Nyquist’s beat goes on

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The so-called doubters never showed up, sending Nyquist to the post as the 2-1 favorite despite 19 challengers, and the lingering doubts about the undefeated champion’s abilities and his lack of speed when it comes to numbers on paper were wrong as he won Saturday’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Nyquist worked hard for this Derby, the second for his owner-trainer-jockey combination, weathering a quick early pace and holding off a hard-charging rival. The son of Uncle Mo won by 1 1/4 lengths over Exaggerator, completing an exacta of the two post-time favorites in order, with third choice Gun Runner third and fourth choice Mohaymen fourth. So much for the notion of “the most wide open Derby in years,” another overused phrase that seems to pop up virtually every year during Derby Week.

Nyquist won in a quick time of 2:01.31 for the demanding 10 furlongs on the fast Churchill Downs surface tightened up a bit after a short rainstorm a little more than an hour before post time.

The rain didn’t affect the proceedings whatsoever and the opposition didn’t affect Nyquist for much of the going. Mario Gutierrez put him into the race early, tracking the speed of expected pacesetter Danzing Candy with Gun Runner just off. Gun Runner and Florent Geroux took the lead around the far turn and Gutierrez countered the move and snatched the lead outside the quarter pole. They opened up in an instant and were clear in midstretch as Exaggerator and Kent Desormeaux gathered momentum from the back of the pack.

The gap Nyquist opened up in the stretch proved enough at the finish as Nyquist stretched his unbeaten streak to eight. He is the first unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner since Big Brown in 2009 and first undefeated 2-year-old champion to wear the roses since eventual Triple Crown Seattle Slew in 1977.

Nyquist’s connections – Gutierrez, trainer Doug O’Neill and owner Paul Reddam – are the same team that brought I’ll Have Another to the brink of a run at history after victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. I’ll Have Another was injured the day before the Belmont Stakes and didn’t get a chance to go for the sweep.

Nyquist now is the latest hope for his team, and for racing, a year removed from American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown. Reddam can’t get enough.

“I’m very lucky to be with these guys … it’s as simple as that really,” Reddam said when asked the secret to his success.