Well folks, last Saturday’s Florida Derby was viewed as the big match-up. West met East as Nyquist took on the Kentucky Derby favorite Mohaymen. Two unbeaten horses with top class form to their names were taking each other on for what was meant to be a hugely exciting and informative race. Alas, as so often happens with much-hyped clashes, the race was a disappointment, leaving the watchers with more questions than answers.
To paraphrase Julius Caesar, Nyquist came, he saw and he conquered. It was as simple as that. He broke well, fended off some early challenges, came a little wide into the straight and galloped on well (despite drifting) for a comfortable 3 ¼ length win. The wide move into the stretch did Mohaymen no favors but, in truth, the horse was already under pressure and it did not affect the result.
So that’s it then. Nyquist is the new Kentucky Derby favorite and is the must-back horse. However, it may not be as simple as that. Given the apparent pace and the speed of the track (rated as good), the time was not exceptional earning a distinctly average (for a Grade 1 race) Beyer rating of 94. Then there was the proximity of Fellowship, 3rd in the race, beaten 4 ¼ lengths. This year Mohaymen has thrashed Fellowship by 6 and 6 ½ lengths in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth. So did Mohaymen have an off day, has he regressed or has Fellowship improved dramatically? We obviously need more evidence before we can make a decision but I wouldn’t be tearing up any futures tickets on Mohaymen just yet.
In the race for the 3 year old fillies, the Gulfstream Park Oaks, there was a shock result as 4/5 favorite Off The Tracks could only come in third to Go Maggie Go (4/1 3rd favorite), who had only a maiden sprint win to her name. The track was described as good but, in truth, it was a drying sloppy track and Off The Tracks seemed to struggle at times and was one-paced in the stretch. Was the trip too far for the favorite? The answer is probably yes on the prevailing going but we will need more evidence before drawing an unequivocal conclusion.
The win for Go Maggie Go earned her enough points for entry into the Kentucky Oaks. It will be interesting to see where connections take this daughter of Ghostzapper, who looks to have a great future.
Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, was bidding for his eighth win in the Honey Fox Stakes and achieved this feat with the outsider of his two runners, Celestine. Celestine had not tasted graded stakes victory before and was sent off at 5.3/1 but she belied these odds and led from start to finish, setting comfortable fractions, coming home a cosy 3 ¼ lengths clear of Mississippi Delta.
The Gulfstream Park card had plenty of variety and the Pan American Stakes was just the ticket for long distance turf race lovers as it required the field to cover a mile and a half. Kaigun, a regular in these races and a great yardstick, has so often been the nearly horse with a string of placed efforts. However, as they say, good things come to those who wait and Kaigun, under a fine stalking, ground saving ride by Joe Bravo, finished strongly to defeat Wake Forest by a head with favorite, Grand Tito, third. Grand Tito has had decisions over Kaigun in the past so it is not clear why the placings should be reversed.
Over at Turfway Park, it was generally accepted that this year’s renewal of their big race, the $500k Spiral Stakes, was a bit below par. This view was given more credence by the fact that there was a blanket finish, in which Oscar Nominated prevailed by a neck at the beguiling odds of 23/1. There was less than a length between the first five home. The well-backed favorite, Airoforce, had a nice trip but his race was run after only 6 furlongs and he trailed in a distant eighth. Time will tell if this race was worthy of the grade and prize money.