By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
The sport of kings is about to have its day in the sun.
The Kentucky Derby is upon us again, and this year the lights are a little bit brighter and the coverage is a bit bolder.
It was a gap of 37 years between Affirmed’s triumph and American Pharoah’s successful rides. Affirmed not only won the Triple Crown in 1978, he did it just one year after Seattle Slew had accomplished the same feat.
Seattle Slew’s triumph came just four years after a horse named Secretariat scored perhaps the most famous Triple Crown victory in the sport’s history when he won the three races in 1973. Secretariat is to horse racing as Babe Ruth is to baseball.
The Triple Crown seemed to be an idea that had run its course prior to last year. It seemed that horses could find a way to win in Kentucky and then take the Preakness in Baltimore two weeks later, but getting that third triumph in 1½-mile Belmont Stakes three weeks later was just too tough.
Many of the sport’s most influential voices were saying that the Triple Crown calendar would have to change if the sport was ever to get another true champion.
But American Pharoah put an end to that nonsense, and now there’s another horse that appears to have a legitimate chance of making it happen in back to back years.
Yes, there are questions about Nyquist, but he goes into the Kentucky Derby with an undefeated record in seven races. He has the ability to run any way he wants, and he has a way of finding the winner’s circle.
Nyquist can run from the front or come from behind, but his favorite and best way to compete is to stalk the pace and run third, fourth or fifth and then make his move near the top of the stretch and then pour it on.
That may be the best way to run in the Kentucky Derby because there is more traffic in the Run for the Roses than there is around the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour.
Come-from-behind horses can win the Kentucky Derby, but more often than not, they will get held up in traffic and won’t be able to negotiate a clean route.
A front-runner can get loose and get to the top, but the only way he can win is if there is no real speed that goes out with him and pushes the pace.
That’s pretty unusual when there are 20 horses in the field.
Nyquist whipped another pretty good horse in Mohaymen in the Florida Derby. Mohaymen had been undefeated himself going into that race, but he was not up to the challenge of Nyquist and could only finish fourth in that race.
Exaggerator and Gun Runner should be Nyquist’s best challengers, and both are capable of running big races.
Nyquist is no sure thing, and there are questions about how well he will handle the distance. His daddy was an excellent stakes horse named Uncle Mo, but that horse ran the worst race of his life in the 2010 Breeder’s Cup Classic, when he finished 10th in the 1¼-mile race.
That’s how far Nyquist will have to run Saturday, and if he tires down the stretch, there will be a lot of unhappy backers who will be tearing up their tickets.
There will probably be even more happy horse players – not because they won – but because they will be able to say, “I told you so.”
But that’s just about the only negative that you can find concerning Nyquist. Something tells me that trainer Doug O’Neill has that figured out and has prepared him to run that distance.
He is going to find a way to handle the pomp, the circumstance, the 20-horse field and the 150,000-plus fans that will be on hand to see the race. Exaggerator will finish second and long shot Suddenbreakingnews will finish third to complete the trifecta.
Nyquist will win the Kentucky Derby, but the big test is likely to come in early June, when he loads into the starting gate at Belmont Park and gets ready to run 1 ½ miles to glory.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy