World Class: Nyquist answers first Triple Crown question

Nyquist-360

Nyquist posted an RPR of 123 in Kentucky Derby

  PICTURE: Getty Images  

NYQUIST came of age in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Already a champion juvenile with an unbeaten record and a million-dollar bonus in his back pocket, he arrived at Churchill Downs to rather subdued fanfare.

He was sent off favourite for the opening classic, but without the hype you might expect for a horse with such an impressive cv. The problem was the form behind that flawless record was nothing out of the ordinary.

Sure, he was consistent and he kept winning well, but he was beating the same horses again and again and his times were far from dazzling. He looked vulnerable; there were questions to answer. But he answered them in style.

On Saturday he ran a fast time and did it the hard way, breaking fast, grabbing a handy sit and keeping on to the line to score by a length and a quarter from the staying-on Exaggerator.

Preakness players

An RPR of 123 was a big career best from Nyquist and ranks him as an average winner of the Kentucky Derby. He had to go a tad faster than ideal to get his seat on the rail chasing the pacemaker and there’s a chance he will improve again in the Preakness Stakes next week.

The runner-up ran a very different race under exaggerated waiting tactics. Unlike the winner, Exaggerator went slightly slower than he should have done in the first half of the race (clocking over 1m12s to the 6f) before really motoring home in the straight.

He posted an RPR of 120 which ranks him as the clear number two colt in the US and, considering he didn’t get the pace quite right and had to weave to find a run, he too could improve in the Preakness.

All things considered the Preakness Stakes looks like a race between the big two, but Nyquist should come out on top, as the likely steadier early pace at Pimlico should favour him – as well as the fact he already has a four from four record over Exaggerator.

Triple crown question

Three of the last four Kentucky Derby winners (I’ll Have Another, California Chrome and American Pharoah) managed to follow up in the Preakness and all three improved their RPRs in the second classic.

This is a common occurrence and often the Preakness throws a bigger rating than the Derby no matter who wins, as there are fewer runners, fewer hard luck stories and they generally don’t go quite so crazy on the pace.

If Nyquist wins the Preakness we’ll be off to the Belmont Stakes three weeks later as he bids to follow in the footsteps of American Pharoah, who last year became the first American Triple Crown winner for 37 years.

The stamina and resilience questions, which combine to scupper most triple crown dreams, will be asked at Belmont and at present we don’t know how he’ll handle those factors.

Smart stand-in

RPR choice Cathryn Sophia (114) came out on top in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, scoring by a convincing two-and-three-quarter lengths from Land Over Sea (107).

The race lost a superstar when ante-post favourite Songbird was ruled out with a low-grade fever, but Cathryn Sophia looks a more than able stand in, who should go on to enjoy more Grade 1 success this term.

Songbird was expected to win the Oaks before a potential meeting with the colts in the Preakness, but considering she missed the race and Nyquist turned out to be pretty good in the Derby, a meeting with the colts will probably now be delayed until later in the campaign.

Queen to Ascot

A couple more star fillies were in action at Churchill Downs on Saturday, with Tepin winning the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile and Taris taking the Humana Distaff.

Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Tepin is the undisputed queen of the turf Stateside and she barely had to step out of second gear to land this Grade 2 contest restricted to fillies and mares.

Although there was no worthy challengers in the field, she still posted an RPR of 120 and remains firmly on target for Royal Ascot. She looks a real threat to Queen Anne Stakes favourite Solow provided she handles the travel, the straight track and gets up the hill.

Taris also looks capable of taking on the leading males after posting a career best RPR of 121 for her power-packed five-and-three-quarter length success over Stonetastic (105).

Derby trials disappoint

Closer to home there was nothing outstanding in the many Derby trials across England, Ireland and France last week.

The best performance on the ratings came from Andre Fabre’s Cloth Of Stars (113), who stayed on well to land the Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud  from Group 1 winner Robin of Navan (108).

The best of Aidan O’Brien’s army of Derby candidates was Port Douglas (111), who carried a 4lb penalty to be beaten a short-head by stablemate US Army Ranger (108) in the Chester Vase.

TOP OF THE CLASS: Nyquist 123 Doug O’Neill (US) (Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 1m2f, 8 May)

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