In looks and action, he stirred memories of American Pharoah at his best. After stalking the early pace, the big bay colt flexed his muscleladen haunches and pounced on the leaders, making a “huge bid and blowing by the competition,” as announcer Frank Mirahmadi declared. Unbeaten in three starts to date and sired by Godolphin’s champion and Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, the colt looks to possess all the potential one could desire as Classic season approaches in North America. Yet, no matter how stellar he may be among what has so far been a rather modest group of young three-year-olds, he won’t be going to the Derby himself. And no matter what happens in the trio of races that are the continent’s most high-profile events, there won’t be a Triple Crown winner this year, at least not as we cherish that achievement.
Even if one horse wins all three races, the final event, the Belmont Stakes, will not be run at its hallowed mile-and-a-half distance and thus will ring hollow. Moved to Saratoga Race Course and reduced in distance from the traditional route that gave the race its venerable title of “Test of the Champion,” the 156th running of the Belmont will be only a shadow of what it has been during most of its history. But back to the impressive bay colt. Named Nysos and owned by the Baoma Corp. of Taiwan natives Charles and Susan Chu, he is banned from the Kentucky Derby because Churchill Downs holds a vendetta against his trainer, Bob Baffert, who happens to be the most successful Derby trainer of the last six decades, among many other feats.
This thorny and avoidable situation has been sparked by the much-discussed case involving Amr Zedan’s ill-fated Medina Spirit, disqualified from his own Derby win in 2021 due to abetamethasone positive test apparently caused by a skin ointment. Churchill refuses to move on and into the future. What a sad state of affairs. Even a novice fan could quickly grasp that Nysos seems to be something special. He looks like American Pharoah and runs like Flightline in that the combined margin of his three career victories totals 26¾ lengths
NYSOS A RIGHTFUL HEIR TO THE PHAROAH
In the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park on February 3rd, Nysos stormed home to win by seven-and-a-half lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 105. As the official race chart noted, he “powered away under hand urging and coasted home.” While the Lewis offered 42 total Kentucky Derby qualifying points, the 20 set for the winner and ten for the runner-up won’t be acknowledged since Baffert trains both Nysos and second-placed Wine Me Up. Churchill Downs has created this impasse by extending its original two-year suspension of Baffert – a move not called for by any racing rules but invented by the track and not acknowledged by any other tracks – through at least this year’s gala 150th running of the Derby. So, rather than excitement over a colt as talented as Nysos, there is only more controversy, as media evidence amply proves.
“In what is now developing into an open sore for American racing, Baffert’s runners are not eligible for the Derby qualifying points,” stated Santa Anita’s news release on the Lewis, which, ironically, was named after one of Baffert’s early clients who raced the trainer’s first Derby and Dubai World Cup winner, Silver Charm. “So, a sport that is starving for attention will keep its star threeyear-old on the sidelines on racing’s biggest day,” the Orange County, California, Register pointed out. “Nysos’ win a reminder of what the Kentucky Derby will be missing,” stated a Yahoo Sports headline. “Baffert filed many lawsuits, losing most before recently pulling any appeals in an attempt to show Churchill Downs that he was waving the white flag.
Churchill Downs did not accept the gesture and in the process lost the public relations battle,” the Yahoo story related, adding: “Now, with three months to go, the horse that is inarguably the best in the country is not eligible for the Kentucky Derby because of Churchill’s ban of Baffert. Some media outlets are saying this year’s Derby should be relabeled 149½ or 150*.” Baffert’s owners stuck by him this year, refusing to transfer their three-year-olds to other trainers. They, their horses and Baffert will be welcomed everywhere in America but Churchill Downs.
It would be quite the twist if Baffert were to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, as he has done a record eight times in the former and three times in the latter. “(Churchill’s) anti-Baffert strategy could backfire,” noted Thoroughbred Daily News, with the track “facing the prospect of Baffert’s top three-year-old rocketing to the top among Derby contenders”.
The very story line that (Churchill) wanted to avoid for Derby 150 will now likely become the focal point. “For the next three months,” the story added, “you can expect an ever-intensifying stream of stories about the prospect of another ‘Dysfunctional Derby’ in which a corporate edict might keep the best colt(s) from competing in America's most important horse race.” The impasse is as unedifying as it is unnecessary.