By: Anthony Romano
In 2015, American Pharaoh became the first horse to win a Triple Crown in 37 years, winning the Belmont Stakes by five and a half lengths. The journey started, as it does for all Triple Crown hopefuls, at Churchill Downs in the annual “Run for the Roses.” It’s time once again for the Kentucky Derby.
American Pharaoh entered the 2015 Kentucky Derby as the favorite with odds of 2.9-1. Nyquist sits as the current favorite for the 2016 race with similar odds of 3-1. Nyquist will race at the 13th post position – a spot that has produced four winners in 69 starts. Jockey Mario Gutierrez, who will ride Nyquist on Saturday, rode I’ll Have Another to a Kentucky Derby win back in 2012. After winning The Preakness following that, the horse was scratched from the Belmont, and a chance at immortality, due to tendonitis. Along with Gutierrez, Nyquist’s other connection with I’ll Have Another is through trainer Doug O’Neill. The 47-year-old will be searching for his second Derby win in 2016.
Outside the favorite, there are plenty of other notables in this year’s field of 20. Victor Espinoza, the jockey that rode American Pharaoh to glory, will ride Whitmore out of the 10-position. Whitmore enters the derby with 20-1 odds, but Espinoza will be gunning for his third straight Derby win and fourth overall, after riding Pharaoh and California Chrome in 2014. Whitmore has two wins in his career, but has looked good in four races this year since adding blinders, finishing third in the Arkansas Derby.
Trainer Bob Baffert certainly has the pedigree at Churchill Downs. Including American Pharaoh, four of Baffert’s horses have emerged victorious in the Derby, and he has 12 Triple Crown leg wins overall. Baffert will enter Mor Spirit into the 2016 race, running out of the 17 spot with 12-1 odds. Mor Spirit has started seven times as the favorite and never finished worse than second in any of those races. His jockey, Gary Stevens, is a three-time Derby winner in his own right. The Baffert-Stevens combo prevailed in the 1997 Derby with Silver Charm. Mor Spirit will look to become the first horse to win out of the 17th post position.
After the favorite, Nyquist, four horses opened between 8-1 and 10-1 odds—meaning this could really be anyone’s race. Exaggerator (8-1) will ride with 3-time Derby-winning jockey Kent Desormeaux out of the 11th post position. Exaggerator doesn’t have the pedigree of Nyquist, but he is coming off an impressive win over other derby competitors and a wild finish at the Santa Anita Derby in April.
Mohaymen, Gun Runner and Creator all opened at 10-1 and are viable options also. Whitmore and Gun Runner have history on their side, as they will start at the two post positions with the highest win percentages, 10 and 5 respectively. The longshot, Trojan Nation (50-1), is exactly that, coming in with no career wins and starting at the unfavorable 1-position. No winless horse as won the Derby since 1933 and no horse has won on the inside post since 1986. He will need the support of all the Trojans if he wants to pull off the heavy upset.
This year’s field, unlike other recent Derbies, is fairly wide open, and while Nyquist is the clear favorite, he is not as heavily favored as others in the past. No matter what happens, there is a reason the Derby is known as “the fastest two minutes in sports.” When the famous bugle sounds, it truly is anyone’s race.