Well, things sure can change in a hurry on the road to the Triple Crown trail. Late Saturday afternoon, Mohaymen, an undefeated colt, was not only the favorite in the upcoming Florida Derby but also the widely-respected favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. He seemed to be an unstoppable force. Two dismal minutes later he had fallen from grace. Hard. He finished fourth in the Florida Derby, but that result was flattering - he just didn't have it on the day, and he was up against the two year old champion, Nyquist, who had a spectacular day. For the connections of Mohaymen it went about as badly as it could have.
The colt came out of the race fine and has more than enough points secured to make the Kentucky Derby field. So that is where he is heading. And that leaves a puzzle for handicappers. Will we see the brilliant colt who had looked so good in every race before this one and seemed to have unlimited upside? If you liked the colt going in then you might be willing to pretend that last race never happened - and revel in the much higher odds than we would otherwise have seen. Or was this the beginning of the end for an incredible colt that peaked too soon like so many others have before him? If you were lukewarm about the colt before the Florida Derby, or downright negative, then this could seem like the way to go.
Last race: Things set up about as the connections might have hoped during the race. The pace was reasonable, and he had room to move riding just off the pace coming into the final turn. When he was asked to move forward he briefly looked ready, but then he faded fast. By the time they entered the stretch it was very clear that he had nothing to give and that the race would go on without him. It was like someone pulled the trigger on a high-powered rifle, but the powder in the cartridge was wet. He fizzled when he was supposed to explode. Sometimes these things just happen, but more often there is an excuse. In this case the most obvious excuse is the track. Earlier in the day it had rained heavily. The track had been sloppy then but had improved to good by post time. It was quite heavy, though, and there was significant kickback. Mohaymen didn't look comfortable from the outset of the race, and he clearly wasn't enjoying the footing throughout. Nyquist, meanwhile, was completely unbothered. That is not the only reason that Mohaymen lost by any means, but it clearly had a significant impact.
Prior experience: What made the Florida Derby effort so perplexing was it was so different from what we had seen before. After breaking his maiden in September at Belmont, he went on to dominate the fall stakes schedule at Aqueduct, winning both the Nashua and the Remsen in October. By then it was time to seek warmer weather for the winter, so he headed to Gulfstream Park. The primary prep race path to the Florida Derby is the Holy Bull followed by the Fountain of Youth. Mohaymen won them both, and he made doing so look easy. Five races, five increasingly impressive wins. He was winning, and he was improving with each start. Again, we have to wonder - was the Florida Derby just a road bump or a bad omen?
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin. He has won just one Triple Crown race over his long career - the 2006 Belmont with Jazil. Prior to going out on his own, though, he was a longtime assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, working with, among many other greats, 1988 Kentucky Derby-winning filly Winning Colors. Combine that experience with the dozens of major races he has won over the years and you have a very competent trainer. He's not exactly hot right now - Mohaymen's misfire came on the heels of a disastrous trip to Dubai for the World Cup card - but he knows his stuff.
Jockey: Junior Alvarado has been aboard for every race the horse has run. He has finished 10th in the country in earnings for jockeys three times since 2012 and is on track to meet or better that mark this year. He has not won a Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup race, but he has been a regular fixture in the winner's circle of graded stakes since becoming a nationally-prominent rider. He's not the asset on this horse that some other jockeys with more experience on this stage are on theirs, but he is far from a negative.
Breeding: Like so many good young horses these days, Mohaymen is a son of Tapit. That sire will likely be represented at least twice more in the Derby this year - Lani and Cupid are both Tapit's as well. Tapit has been champion sire twice and has sired superstars like Belmont winner Tonalist and champion filly Untapable, but he has not won a Derby yet. His offspring have class and stamina - and you'd expect no less for a $300,000 stud fee - and he will get his Derby win one day. Mohaymen's damsire, Dixie Union, won the Haskell Invitational, and among his offspring is 2012 Belmont winner Union Rags. There is good stamina from there, too. Mohaymen is well bred for this challenge.
Odds: The final official Kentucky Derby futures pool ran during Florida Derby weekend. On the morning line when the pool opened on the Friday morning Mohaymen was the strong favorite at 7/2 - well ahead of second choice Nyquist at 8/1. By Sunday night when it closed the tables had turned - Mohaymen was at 8/1. This made him the second choice, and Nyquist was the strong favorite at 3/1.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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