For more than 30 years as an obsessive horse racing fan there was nothing I wanted more than to see a Triple Crown winner. American Pharoah finally delivered last year, and it was even better than I had hoped. Now, after Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby as the heavy favorite last weekend, people are getting greedy and looking for a second straight Triple Crown. Triple Crowns have historically come in clusters - 1973, 1977 and 1978; 1941, 1943, 1946 and 1948; 1935 and 1937. So, could we get a second Triple Crown in a row? Can Nyquist win the Triple Crown?
He's a legitimate racehorse: The win in the Derby was very impressive. The early fractions weren't entirely ridiculous, but they were fast, and they killed the other horses who messed with it. Nyquist not only contested the early pace effectively, but then he had more than enough left down the stretch to stay up front without a real threat. Most horses can't do that. The fact that he is good enough to do that, and that he has done what it takes to win eight times in a row in some very strong races, makes it far from difficult to believe that he could have two more wins in him.
This field doesn't intimidate: American Pharoah faced a top-heavy field last year, but it wasn't very deep in the end. This year's class of three year olds isn't nearly as strong at the top. And though it appeared to be very deep leading into the Derby, that isn't nearly as much the case now. Exaggerator is a very nice horse, but he has made a habit of coming up short against Nyquist. Suddenbreakingnews was closing like a flash and could be interesting if he chooses to head to the Preakness. Collected has won twice in a row and shows promise. Stradivari is coming off a freakish allowance win. There is plenty of potential and upside there, but there isn't a horse that we can argue is particularly great - especially not when compared to the two year old champion who has won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby. Simply, all he needs to do for two more races is beat groups of horses that aren't any scarier than the fields he has beaten in every other race he has already won.
He's reasonably fresh: The connections took a gamble by only running him in two prep races - something they thought they could get away with because he had such a busy two year old season to give him experience. The gamble worked, and now he heads into his next two races with less miles on his feet than many horses have at this point. It's the same approach that American Pharoah took last year, and we know how that turned out.
Speed was king at Churchill: I didn't bet on Nyquist, but I am certainly not going to take anything away from him - he was the best on the day. It was clear, though, that there was a speed bias in play on Friday and Saturday at Churchill Downs. Nyquist was far from the only horse to be on the lead early and stay there. The bias isn't the reason he won - he still had to be able to take advantage of it. It certainly didn't hurt him, though. If the track for the Preakness or Belmont isn't as favorable to speed - or if it has a pronounced closing bias - then things could turn out differently. Exaggerator, Suddenbreakingnews and Lani are all closers who had pretty fast quarters at some point in the Derby who are all taking another shot and who could fare better on a fairer track.
This is really hard: The reason why American Pharoah was such a big deal last year is that a Triple Crown is incredibly tough to win. It takes more than just having a great horse. Legends like Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Big Brown, Smarty Jones, and others have come up short when they seemed to have a lot going for them - at least as much as Nyquist in several cases. Big Brown, for instance, was such a freak that his Triple Crown seemed a foregone conclusion until he failed to show up for the Belmont. He has plenty of talent, but that is only rarely enough. The amount of luck he needs for the next five weeks almost can't be calculated.
The Belmont isn't short: Some of the distance concerns we legitimately had about Nyquist's pedigree were addressed with his effort in the Derby. The mile and a half of the Belmont are daunting for any horse, though, and there will surely be horses in the race better suited by their breeding to handle it than Nyquist is. Until we see a horse run that final half mile in the Belmont, we have no way at all of knowing how they will stand up to it - and all the greatness he has displayed before now does nothing to change that.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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