With his victory in the Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Nyquist assured himself the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male and jumped to the top of the leaderboard in the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The first Saturday in May represents the long-term goal for most Juvenile runners, but how does Nyquist and the rest of the field measure as Kentucky Derby prospects?
The following are my opinions on the Juvenile runners (horses listed according to finishing position in the Juvenile):
NYQUIST showed plenty of fight winning the FrontRunner Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita in late September and proved much the best in the Breeders’ Cup, overcoming a wide trip on both turns to post a comfortable half-length decision at Keeneland. From the same connections of 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another (owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill & jockey Mario Gutierrez), Nyquist is eligible to keep improving next year but the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance represents a daunting proposition with his pedigree.
Sire Uncle Mo never won past the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile distance but the successful freshman sire may produce Triple Crown types when coupled with stamina-influenced mares. However, Nyquist doesn’t fit the billing with stakes-winning sprinter/milers Sahara Sky, Seeking Regina, Oxford Scholar, Seeking the Sky and Animal Style all present in his immediate female family.
Nyquist wouldn’t be the first Kentucky Derby winner to outrun his breeding, but I’m not excited about his chances at longer distances.
SWIPE has improved since stretching out to two turns, posting career-best BRIS Speed ratings finishing second in both the FrontRunner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and he’s by Birdstone, a son of 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, who is in turn by 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. Birdstone has also produced 2009 Kentucky Derby upsetter Mine That Bird and 2009 champion 3-year-old male Summer Bird, winner of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes.
Swipe possesses a nice mix of speed and stamina in his bloodlines and despite being overlooked at 29-1 odds in the Juvenile, the late runner looks more than capable of developing into a top Kentucky Derby contender for Keith Desormeaux.
BRODY’S CAUSE is easy to like for the 2016 Run for the Roses. The Dale Romans-trained colt broke his maiden at Churchill Downs with a dynamic late kick, defeating next-out winner and Juvenile 8th-placer Conquest Big E, and rallied from far back to win the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) going away in his stakes debut. Brody’s Cause was forced extremely wide on the far turn of the Juvenile before offering a solid run for third and the son of Giant’s Causeway is bred to relish classic distances next spring. He’s lightly raced and given the talent displayed so far, Brody’s Cause could be any kind with further improvement at age 3.
Like Swipe and Brody’s Cause, EXAGGERATOR looks well-suited for longer distances with his pedigree and the class he displayed as a 2-year-old makes him an exciting Kentucky Derby prospect. Winner of the Saratoga Special (G2) and second in the Breeders’ Futurity, Exaggerator experienced a rough start in the Juvenile and was a bit rank during the early stages before finishing an even fourth. The Curlin colt should keep improving.
COCKED AND LOADED is a hard-trying colt who likes Churchill Downs, recording a two-length victory in the Iroquois (G3) in early September, and he didn’t run poorly in the Juvenile. But given his exceptional form at 4 ½ and 5 ½ furlongs early in his career, Cocked and Loaded doesn’t rate as an ideal Kentucky Derby contender. We’ll find out whether the honest sort can outperform my expectations.
RIKER set the pace before weakening in the Juvenile and the speedy colt received lower Speed ratings for wire-to-wire wins in the Grey (G3) and Swynford on Woodbine’s Polytrack. He may prove better suited for sprints/middle-distance races, but we’ll get a better handle on Riker during the Gulfstream Park meet this winter.
GREENPOINTCRUSADER didn’t fire finishing seventh as the lukewarm 7-2 Juvenile favorite, but the Champagne (G1) winner remains an intriguing prospect for 2016. By Preakness and Travers winner Bernardini, the Dominick Schettino trainee hails from a classy female family with plenty of speed and stamina influences and Greenpointcrusader showed a nice turn of foot in his races leading into the Breeders’ Cup.
CONQUEST BIG E lacked seasoning and drew a tough rail post in a 14-horse Juvenile field. After being hustled from the starting gate and carried extremely wide on the far turn, the gray colt understandably tired but didn’t disgrace himself finishing eighth. The Tapit colt will benefit from the experience and rates as a promising type for Mark Casse.
WATERLOO BRIDGE is an overseas turf prospect for trainer Aidan O’Brien. SIDING SPRING and ISOTHERM appear better-suited for the turf in America.
RATED R SUPERSTAR, UNBRIDLED OUTLAW, and RALIS all ran poorly in the Juvenile despite previous stakes experience and it’s difficult to be keen on any of them as Kentucky Derby contenders presently; we’ll see whether the Juvenile was an aberration.