Derby Trail: Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down

Racing

Nyquist (left) stamped himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite and Majesto earned himself a spot in the race in Saturday's Florida Derby. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire unless otherwise noted)

This feature provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose chances for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands are not quite as strong as they were last week. For this week’s edition, the focus is the impact of the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby and the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes, both on April 2, on the Kentucky Derby picture.

ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD

HEATING UP

1. Nyquist

I’m not sure how anyone could not, at this point, have Nyquist in their top three Kentucky Derby contenders. I can understand not wanting to make the heavy favorite your pick for the first jewel of the Triple Crown (what fun is picking a 3-1 shot in a 20-horse field where anything can happen?) but when evaluating this group of 3-year-olds as a whole, Nyquist is granite solid. He’s never been beaten, he overcame significant trouble to win against the best in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and he just looked the colt many considered the leading Kentucky Derby contender, Mohaymen, in the eye at the top of the Florida Derby stretch and imposed his will on him. When Mohaymen rallied alongside Nyquist at the top of the stretch, Nyquist put his head down and got down to business. He was the bully and he took Mohaymen’s lunch money. Nyquist is a fighter. Sure, he looked like he lost interest a little bit when he was in the clear late in the stretch, but that just shows he has room to improve. He’s paired 107 Equibase Speed Figures going from seven-eighths of a mile to 1 1/8 miles, and with five weeks of rest he looks poised to run a huge race on May 7.

2. Majesto

I didn’t really expect to find much to like about Florida Derby runner-up Majesto, the subject of this week’s Making the Grade, when I looked more closely at his chances as a Kentucky Derby prospect. But I came away thinking he might be a decent longshot play to fill out a trifecta ticket. He paired 102 Equibase Speed Figures in the Florida Derby and could move forward with five weeks of rest. I didn’t know much about his trainer, but my research uncovered that Gustavo Delgado is generally regarded as a maestro in his native Venezuela, where he has trained four Triple Crown winners. He’s also got a solid foundation with five straight races at 1 1/16 miles or longer and the pedigree to excel at 1 ¼ miles. Figure he’ll be at least 40-1 on Kentucky Derby day and maybe as high as 75-1 odds. I don’t see Majesto blanketed in roses on May 7, but I’ll throw him on a couple of my trifecta tickets.

3. Oscar Nominated

Photo by Coady Photography

Oscar Nominated earned enough points to qualify for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field by winning the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes on April 2, which means he has a better chance to win the first jewel of the Triple Crown than all but 19 other 3-year-olds. You have to be in it to win it, but other than that I don’t see a whole lot to love about Oscar Nominated. So far, he’s raced exclusively on turf or synthetic surfaces, and he’s never posted a triple-digit Equibase Speed Figure. He looks like a grass horse to me. His sire (father) is 2004 champion turf male Kitten’s Joy and his dam (mother), Devine Actress, is by 1987 champion turf horse Theatrical. Devine Actress raced exclusively on turf or synthetic surfaces. Oscar Nominated was claimed for $75,000 out of a maiden claiming race on Oct. 16, 2015, so it would be a great story for a horse to go from claimer to Kentucky Derby winner, but I just don’t see this one having a Hollywood ending. 

COOLING DOWN

1. Mohaymen

I’m not ready to dismiss Mohaymen’s chances after one bad race. He looked like a monster when winning the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes and earning a 115 Equibase Speed Figure, and he’d ascended to the role of Kentucky Derby favorite for good reason after five wins in as many starts. But the way Nyquist looked him eye to eye and put Mohaymen away at the top of the Florida Derby stretch felt incredibly telling. Nyquist was on another level in the Florida Derby. Mohaymen isn’t dropping too far for me —he’s still in my top five, but barely — but that is a pretty big drop from my top Derby hopeful. It is possible that he just didn’t handle the track, which was drying out from rain and rated as good, and perhaps he also reacted negatively to what was a career-best performance in the Fountain of Youth. Unfortunately, that’s not the way you want to come into the Kentucky Derby, a 1 ¼-mile test against 19 other horses in which a 3-year-old should be peaking. Mohaymen is a fantastic horse and I think still think he could run huge in the Derby. I just don’t see him winning the race today, and that’s a big change from seven days ago.

2. Airoforce

Airoforce, who looked so promising in winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs at 2, has now finished 10th and eighth, respectively in two races this year. While he was reported to be off the Kentucky Derby trail after he was beaten by 39 ½ lengths in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes, I don’t begrudge his connections for taking a shot in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park on April 2 because you only get one shot with a horse for the Kentucky Derby. But his eighth-place finish as the 2.20-1 favorite was enough evidence to remove him from consideration for the first jewel of the Triple Crown. He’s got two wins in three races on grass with his only defeat a runner-up finish by a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, so make no mistake, Airoforce’s future is bright. In this case, it seems clear that future is as a turf runner.

 

3. Kasseopia

Like many others, I had high hopes for Kasseopia after he finished second in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes in his North American debut. My pick for the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby, Kasseopia ran well enough to finish third for trainer Graham Motion, but he needed a big performance in the Spiral Stakes on April 2 to be a Kentucky Derby contender. Kasseopia got off to a slow start in the Spiral and never seriously threatened. I’m still excited about his future, but he needs to take a few major developmental strides, including getting away from the starting gate better, in order to compete with the best of his generation.

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