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Kentucky Derby favorite Nyquist looks to remain unbeaten

Named after a hockey player, Nyquist could make history on Saturday at Churchill Downs by remaining undefeated.

American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015, the first horse to do it since Affirmed in 1978. But a year earlier, Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown as well, giving horse racing back-to-back winners of the rare feat.

Can Nyquist, trained by Doug O'Neill and jockeyed by Mario Gutierrez, add his name to the history books? To do so, first he'll have to win at the $2 million, mile-and-a-quarter Derby. He enters the race a 3-1 favorite after going 7-for-7 to open his career.

Sired by Uncle Mo, Nyquist has some good credentials. Owner J. Paul Reddam, of Reddam Racing, has a Kentucky Derby winner already, when O'Neill and Gutierrez led I'll Have Another to the roses in 2012. They also won the Preakness that year, but fell short of winning the Triple Crown themselves.

This year they might have the horse to get it done. Nyquist has won three Grade 1 stakes races -- those have the best competition -- in his career, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October.

He has raced just twice in 2016. The first was a narrow victory over Exaggerator in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita in February. Nyquist pulled away from his fellow Derby contender -- trained and jockey by Desormeaux brothers Kent and Keith -- down the stretch to win that race by about a length.

Nyquist's other win came in April at the Florida Derby. It was billed as being a showdown between undefeated colts. Mohaymen, four generations down from Seattle Slew himself, entered 5-for-5 at the time. A poor break and a drift to the outside on the damp track at Gulfstream Park may have spelled disaster for Mohaymen, but he challenged Nyquist briefly down the backstretch before fading to a fourth-place finish. Nyquist led nearly start to finish and never trailed after the first quarter-mile. A third Kentucky Derby entrant, Majesto, finished second.

So it's easy to see why Nyquist is favored. Exaggerator has the second-best odds, set at 8-1 by oddsmaker Matt Battaglia on Wednesday, while several others bunch up between 10-1 and 12-1.

It remains to be seen whether Nyquist's post position, 13th, plays a role. O'Neill told reporters before the draw he hoped to be outside of the speed horses, Outwork and Danzing Candy. That pair will try to set a fast pace early. Add to that that the 13th stall hasn't exactly hosted a lot of winners -- just one out of the past 17 entrants, Smarty Jones in 2004 -- and you've got a less than perfect setup for the race.

Still, O'Neill felt pretty good about things on Wednesday.

"Breaking from the 13 is fine," said O'Neill, who won the 2012 Kentucky Derby with I'll Have Another. "(Nyquist) was No. 13 when he won the Breeders Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. So the post draw didn't matter to us a ton. But we're happy being more outside for sure."

Oh, and about the name? Reddam's from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, just across the border from Detroit. He worked for General Motors for a while, too. Naturally, the Red Wings are his favorite team, and Nyquist is named after forward Gustav Nyquist.

"Nyquist is all class," Reddam in an interview with CNBC. "If you asked me to describe Nyquist the hockey player, he's very classy, soft-spoken and plays the game at a high level."

Becoming the first undefeated Kentucky Derby winner in 38 years would certainly be fitting for that name.