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Life After Pharoah: Another Star Is Born
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PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER

PURPLE REIGN Gutierrez (left) deftly negotiated a wicked early pace, and as Nyquist flew around the final turn, he was free and clear. Until late last Saturday afternoon, horse racing remained in the thrall of American Pharoah's historic Triple Crown in 2015, the first in 37 years. The memory of Pharoah's victories sustained racing fans through a long winter, and as a new Triple Crown season approached, the sport sold the public on memories of that achievement. It was as if Pharoah were still running, when in fact he had been retired to a breeding farm. Then at the 142nd Kentucky Derby, a new star arrived. Meet Nyquist, a bay colt named for Detroit Red Wings right wing Gustav Nyquist because owner Paul Reddam, who was born in Ontario, is a fan of hockey in general and the Wings in particular. Nyquist won the Derby in remarkable fashion, chasing a blistering early pace and then surviving to finish in 2:01.31, the fastest winning time in 13 years. He is already keeping very fast company. Nyquist has never lost in eight lifetime starts, making him the first undefeated horse to win the Derby since Big Brown in 2008 and the first unbeaten who had also been the 2-year-old champion since Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew in 1977. "It's hard to describe how cool it is to be associated with this horse," says trainer Doug O'Neill. "We're very fortunate." A crowd of 167,227, the second-largest in Derby history, jammed Churchill Downs to witness Nyquist's validation. Despite his record he had received only grudging approval from racing pundits, who questioned whether he had the stamina to survive the Derby's 1¼ miles and whether his light schedule, with just two prep races as a 3-year-old, had readied him for the challenge. Derby bettors, on the other hand, hammered him down to 2.30--1, making him the shortest-priced favorite since Point Given in 2001; that status might have been as much about the opposition's shortcomings as Nyquist's superiority. With Mario Gutierrez aboard, Nyquist followed speedy pacesetter Danzing Candy through the first quarter mile in 22.58 seconds and a half mile in 45.72. Those times might have been suicidal, but Gutierrez wisely kept Nyquist just off the lead and then pounced on the turn for home, opening three lengths on Gun Runner and then holding off the hard-charging Exaggerator at the wire. Although Nyquist clearly tired in the stretch (his last half mile was 50.91), his time was the fastest since Funny Cide ran 2:01.19 in 2003. (Pharoah won in 2:03.02.) "He's a star," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, whose Mohaymen finished fourth. "I don't know about the Triple Crown, but [racing] will have a great year." Nyquist's victory returns the team of Reddam, O'Neill and Gutierrez to the Triple Crown stage. They were the trio behind 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, whose run was shadowed by O'Neill's battle against rules violations involving banned medications and practices and ended with a thud when the colt was scratched on the eve of the Belmont Stakes with a tendon injury. O'Neill's record has been clean for almost three years, leaving fans to embrace his genuine good nature and passion for his profession. It was O'Neill's brother, Dennis, who picked out Nyquist at a sale in March 2015 and Reddam who wrote the $400,000 check. Both considered the price a bargain. Nyquist is a son from the first crop by Uncle Mo, a gifted runner who would have been the favorite in the 2011 Derby had he not become ill in the weeks before the race. Uncle Mo's babies have proved themselves swift, and now Nyquist is the swiftest of all. Reddam chose to name him after a Wing in part to tweak Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, with whom he shares ownership of some horses, but also because last spring Nyquist was on a goal-scoring tear. It seems incomprehensible that a year after American Pharoah ended the Triple Crown drought another horse with a bona fide chance has emerged. But older racing fans remember waiting 25 years between Triple Crowns before Secretariat won in 1973; two more came in succession: Seattle Slew, then Affirmed in '78. There is no sensible reason for Triple Crowns to come in bunches, but on Saturday, Nyquist proved himself a worthy follower to Pharoah. Next comes the Preakness, on May 21 in Baltimore. A sport watches, embarrassed by its riches.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY ERICK W. RASCO

ENCORE A year after American Pharoah won the first Triple Crown since 1978, the second-largest crowd in Derby history packed Churchill Downs in anticipation of seeing the start of another memorable run.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER

SPEED MERCHANT Though he slowed over the final half mile, Nyquist turned in the fastest Derby time in 13 years. The unbeaten colt will look to make it nine straight at the Preakness Stakes.