Nyquist wins Kentucky Derby 2016
Stormy skies cleared by post time for the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby on late Saturday afternoon, and at the end of the fastest two minutes in sports, heavy favorite Nyquist outran 19 others to claim the best-known honor in horse racing.
With an unofficial time of 2:01.31, Nyquist ran a nearly flawless race, tracking early leader Danzing Candy for the first half-mile, then following Gun Runner out of the final turn before putting on a kick to outrun the field. Exaggerator placed second, a furious finish unable to close the gap. Gun Runner came in third.
The winner of the Kentucky Derby is running two races: one against the field, another against history. Every Derby winner must stand stride-for-stride with giants ranging from last year's Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to all-time champion Secretariat, who covered the course in a record 1:59 2/5 in 1973, a feat that still ranks among the greatest athletic achievements of all time. Nyquist was well off that pace, but has achieved the necessary first gem in a Triple Crown. Up next, the Preakness on May 21.
More than 167,000 at Churchill Downs watched a field of horses whose relative anonymity could be spun a number of different ways. Untested. Mediocre. Flawed. Unheralded. Balanced. That left the gate wide open for a range of potential challengers, of which Nyquist was the overwhelming pre-race leader. Nyquist entered the race at 2-1 odds, with Exaggerator (5-1), Gun Runner (10-1), Mor Spirit (12-1), and Mohaymen (11-1) fairly far behind.
Nyquist, spent a fair portion of pre-race festivities posing with the Stanley Cup; appropriate, since he's named for Detroit Red Wing Gustav Nyquist. The horse hadn't won many of his races by a significant degree, but he had won every single one of them, going 7-0 headed into the Derby. That alone was enough to turn heads.
Other horses brought fascinating stories into the fold.
[Slideshow: Outrageous fashion of the Kentucky Derby]
• Exaggerator, ridden by Kent Desormeaux and trained by Kent's brother Keith, provided another family hook coming into the Derby, offering redemption for Kent and the opportunity of a lifetime for Keith.
• Bob Baffert, trainer of American Pharoah, hoped that Mor Spirit would give him his fifth Derby victory, moving him into a tie for second place and one behind all-time leader Ben Jones, who won six Derbys between 1938 and 1952.
• Tom Benson, the 88-year-old owner of the New Orleans Saints, recently jumped into the horse game for the first time, and struck gold right off the bat, placing two horses, Mo Tom and Tom's Ready, into this year's field.
This year's Derby ran in the enormous shadow of American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in a generation. American Pharoah's dominant run through the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes across the early summer of 2015 brought unprecedented attention to the sport of horse racing, and the hope was that the Triple Crown would improve the public perception of a sport that has long been reduced to niche status. Early indications have noted an American Pharoah-induced bump in wagers, television ratings, and breeding prices, but it will take another sustained race for the Triple Crown to keep that momentum going.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.