Mario Gutierrez deserves a lot of credit for his win atop Nyquist in the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. He did so in fine fashion in front of 167,227, the second-largest crowd in Derby history. Nyquist has won all the races he’s entered, including last year’s Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, and has a record of 8-0-0.
Nyquist had fallen back to fourth in the field on the back stretch before Gutierrez coaxed his horse to the lead in the final turn and held off a charging Exaggerator down the stretch. For Gutierrez, it is his second victory in only his second Kentucky Derby.
“I had 100-percent confidence in Nyquist, and I know Exaggerator was coming, but Nyquist only needs a horse to push him on,” said Gutierrez after the race. “If he feels someone coming, he’s going to keep going as fast as he needs to go. I never doubted the power of my horse.”
After the race, I found it interesting how Nyquist’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, spoke of his horse as if he were human.
“He’s such a special horse, and you can just see it in his eye on a daily basis,” O’Neill said. “He’s such a professional and in any human sport he’d be the top-notch athlete. He’s just first class.”
O’Neill won the Kentucky Derby in 2012 with a horse named I’ll Have Another, and Gutierrez was the jockey that day as well. O’Neill said Nyquist is a sleeker, more preppy version of his first Derby winner.
“It’s just the way he carries himself,” he said. “He’s that type of horse, he’d be in the gym all day, goes to bed early, he knows when to rest, and he knows when to bring his ‘A’ game. I’m so blessed and so privileged to be a part of him.”
The interviewer asked O’Neill, “What was it about Nyquist that made you feel he was going to do well?”
“We were all feeding off him and he was giving it to us on a daily basis,” O’Neill said. “We just felt there was no way you could be nervous. You just felt like you were going in the gym with Kobe Bryant. You just knew he was going to figure it out in the end, and Mario gets a lot of credit, too. What a ride.”
A native of Mexico, Gutierrez began riding horses when he was 14 years old. He immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2006 and quickly won Hastings Park Champion Jockey awards in 2007 and 2008. His biggest year thus far came in 2012, when Gutierrez rode I’ll Have Another to victory at the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., in February. He and the horse followed up with a win in the April 7 Santa Anita Derby, and on May 5, 2012, they won the Kentucky Derby.
Last year, American Pharaoh ended a 37-year drought of no Triple Crown winners, but the question now is whether Nyquist can continue his undefeated streak and win both the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. In 2012, I’ll Have Another won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but due to an injury was a late scratch from competing in the Belmont Stakes. O’Neill and Nyquist owner J. Paul Reddam hope this year will be different for them.
It could happen again as it did in back to back years, 1977 and 1978, when Seattle Slew and Affirmed won all three races of the Triple Crown. The way Nyquist has been so dominant in his career to this point gives a lot of hope to horse racing fans that we just very well might see another Triple Crown winner this year. In the year that Kobe Bryant is retiring, the horse with the same athletic work ethic could be crowned a champion.
DRILLERS & BEDLAM
The Tulsa Drillers are home this week at ONEOK Field, and will also make room for two games in the Bedlam Baseball Series between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
The Drillers host Arkansas tonight and Friday night at 7:05 p.m. and again on Saturday at 12:35 p.m. Then the two state schools will play each other at ONEOK Field on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.
Following the Saturday game, the Drillers won’t be home again until May 24. In between, the Tulsa Roughnecks FC will play a home match against St. Louis FC on May 21 at 7:00 p.m.