride the son of Uncle Mo.
While his performance on the track makes Nyquist a major player, the concerns for him could come before he enters the gate. With the cross-country ship, a chance of rain, and very humid conditions likely, the connections of Nyquist have those hurdles to worry about.
In training leading up to the Florida Derby, Nyquist has looked sweaty at times. On Saturday, with rain and humidity expected, washing out for Nyquist is a concern. More of a concern could come with Nyquist getting worked up prior to the race due to the extra five to six minutes horses are left to circle leading up to the start of races at Gulfstream. If he can overcome everything prior to the start and post a big race, he will show that he can be the real deal come the first Saturday in May.
Derby Points Up for Grabs at Turfway in Spiral
While the focus will clearly be on Gulfstream Park on Saturday, horses have a chance to earn Derby points on the polytrack at Turfway Park in the Grade 3 Spiral. Nobody has been scared away from this spot as a field of 14 was entered, led by morning line choice Airoforce.
From the barn of Mark Casse, Airoforce won three of four races at two, including a score in the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic last fall at Churchill Downs. He has to answer the questions left following his most recent effort, a tenth place finish, beaten nearly 40 lengths in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his last.
If players are looking for more of a price, they can ride the hot hand of jockey Florent Geroux as he rides Jensen for trainer Larry Jones.
The leading rider at the recently concluded Fair Grounds meet, Geroux has been guiding home graded stakes winners left and right, most recently scoring in the Louisiana Derby last weekend aboard Gun Runner.
Jensen will be trying stakes-company for the first time in the Spiral but has improved in each start and could continue that trend on Saturday.
Congrats to Chrome
Last Saturday, California Chrome became the leading earner for North American based horses with his impressive score in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
Masterfully handled by jockey Victor Espinoza, California Chrome rallied to a clear victory, despite a late saddle slip, while setting a track record.
Horse Racing in Chicagoland
This weekend, live racing continues at Hawthorne Race Course with racing on Friday and Saturday. First post is 2:10 p.m. each day. Starting next week, Thursday racing will be added for the remainder of the spring thoroughbred meet.
For information on racing or visiting Hawthorne, visit the website at www.HawthorneRaceCourse.com.