A young comedienne who had just met Rodney Dangerfield on “The Tonight Show” was asked by host Johnny Carson what she thought of the hound dog-faced comic who had made “No Respect” his trademark slogan. Looking Dangerfield up and down, she purred, “I respect him.” Sensing potential danger to his act, Dangerfield shot back combatively, “Oh yeah, wanna make something of it?”
So, hopefully—the equine Rodney Dangerfield—Nyquist—will rebuff any tributes and hosannas that may, but probably won’t, be launched his way in the wake of his latest signature victory, a 3 1/4-length trouncing of the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (gr. I) field April 2, in which he left the previously undefeated and, yes, more-respected Mohaymen in his wake. The bay colt Nyquist, who looks like a sleek sports car in a world of SUVs, seems to go best when he’s carrying a chip in the only place you’d want a horse to have one—on his shoulder.
It started in his very first race last June, when the son of Uncle Mo—Seeing Gabrielle, by Forestry, won his maiden at first asking by a head over the trivia answer Annie’s Candy. Most only saw the modest margin instead of the battler who came back after being passed in the lane to win at five furlongs.
There was little to be critical about when he won his next two races—the one-turn Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) and Del Mar Futurity (gr. I)—by open lengths. But the peanut gallery was back in full force after the Sept. 26 FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I), his first two-turn try. Nyquist defeated Swipe by “only” three-quarters of a length. Clearly he had distance limitations, sang the chorus.
Trainer Doug O’Neill then shipped Nyquist 2,000 miles to the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). This time Swipe came within a half-length of him. You see, said the detractors. Swipe was gaining on him. His rivals had bad trips, and Nyquist had confirmed his distance limitation was 1 1/16 miles. Somehow that conventional wisdom conveniently overlooked Nyquist getting bumped multiple times, traveling seven-wide around both turns, passing seven horses, and still not letting anyone get by him despite having taken a bad step inside the sixteenth pole.
Surely he would be exposed in the Florida Derby. Off just a single one-turn prep, traveling from California to Florida to face the undefeated Mohaymen, who already owned two scores over the Gulfstream surface, and encountering rain and humidity and a foreign, sealed surface labeled “good.” He was exposed, for the seventh straight time, to the winner’s circle.
Who knows what the “experts” will choose to pick at coming out of this race. His competition? His speed numbers? The five weeks until the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I)? Check, check, and check.
It really doesn’t matter. All along, the naysayers have chosen to ignore Nyquist’s greatest attributes because they can’t be seen nor quantified. He is mentally right where you’d want him to be, and he is a proven warrior who’s got more heart than the animal next to him coming down the stretch.
Dangerfield lasted for decades mining comic gold out of exaggerating the slights he faced in daily life (“Every time I walk into an elevator the operator automatically says, ‘Basement?’ ”). Nyquist only has this season to continue making hay while the doubters scratch their heads raw.
A few days before the Florida Derby, even Nyquist’s owner Paul Reddam got into the act. He mentioned he thought if Mohaymen was to win the race, he’d do it by open lengths, but if Nyquist was going to prevail, it would likely be by the slimmest of margins. That was simply music to Nyquist’s ears.
What’s that? You respect him now? Wanna make something of it?