As the 2016 Kentucky Derby field starts to become clearer, a few contenders have emerged from the group as favorites to take home this year's Run for the Roses.
It will be difficult to match the excitement from last year's Triple Crown, as American Pharoah became the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. While there is no guarantee any of the thoroughbreds will be able to match his efficiency this time around, there are a number of challengers who will at least try to accomplish this feat.
Everything starts at Churchill Downs in arguably the biggest event in horse racing every year. A lot goes into building a champion, however, and here is some background on a few horses who might end up in the winner's circle on Saturday.
He is the current favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, according to Odds Shark, and for good reason. No one has been better over the past few months than Nyquist, who has won all seven races he entered, including four Grade 1 events.
Trainer Doug O'Neill, who won this event in 2012, joked about how dominant his horse has been to this point, per Wave 3 News Sunrise's John Boel:
The most recent win came in the Florida Derby, where he cruised past the competition, including fellow Kentucky Derby contender Mohaymen.
Nyquist has a good pedigree from Seeking Gabrielle and Uncle Mo, the latter having a successful run through the circuit in 2010. Uncle Mo won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Stakes as well as two other graded races while making it all the way to the Breeders' Cup Classic. Unfortunately, he managed just a 10th-place finish in what became his final event.
With this much going in his favor, the pressure will be on jockey Mario Gutierrez to lead the horse to victory. Gutierrez had success in 2013 with I'll Have Another, winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before the Triple Crown contender was scratched leading up to the Belmont.
He could get another chance at the dream with Nyquist, who obviously has the talent to beat everyone in the field. The only question is whether he can live up to enormous expectations.
It all starts with pedigree with Exaggerator, a decedent of Seattle Slew and sire of Curlin. Curlin had an excellent career from 2007 to 2008, winning the Preakness Stakes, Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup, among others. He also finished in the top three in each of the 2007 Triple Crown races.
He passed these genes on to Exaggerator, who has had a strong run in the buildup to this event.
Most notably, the thoroughbred took home first place at the prestigious Santa Anita Derby. While it was a wet track, Pat Doney of NBC5 is one person who believes in the performance:
Consistency has been a problem, but Exaggerator has almost as much experience as anyone in the field with nine starts, finishing in the money in seven of them.
The experience carries over to jockey Kent Desormeaux, who has been successfully riding since the late 1980s. The Hall of Famer has won six Triple Crown events in his career, including the Kentucky Derby in 1998, 2000 and 2008. His brother, J. Keith Desormeaux, is the trainer for Exaggerator and is hoping the winner's circle will be a family affair.
Another muddy day could be helpful, but no matter the weather, this horse has a chance to do damage.
Even without a perfect record, Gun Runner leads all contenders in points for the Derby prep. He won the Louisiana Derby and also has plenty of experience at Churchill Downs, running two races on this course while winning the Maiden Special Weight event in September.
The Kentucky native was sired by the undefeated Candy Ride, an Argentinian thoroughbred who never lost in six races. His mare, Quiet Giant, also had a successful run in 2011, winning the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher.
Despite the success, even trainer Steve Asmussen isn't confident in Gun Runner taking out the favorite at the moment, per the Courier-Journal:
Asmussen has had an excellent career, but he has never won the Kentucky Derby. Meanwhile, he will go in an interesting direction with a relatively inexperienced jockey in Florent Geroux.
While the 29-year-old rider hasn't proved himself in many high-profile races, he is one of the top up-and-coming jockeys on the circuit. Geroux currently ranks fifth among jockeys in total earnings in 2016, per Equibase, winning an impressive 22 percent of his starts.
With Gun Runner's raw talent and a full team getting the most out of him, the local horse could pull off the upset Saturday.
Pedigree information courtesy of HorseRacingNation.com.
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