The 142nd edition of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands will be run on May 7, 2016 and 3-year-old prep races are already underway in the New Year.
Let’s take an early look at top contenders for America’s most famous horse race.
A pair of undefeated colts, juvenile champion Nyquist and Remsen Stakes winner Mohaymen, are leading candidates on the West Coast and East Coast, respectively.
Nyquist, a son of record-breaking freshman sire Uncle Mo, capped his 5-for-5 juvenile campaign with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, overcoming a wide trip on both turns to prove best by a half-length. Trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, the Reddam Racing colorbearer has the same connections of 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another.
With 30 points to his credit, Nyquist leads all horses in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series that will determine the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs. He’s scheduled to return in the seven-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita on February 15 before making his final prep in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream on April 2.
The San Vicente is a non-points race, but Nyquist figures to receive a stiff test if Exaggerator shows up as expected. Runner-up in the Breeders’ Futurity and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Exaggerator concluded his juvenile campaign on a high note when capturing the Delta Jackpot in late November. He’s pointing for the San Vicente but trainer Keith Desormeaux may elect to run Exaggerator twice more (with the March 12 San Felipe and April 9 Santa Anita Derby as possible targets) before the Kentucky Derby.
Other notables based in California include Los Alamitos Futurity and Kentucky Jockey Club runner-up Mor Spirit, who is readying for the January 30 Bob Lewis at Santa Anita and could provide trainer Bob Baffert with a serious shot at a fifth Kentucky Derby win; Swipe, runner-up to Nyquist in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Del Mar Futurity, FrontRunner Stakes and Best Pal; Collected and Let’s Meet in Rio, the 1-2 finishers in the January 9 Sham Stakes; and flashy maiden winner Drefong.
Mohaymen is a regally-bred gray who cost a whopping $2.2 million at auction. A half-brother to juvenile champion New Year’s Day, the son of leading sire Tapit has plenty of pedigree for the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance and will attempt to give trainer Kiaran McLaughlin a first Kentucky Derby victory if he remains healthy.
Unbeaten in three starts and based presently in South Florida, Mohaymen displayed a fine finishing kick winning a pair of stakes and is training forwardly for his sophomore bow, the January 30 Holy Bull at Gulfstream. And we’ll get a good read whether Mohaymen has continued to move forward this year because the well-regarded Conquest Big E and impressive Gulfstream allowance winner Cherry Wine are both pointing toward the 1 1/16-mile race.
Brody’s Cause, the Breeders’ Futurity winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third-placer, recently returned to the worktab for conditioner Dale Romans and is being pointed toward the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on February 27. The late-running Giant’s Causeway colt displayed excellent class at age 2 and appears well-suited for the Kentucky Derby distance.
Champagne Stakes winner Greenpointscrusader faltered as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile favorite, finishing seventh, but he’s eligible to show much more this winter/spring for trainer Dominick Schettino. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up Airoforce made his first start on the main track a winning one, taking the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in late November, and brings a strong late kick to the table. The Mark Casse trainee is headed for the Tampa Bay Downs route, with the January 31 Sam F. Davis and March 12 Tampa Bay Derby as targets.
Other prospects based in Florida include Zulu, a smart maiden and allowance winner at Gulfstream who rates as leading trainer Todd Pletcher’s top Kentucky Derby prospect at this stage; stakes winners Annual Report and Awesome Speed; and superb maiden scorer Shagaf.
Mo Tom, Tom’s Ready and Uncle Walter, the top three respective finishers in the TwinSpires Lecomte Stakes on January 16, are prominent names prepping at Fair Grounds. The Oaklawn Park contingent includes Discreetness and Synchrony, first and third in the January 18 Smarty Jones. And New York has a horse of interest in Flexibility, who finished second to Mohaymen in the Remsen and Nashua Stakes before capturing the January 2 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct.
The next few months promise to be exciting as the Kentucky Derby picture continues to develop.