The Florida Derby may shape up as a two-horse race between juggernauts Mohaymen and Nyquist. But that didn’t stop the connections of eight challengers from entering their horses to face the two heavyweights — and heavy favorites — for Saturday’s 65th running at Gulfstream Park.
“Hopefully, (the surprisingly large field) won’t be a negative with traffic issues,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Mohaymen, who drew the ninth post position in the field of 10. “But it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Nothing’s been a problem so far for Mohaymen, who is unbeaten in five career races. As a result, he was made the even-money favorite, rating him a slight edge over Nyquist at 6-5.
The colts are the two leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby in May.
Mohaymen is the top-ranked 3-year-old on the East Coast while Nyquist, last year’s unbeaten 2-year-old champion, is arriving from California for the rare East-West showdown.
While the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby carries a $1 million purse, Nyquist — because he’s a graduate of the Fasig-Tipton sales — stands to earn an additional $1 million bonus should he prevail.
“I think Mohaymen has home-court advantage and he is every professional handicapper’s pick from what I’ve read,” said Nyquist’s trainer, Doug O’Neill. “He’s the (Kentucky) Derby favorite to this point. We’ve got to beat him to earn our respect that way.”
The gray Mohaymen has turned in two impressive wins so far this year at Gulfstream, capturing both the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth Stakes. Nyquist has made only one previous start in 2016, winning the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 15.
Despite the formidable presence of the two horses, eight have dared to take them on Saturday.
“It’s a strong Florida Derby field — you’ve got the two best horses in the country,” said trainer Dale Romans, who is sending out Takeittotheedge. “They usually all wait (t0 meet) until they get to Kentucky. So it’s going to be very interesting.”
The Florida Derby highlights a 14-race card, which includes eight stakes. Post time for the first race is noon.
Field for Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby