WASHINGTON (AFP) - Nyquist amply lived up to his favourite's billing, winning the 142nd Kentucky Derby on Saturday to become the eighth unbeaten horse to capture the first jewel of US horse racing's Triple Crown.
Trained by Doug O'Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Nyquist went off a 2-1 favourite at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and posted his eighth victory in as many starts.
The last undefeated Kentucky Derby winner was Seattle Slew in 1977.
In a crowded field of 20, Nyquist broke well out of the 13th gate and settled in as Danzing Candy took the lead.
Gun Runner moved to the front at the far turn, but Nyquist surged past as they entered the finishing straight and beat the fast-finishing Exaggerator by 1 1/4 lengths.
Gun Runner was third, another 31/4 lengths back.
"He's just such a special horse," O'Neill said of Nyquist. "You see it in his eye on a daily basis. He's just first class."
Despite Nyquist's unbeaten record, which included a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year, the colt's connections heard plenty of doubters, especially those who questioned whether he'd handle the 1 1/4-mile Derby distance.
"There was no way you could be nervous," O'Neill said. "You know he would find a way to pull it out at the end and he did. Mario gets a lot of credit too. What a ride."
Gutierrez, who has been aboard Nyquist for all eight of his races, said the colt has a knack for knowing just what he needs to do.
"It was an amazing feeling. I only had to push him out. If he sees something coming he keeps going as fast as he needs to go," the jockey said.
It was a second Kentucky Derby victory for O'Neill, Gutierrez and Canadian owner Paul Reddam, who teamed to win the 2012 Run for the Roses with I'll Have Another.
I'll Have Another went on to win the Preakness Stakes, but was denied his chance at the Triple Crown when an injury forced him out of the Belmont.
That disappointment came in the midst of a Triple Crown drought that stretched 37 years - until American Pharoah swept all three races last year.
Nyquist will now likely be pointed at the 141st Preakness Stakes, on May 21 at Pimlico in Baltimore.
"I think he finally silenced all the critics, at least I'm hoping he did," Reddam said. "Although next time there will be a horse race again and we'll find out why he can't win the Preakness."
In the meantime, Reddam was just enjoying his colt's performance.
"His run was awesome," Reddam said. "I loved the way he fired out of there and sat behind Danzing Candy and had a little breather.
"This horse is really something. We're just lucky to be part of that.
A brief but heavy rainstorm pummelled Churchill Downs less than two hours before post time, but the sun was shining and the track was good by the time riders were ready to mount.
A crowd of 167,227 was the second largest in Kentucky Derby history, behind only the 170,000 on hand last year to see American Pharoah launch what proved to be an historic Triple Crown campaign.
Now Nyquist is poised for a bid to give the sport back-to-back Triple Crown winners since Seattle Slew in '77 and Affirmed in 1978 accomplished the feat.
"We will see," O'Neill said. "He has to stay healthy, but he is a great horse."