Doug O’Neill had quite a Kentucky Derby kind of weekend.
The trainer of 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another hit a prep race daily double in California: Two days after winning the El Camino Real Derby with Frank Conversation, he sent out unbeaten Nyquist to a near-record victory in the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita on Monday.
The results keep O’Neill’s 2-year-old champion Nyquist at No. 1 in the AP’s latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Derby contenders.
Impressed in defeat was Keith Desormeaux, the trainer of runner-up Exaggerator, who remains in the Top 10.
“Goodness gracious. Anybody not a believer in Nyquist now, that was an awesome race,” Desormeaux said. “Wow! Hat’s off to Nyquist.”
O’Neill isn’t the only connection to I’ll Have Another. Nyquist has the same owner, J. Paul Reddam, and the same jockey, Mario Gutierrez. Nyquist has won all six of his races.
Frank Conversation, meanwhile, moves into the Derby discussion at No. 10.
And then there was a stop-the-presses finish in Arkansas, where Suddenbreakingnews staged a last-to-first rush in a 14-horse field and won the Southwest Stakes on Monday.
In the holiday weekend’s other Derby prep, trainer Todd Pletcher’s Destin won the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday.
The El Camino Real Derby and Southwest were worth Derby qualifying points, with Frank Conversation and Suddenbreakingnews each picking up 10 points. Nyquist, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, already has 30 points.
Derby points take a big jump beginning this weekend with the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. Airoforce, a winner on both dirt and turf, is the likely favorite in a 13-horse field for Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile race. The winner earns 50 points, with second worth 20, third 10 and fourth 5.
A maximum of 20 horses can run in the Derby on May 7, and if more than that are entered, the field is determined by points accumulated from 35-race prep series.
In the latest Derby future wager odds, the mutuel field is the 5-2 favorite, with Mohaymen the individual top choice at 4-1.
Here’s our current ranking of Top 10 Derby contenders:
1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): Won San Vicente in 3-year-old debut. … Ran 7 furlongs in 1:20.71 – third-fastest time for race in 61 years. … Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, April 2. … Derby odds (pool 2): 7-1.
2. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Holy Bull winner worked 4 furlongs in 47.75 seconds at Palm Meadows on Feb. 12. … Won Remsen, Nashua as 2-year-old. … Next start: Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream Park, Feb. 27. … Odds: 4-1.
3. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Robert B. Lewis winner may be Baffert’s best by Derby day. … Could stay in California or go Arkansas rout like American Pharoah. … Next start: Undecided. … Odds: 12-1.
4. Brody’s Cause (Dale Romans, Corey Lanerie): Breeders’ Futurity winner worked 5 furlongs in speedy 58.71 seconds at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 14. … Next start: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, March 12. … Odds: 15-1.
5. Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux): Ran a credible second to Nyquist in San Vicente. … Delta Downs Jackpot winner remains on Derby trail. … Sired by two-time Horse of Year Curlin. … Next start: Undecided. … Odds: 22-1.
6. Airoforce (Mark Casse, Julien Leparoux): Only loss in four starts was by a neck in BC Juvenile Turf. … Won Kentucky Jockey Club in last race. … Next start: Risen Star, Fair Grounds, Saturday. … Odds: 16-1.
7. Suddenbreakingnews (Donnie Von Hemel, Luis Quinonez): Last-to-first dash to win Southwest. … Has three wins and three seconds in six races. … Next start: Rebel, Oaklawn Park, March 19. … Odds: 5-2 (mutuel field).
8. Greenpointcrusader (Dominic Schettino, Kent Desormeaux): Holy Bull runner-up worked 4 furlongs in 50.80 seconds at Palm Meadows on Sunday. … Pointing toward Louisiana Derby on March 26 for final prep. … Next start: Undecided. … Odds: 31-1.
9. Sunny Ridge (Jason Servis, Manuel Franco): Withers winner worked 4 furlongs in lackluster 52.88 seconds at Belmont on Monday. … Next start: Gotham, Aqueduct, March 5. … Odds: 5-2 (mutuel field).
10. Frank Conversation (O’Neill, Gutierrez): Won El Camino Real Derby. … May be best on synthetic or turf, but will stay on Derby path. … Next start: Spiral Stakes, Turfway Park, April 2. … Odds: 5-2 (mutuel field).
Keep an eye on: Collected, Flexibility, Mo Tom, Smokey Image, Whitmore.