LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Gustav Nyquist wears No. 14 for the Detroit Red Wings, but his namesake will be No. 13 on Saturday when Nyquist starts as the favorite in the 142nd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs
Nyquist, undefeated in seven starts, landed post 13 on Wednesday night when posts were drawn in the Aristides Lounge at Churchill Downs.
Nyquist usually races on or near the lead, and much of the other anticipated speed in the race landed outside stalls. Mohaymen is right alongside Nyquist in 14, Outwork has 15, and Danzing Candy drew the far-outside post, 20.
“The most interesting thing is Danzing Candy in the 20 hole,” said Doug O’Neill, who trains Nyquist. “Is he going to send hard to try and clear? If he does, that may affect his energy late. If he doesn’t send hard, is that going to make us make the lead?
“Prior to this, we kind of wanted to be outside all these horses,” O’Neill added. “We’re not, but still, the 13 hole is a great hole.”
Nyquist was installed as the 3-1 favorite on the morning line set by Mike Battaglia of Churchill Downs. He has Exaggerator as the distant second choice at 8-1, with Creator, Gun Runner, and Mohaymen co-third choices at 10-1.
Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, has Nyquist favored at 7-2, Exaggerator next at 8-1, and Mohaymen the third choice at 10-1.
Oftentimes trainers want to avoid inside stalls with horses who have early or tactical speed, but in this case, the first four slots went to horses who are all deep closers – Trojan Nation, Suddenbreakingnews, Creator, and Mo Tom.
Lani, the Japanese-based horse who has been a poor actor all week, landed post 8, with Oscar Nominated to his inside and Destin to his outside.
Destin and Outwork are trained by Todd Pletcher, who along with Chad Brown (My Man Sam, Shagaf) and Steve Asmussen (Creator, Gun Runner) has two runners in this year’s Derby. With his 44th and 45th Derby starters this year, Pletcher is edging ever closer to the record held by D. Wayne Lukas, under whom Pletcher apprenticed before beginning his own decorated career.
Pletcher has won a record seven Eclipse Awards as champion trainer, while Lukas has amassed four. At the Derby though, Lukas – who does not have a horse in this year’s race – owns four wins from his record 48 starters, while Pletcher has one, with Super Saver in 2010.
Pletcher’s 1-for-43 record looks ugly on the surface, but considering that he usually has multiple runners in the Derby each year, he’s actually had starters in 15 Derbies. If he wins this year, 2 for 16 wouldn’t sound all that bad. And just to get to the Derby, Pletcher’s horses have earned their way by winning significant stakes races.
To win this year, though, either Destin or Outwork will have to outrun 18 others. A total of 22 horses were entered Wednesday morning in the Derby, but since a maximum of 20 horses – based on points earned in 34 designated Derby prep races – can start, the two with the fewest points, Laoban and Cherry Wine, were placed on the also-eligible list, in that order.
In order for Laoban or Cherry Wine to get into the race, horses in the main body of the race must scratch before scratch time at 9 a.m. Eastern on Friday. Scratch time is a full day before the Derby to facilitate early betting. Laoban would be the first horse in if one horse scratches. If two horses come out by Friday, both would get in. They would occupy the outside posts in the starting gate.
If anyone in the main body of the race is withdrawn after 9 a.m. Friday, the also-eligibles are out of luck.
Laoban and Cherry Wine were ranked 23rd and 25th on the points list as of Wednesday morning but moved up the list when Fellowship (21st), Adventist (22nd), and Dazzling Gem (24th) were not entered.
Destin and Outwork safely earned their slots in the Derby through victories in important prep races. Destin defeated Outwork in the Tampa Bay Derby, and then Outwork won the Wood Memorial. They figure to be among the many horses in this race who will be midpriced runners.
Outwork, a hulking specimen who Pletcher estimates weighs nearly 1,300 pounds, has won three of his four starts. He was under a tight deadline to make the Derby, considering that he went nearly 10 months between starts before his 3-year-old debut. He has won two of his three races this year, his lone loss coming to his stablemate.
“Essentially, everything had to go perfectly for him to get to this point,” Pletcher said. “I never felt like we were rushing. Fortunately, we never had any setbacks.”
Outwork has made a positive impression all week, as has Destin, who has not raced since the Tampa Bay Derby, meaning he will come into this race off an eight-week layoff. That is uncharted waters for the Derby but not a schedule with which Pletcher is unfamiliar. Generally speaking, he prefers plenty of time between starts.
Destin has won three times in five starts and blossomed at Tampa Bay Downs, where he won the Sam F. Davis Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby in succession, earning career-best Beyer Speed Figures both times. He’s had five works since his last race March 12, four at Palm Beach Downs and then a final drill here last Friday in which he went five furlongs in 1:01.40.
“I think he’s coming up to the race as well as he can,” Pletcher said. “I liked his breeze here.”
The Derby will be televised live by NBC in a three-hour-plus telecast beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. The day’s coverage begins at noon on NBCSN with a four-hour telecast.
The Weather Channel is calling for warming temperatures as Derby Week progresses, with a high of 85 on Saturday after highs of 65 on Thursday and 73 on Friday.