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A Closer Look at the Kentucky Derby Contenders

A Closer Look at the Kentucky Derby Contenders

Photo Courtesy of Diana Robinson via

Spring is right around the corner, which it’s almost time for the Kentucky Derby. The 142nd renewal of America’s most famous horse race will take place on May 7, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The race features the best three-year-old horses in the country. Recent winners of the race have gone on to do great things: last year’s winner, American Pharoah, went on to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, as he followed up the Derby with wins in the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. The 2014 winner, California Chrome, recently won the prestigious Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, setting a career earnings record for an American-bred horse.

While it’s hard to say right now if there are any American Pharoahs or California Chromes in this year’s field, it’s nonetheless shaping up to be an exciting race. With five weeks to go until the big race, here’s a look at some prominent contenders:

MOHAYMEN: The talk of the horse-racing world this year has been Mohaymen; a strapping gray colt who cost $2.2 million at auction as a two-year-old. Mohaymen has never lost a race, winning all five of his races in dominant style. He’s won both of his races as a three-year-old: the Holy Bull Stakes and the prestigious Fountain of Youth Stakes, which both take place at Gulfstream Park in Miami. By all accounts, he’s only maturing and getting better, and has been the heavy favorite in early Derby wagering so far. His final prep race for the Kentucky Derby will be in the extremely important Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 2, with $600,000 going to the winner. While Mohaymen will once again be a heavy favorite in that race, he will face some tough competition there, in the form of…

NYQUIST: Named after Detroit Red Wings star Gustav Nyquist, Nyquist is also undefeated, going six-for-six in his career so far. Last year, he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the top race in the country for two-year-olds, and was voted the best two-year-old male horse in the country. He’s only raced once as a three year old, winning the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles. He’s owned by Paul Reddam, and trained by Doug O’Neill, who teamed up to win the Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another back in 2012. Despite his impressive resume, many racing fans have questioned Nyquist’s stamina, wondering if he can run well at the Derby’s 1¼ mile distance. His matchup with Mohaymen in the Florida Derby, which will be held at 1 1/8 miles, will answer a lot of questions heading into the Derby.

DESTIN: Unlike Nyquist and Mohaymen, who both showed lots of ability last year, Destin has only recently blossomed. He was an unknown on the Derby trail until he won back-to-back stakes races: the Sam Davis Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby, both at Tampa Bay Downs. The quality of those fields were not up to the standards that Mohaymen and Nyquist have been facing, but Destin won both of his stakes races easily and posted a fast time. Trainer Todd Pletcher is considered to be among the best trainers in the country: he’s already won the Kentucky Derby before, with Super Saver in 2010. Destin’s final prep before the Derby has not yet been determined yet, though it appears as if he will run in either the Blue Grass Stakes in Lexington, Kentucky, or the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct in Queens, New York. Both races will be held on April 9.

GUN RUNNER: Like the horses mentioned before him, Gun Runner has been perfect this year. He’s won the Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby, both at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He also won a race over the Churchill Downs surface, something that not many others in the prospective Derby field have done. Gun Runner was impressive in winning both of his races in New Orleans, but he would buck history by winning the Kentucky Derby: the last horse to run in the Louisiana Derby and win the Kentucky Derby was Funny Cide, back in 2003.

CUPID: Bob Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby four times—most recently with American Pharoah last year—and he will seek to add a fifth title with Cupid. Cupid had only won one race before the Rebel Stakes, located in Arkansas. Cupid led throughout the race and won the Stakes, holding of the challenge of the fast-closing Whitmore . Considering he sustained the lead despite a fast pace, and won his first race against stakes company, the race impressed a lot of fans. Cupid is scheduled to run next in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 16, the same race American Pharoah won last year before going on to win the Kentucky Derby.

DANZING CANDY: Danzing Candy is perhaps the west coast’s best Derby prospect. He won the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park in his last race, defeating just about every major western Derby contender. Like Cupid, he does his best running while going straight for the early lead, and holding off his opposition the rest of the way. He’ll make his final start before the Kentucky Derby in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9. Two out of the last four Derby winners—California Chrome and I’ll Have Another—completed the Santa Anita Derby-Kentucky Derby double.

MOR SPIRIT: As the other major horse trained by Bob Baffert on the Derby trail, Mor Spirit went into the San Felipe Stakes as the favorite. He came off wins in the prestigious Robert Lewis Stakes and the Los Alamitos Futurity Stakes, both held in Southern California. However, he came in a disappointing second, having been run off his feet by Danzing Candy. Still, he’s never been worse than second in six career races, and will seek to turn the tables on Danzing Candy in the upcoming Santa Anita Derby.

We’re still a few weekends away from the Kentucky Derby, but the next few weeks of the prep races will help separate the contenders from the pretenders. You can catch three of the prep races—the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial Stakes and the Blue Grass Stakes—on NBC on April 9. The Kentucky Derby will air on NBC on May 7.

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A Closer Look at the Kentucky Derby Contenders