Despite being undefeated in seven starts, Nyquist is a fairly soft favorite in the 142nd Kentucky Derby at 3:1 on the morning line. His breeding says he can go the distance, and he proved that ability in the Florida Derby when he turned back rival Mohaymen, who was also undefeated at the time. In the Florida Derby, he was pressured throughout but still held his speed to the end.
The only knock on him could be his running style, which puts him on or near the lead in the early going. Although horses have won in pace-setting fashion, it is considered difficult, particularly when going the extra furlong required in the Derby. He has shown the ability to come from off the pace, as he did on the way to victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Many bettors will still be looking toward Mohaymen, considering his only defeat in the Florida Derby a toss-out race. Behind that one defeat, he has a great stalking style, which can be an advantage in the Derby. His sire, Tapit, has sent many horses to the Kentucky Derby, but none have got the job done yet – to the point that some are starting to call it a "curse."
Exaggerator improved his resume by winning the Santa Anita Derby by a large margin. He likes to run late, and the Derby usually offers plenty of early pace to assist the late running horses. Exaggerator has primarily been a West Coast horse, but has run well at Keeneland and Saratoga, so he should have no trouble with the track or the competition.
Three capable horses at juicy odds are Suddenbreakingnews, Creator and Brody's Cause. Suddenbreakingnews and Creator both come forward to the Derby from the Arkansas Derby, with Creator winning and Suddenbreakingnews placing. All three of these horses have made a career out of running very late, so they will all likely hang at the back of the pack in the Derby and hope to close on the leaders at the wire. Brody's Cause closed late on a lot of these same horses in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to finish third.
There is not a ton of early speed in this one, so unless one of the long shots tries to steal the race, the pace should be reasonable but not dawdling. This should serve Nyquist well and be a disadvantage for the deep closers. If Nyquist runs his race, he will be very hard to beat. The most likely spoiler is Exaggerator. The Derby will be his eighth consecutive graded stakes race and his record in those races is impressive. He can stay closer to the pace so should be able to avoid trouble. Of the longer shots to choose from, Suddenbreakingnews is a sleeper at 20:1; he just missed in the Arkansas Derby and was much more well-bet in that one than Creator.
For some really big value, take a look at Oscar Nominated. His racing resume looks a lot like Animal Kingdom, who won the Derby in 2011. He was bred for turf and has been running on turf, but switched to artificial surface to win the Spiral Stakes, just like Animal Kingdom did.
Bet Nyquist to win, plus some speculative money on Oscar Nominated. Wheel Nyquist over Exaggerator, Mohaymen, Mor Spirit and Oscar Nominated in exacta and trifecta wagers.
Liam Durbin is owner-handicapper of e-ponies.com and creator of the One Click Pony and Exacta Max apps. He shares his Triple Crown picks and betting tips with The Baltimore Sun each year.