The story of Nyquist is a reminder of how quickly things can change in this sport. In May Nyquist was an unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner, and people were talking about him as a legitimate Triple Crown threat. Then he had a rough Preakness, and everything changed. He has run twice since - the Haskell at the end of July and the Pennsylvania Derby in late September - and he has looked lousy since. A shell of what he was not so long ago.
The Nyquist we saw last fall and this spring is an interesting entrant in the Breeders' Cup Classic - a potential threat to extend the streak of Derby winners also winning this race to two. The Nyquist we have seen the last three times out, though, frankly doesn't even belong in this field. So, what has gone wrong, and can it be corrected? Can Nyquist win the Breeders' Cup Classic?
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We'll look at nine factors to help answer those two questions. Before we do, though, we need to look at the transition. With the exception of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year, every win had started with him either setting the pace or pressing it from at the front. He was a speed horse with a final burst - a deadly combination. In the Preakness, though, he got locked in a deadly early speed duel, got burnt by the crazy pace, and was done. The duel cost him his race and his Triple Crown shot, but it also seemed to rob him of his racing mojo. In the Haskell he started on the lead but gave it up quickly and faded to fourth in the stretch. In Pennsylvania he was never better than third, and the pace was more reasonable yet he looked exhausted down the stretch. It's as if that Preakness broke him. Can the pieces be put together in time for this race? It has happened before, but it's a tall order.
Big races: Nyquist has won the two biggest races available to him so far in his career - the Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby. We know he is capable of shining on big days. He's also taken the Florida Derby. He has lost his last three times out in reasonably big races - the first two much bigger than the Pennsylvania Derby - but he has definitely shown his ability to be a big race horse at times.
Last race: The Pennsylvania Derby, thanks to a $1.25 million purse, had a strong field of three year olds. It was a disaster for Nyquist - and several others as well. He was held off the early pace - and that had to be a conscious decision. He saved ground and should have been in good shape down the stretch. He had room to move and went for the lead. He just didn't have it, though. He faded like he was running in mud and was sixth. There were no excuses - him at even close to his best would have won by daylight. That came just over a month before the Classic, so it's tough to get too excited about him here.
Effort: He hasn't had a hugely stressful summer, and he should be coming into this race in fine shape. He has run so badly lately, though, that you have to wonder if the tough schedule of his two year old year and early in this season were too much for him and have caught up with him.
Distance: He won the Derby at a mile and a quarter, so he can obviously handle the distance. The distance is the least of the many concerns about this horse here.
Works: Through the late summer the works have been mostly underwhelming - as you would guess based on the performances. The likely last work before the Classic on Oct. 27, though, was an odd one. He was supposed to be working close to stablemate Ralis, who is heading to the Turf. Something went wrong, though, and Nyquist started about 20 lengths back. He wound up passing Ralis seven furlongs later. Trainer Doug O'Neill was clearly very angry about how things had gone. It was a good showing in some ways, but it was too much for a horse to be doing at this point and just shouldn't have happened. It's another reason to have doubts - not that there was any shortage of those.
Older horses: Nyquist is running against older horses for the first time here, and in his last two outings has been an afterthought against less than the best of what has proven to be a weak class of three-year-old males aside, potentially, from Arrogate. This is a huge step up in class at a time when the horse's form doesn't indicate that a bigger challenge is needed.
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez has ridden the horse in all his races, so there has been chemistry there. The Juvenile last year was his only Breeders' Cup win, but he also won the Derby and Preakness in 2012 with I'll Have Another. He's a decent jockey, and he has the full trust of trainer Doug O'Neill, but he's not the biggest asset in a race of this caliber. For a horse like this that's a concern.
Trainer: My late mother taught me that if you can't say anything nice you shouldn't say anything at all. So I won't say much about Doug O'Neill. He's won four Breeders' Cup races, and I'm sure his drug cheating ways are only part of the reason for his success.
Race shape: Arrogate wired the Travers. California Chrome has wired his last two races. Both are really fast. Effinex likes to push the pace. Frosted can run up front if he wants to, though he likely won't here. Melatonin has speed. Add it all up and it's tough to imagine Nyquist in his current form being able to dictate the pace or surviving a duel with these horses. Like almost everything else, the pace doesn't really set up well for the Derby champion here.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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