The Showdown in the Florida Derby

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

It's not every year that racing fans get a showdown as epic as the one coming up in Saturday's $1,000,000 Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park. A matchup between the two favorites for the Kentucky Derby is a great rarity indeed, especially when both are undefeated, but we'll get such a showdown in the Florida Derby when Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Nyquist takes on four-time grade II winner Mohaymen.

Let me preface my analysis by saying that I have a ton of respect for both Nyquist and Mohaymen, and if only one was running, I wouldn't hesitate to pick that horse to win. Nyquist has won six races (including three grade Is), and in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile he overcame a bump at the start and a very, very wide trip to prevail by a half-length. While many have voiced doubts about Nyquist's ability to handle the ten-furlong distance of the Kentucky Derby, the Florida Derby is only nine furlongs and just a sixteenth of a mile longer than the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, so I don't think the distance will be a problem.

In addition, the more I have studied Nyquist's effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the more impressed I have been. According to Trakus, Nyquist ran 22 to 94 feet more than his rivals-the equivalent of about 2 ½ to 10 ½ lengths-but despite this ground loss, he ran his fourth quarter-mile in :24.73 and the final sixteenth in a respectable :06.61, and visually, it looked like he was finishing pretty well. Last time out, Nyquist ran perhaps his best race to date in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita, in which he dueled through fractions of :22.50 and :44.49 before finishing in :24.07 and :12.15 to win by 1 ½ lengths over the talented colt Exaggerator. This was a stellar performance, especially coming off a layoff, and suggests that Nyquist has taken a step forward this year and could be difficult to run down in the Florida Derby.

All that said, the record of Mohaymen is equally impressive. He's shown remarkable versatility throughout his career, winning while on the lead, tracking the pace, and coming from several lengths behind, and he's also shown the ability to adapt to a variety of different pace scenarios. In the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream, he tracked slow fractions before moving through on the rail to take the lead and accelerate strongly in the second half of the race to win by 3 ½ lengths. Last time out, he settled farther behind through quicker fractions in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) before reeling in Todd Pletcher's talented colt Zulu to win by 2 ¼ lengths.

Mohaymen also has the advantage of being 2-for-2 at Gulfstream Park, whereas Nyquist is shipping across the country to make his first start at Gulfstream, but Nyquist has the edge in terms of post position draw. With a very short run to the first turn, drawing post four should enable Nyquist to secure a great position early on without going too wide on the turn, while Mohaymen-having drawn post nine-could be in danger of getting hung wide, especially since there are several speed colts drawn to his inside.

The wildcard in the Florida Derby could be Takeittotheedge, who won a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream by 7 ¾ lengths on March 5th after carving out quick fractions. He might have the most early speed of any horse in the race, and trainer Dale Romans has indicated that Takeittotheedge will be sent to the lead. If this is indeed the case, than this should give Nyquist a target to track early on, an ideal situation since four of Nyquist's six wins have come when he's settled just behind the leader. The only problem is that Takeittotheedge might be tough to catch, as he looks like a very promising colt and perhaps the most likely candidate to pull off a monumental upset.

Again, I have a ton of respect for both Nyquist and Mohaymen, and I will not be surprised if either of them wins. Really, this is more of a "watch" race than a "bet" race since there's not much separating Nyquist and Mohaymen and both colts will be very short prices-Mohaymen is even-money on the morning line and Nyquist is 6-5.

My gut feeling is that Mohaymen will win this race and complete his sweep of Gulfstream's Kentucky Derby prep races, but after going back and forth analyzing both colts and trying to project how the race will be run, I'll give Nyquist the slightest edge to win, thanks in great part to his ideal post draw and the possibility that he'll get a nice trip stalking Takeittotheedge without losing too much ground. For the trifecta and superfacta, Takeittotheedge and Fellowship--third in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth--look like solid candidates for the bottom slot, along with Majesto, who has kept good company throughout his career and finally broke his maiden last time out going 8.5 furlongs at Gulfstream.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Florida Derby?



To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings.

Also, don't forget that the deadline for adding three more horses to your stable is 11:59 pm Eastern on April 1st. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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