It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2.
It’s East vs. West.
In the eyes of the thoroughbred racing world, it’s the most anticipated race involving the two leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby in years.
Mohaymen and Nyquist -- both unbeaten -- will put their perfect records on the line Saturday in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
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“I think it’s great that we have the two best colts in the country racing against each other,” said Mohaymen’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. “It’s something that doesn’t happen very often.”
Mohaymen was listed as the slight even-money favorite over 6-5 Nyquist to win the 65th running of Gulfstream’s signature race.
Based on the records and morning-line odds, the eight other challengers are racing for third. Fellowship is the third program choice at 15-1.
“Obviously, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” said Fellowship’s trainer, Stanley Gold. “We’re running against the two best.”
It’s been 30 years since the top West Coast horse — Snow Chief in 1986 — invaded South Florida to take on the East Coast’s best 3-year-olds.
Now Nyquist, the reigning 2-year-old champion of 2015, is doing the same, shipping in from his home base in California and skipping the Santa Anita Derby in the process in order to challenge Mohaymen, the local kingpin.
“To have our colt No. 2 and Mohaymen No. 1, and have that matchup five weeks before the Kentucky Derby, is awesome,” said Doug O’Neill, who trains Nyquist. “I think it’s awesome for the sport.”
Typically, the best 3-year-olds on each coast don’t converge until the first Saturday of May in the Kentucky Derby. But, because he’s a graduate of the Fasig-Tipton sales for 2-year-olds, Nyquist stands to earn a $1 million bonus by winning the Florida Derby.
That’s in addition to the $600,000 winner’s share of the 1 1/8-mile stakes.
“The million-dollar bonus does come into play a little bit,” O’Neill said of the decision to bring Nyquist to South Florida. “But it was (always) our intent to go in the Florida Derby.”
Nyquist capped an unbeaten 2-year-old campaign with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’s raced just once this year, winning the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita.
Mohaymen, meanwhile, has ruled Gulfstream this winter, capturing both the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth Stakes in impressive style.
Because he’s familiar with the Gulfstream racing surface and has twice succeeded in a race involving two turns, he merits the edge over Nyquist, who has never raced at Gulfstream and has yet to tackle a two-turn race this year.
Mohaymen will be ridden by his regular jockey, Junior Alvarado, while Mario Gutierrez will be aboard Nyquist.
“I know the ability my horse has and I trust him,” Alvarado said of Mohaymen. “I know what kind of horse he is. It will be a nice battle and hopefully we end up winning the race.”
McLaughlin said Mohaymen won’t be pulling any punches in order to leave extra room in the tank for the Kentucky Derby. He’s going all-out on Saturday for the win.
“We want to win the race,” McLaughlin said. “If we have to empty him out, no problem.”
McLaughlin feels the five-week break before the Kentucky Derby will give his gray colt plenty of time to recover and arrive in Louisville in peak form.
The Florida Derby is scheduled as the 14th and final race on Saturday’s card, which includes eight stakes in all. Post time for the Florida Derby is 6:48 p.m. Post time for the first race of the day is noon.