Paul Reddam is an owner who knows a thing or two about horse racing. He helped call the shots in I'll Have Another's improbable run to Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins four years ago. He also helps manage a successful pinhooking operation, which is thoroughbred shorthand for buying stock low as a yearling and selling high as a 2-year-old.
So, there was the owner of Cash Call, a large company specializing in small loans, on the phone with his emissaries at the Fasig-Tipton sale at Gulfstream Park last year.
He had two things in mind, holding on to an Eskendereya colt he had bought as a yearling for $85,000 and buying a 2-year-old colt from the first crop sired by Uncle Mo.
The horses didn't have names yet, but would later be known as Mor Spirit and Nyquist.
"I really liked the [Eskendereya] horse when I visited him at Wavertree [Stables in Ocala, Fla.], but I just thought if the bidding goes over $500,000, I'm just going to let him go," Reddam said.
Dennis O'Neill, a bloodstock agent who helps buy horses for Reddam to place in his brother Doug's barn, was urging Reddam to keep bidding.
"Ciaran Dunne [of Wavertree] told Dennis, 'I don't know why you are out looking for a Derby horse. I've got a Derby horse right here for you that's ready,'" Doug O'Neill said.
"But it's a business for Paul, and he bought the horse and sold it for seven times [what he paid]. But I'd much rather see him in our barn."
The beneficiary of the sale was Bob Baffert, who helped purchase the horse for Michael Lund Peterson for $650,000. Mor Spirit, a very good colt listed at 12-1 odds, will break from the 17 post in Saturday's 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Four spots closer, in the 13 post, will be Nyquist, the horse that Reddam did buy that day for a mere $400,000. Nyquist, undefeated in seven starts and the 3-1 favorite for the Derby, has won more than $3.3 million.
People have spent the Derby prep season trying to dismiss Nyquist, even though he has done everything right.
"As a gambler, if it wasn't our horse, I'd be looking for reasons to beat him," Reddam said.
But Reddam is ready to offer explanations to the two big knocks against Nyquist.
Slow speed figures: "Our feeling is if the race had a faster speed figure, he'd go faster."
Not bred for the distance: "It's a cursory reading of the pedigree. Uncle Mo won at a mile and a sixteenth, but Uncle Mo had a liver disease."
Saturday's race does not have a lot of early speed. Outwork and Danzing Candy were expected to fill that role but have both drawn outside in the 15 and 20 slots.
The hope for Nyquist is that he will settle just off the leaders, go to the front in the stretch and hold off a passel of closers.
"I think he's going to go from the gate and he'll take a look and if everybody is going he'll find a spot," Reddam said. "If for whatever reason they miss and he ends up on the lead, then so be it. Personally, I've watched a lot of Derbies and it's a very hard race to win wire to wire."
Interestingly, the toughest race Nyquist may have run was his very first, a $56,000 maiden race at Santa Anita in June. It was the only race where he wasn't leading at the stretch call.
Reddam remembers that race with a laugh, and recalls his conversation with Dennis O'Neill, who picked the horse out of the sale for him.
"You're not going to bet on this horse are you?" O'Neill asked.
"Dennis, all I've been hearing from you is how good this horse is."
"You can't bet on him."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, I'd be satisfied with a good third or fourth."
"It's a seven-horse field, are you crazy? We spend all this money on this horse that is so fantastic, and you think a good third or fourth? The heck with you, I'm betting him."
Nyquist won by a head on the inside.
"I was very impressed, seeing him that day," Reddam said. "The horse that he was running in the lane against had experience; this was [Nyquist's] first time. You could see there was something special about this horse because he just refused to lose."
Other than that day, O'Neill has been one of Nyquist's biggest supporters.
"He's the prettiest horse I've ever bought," he said. "He's just an absolutely gorgeous animal. If you were to draw a picture of a horse, you would draw Nyquist. He's that beautiful of a racehorse."
Despite the visuals, it's in Dennis' nature to be nervous. Minutes before the Florida Derby he was fretting in the paddock.
"I'm just so worried about the first 50 yards," he said. "I'm really concerned."
But Nyquist broke well, went to the front, led at every call and even switched leads once he was clear in the homestretch.
"He was just goofing around," Doug O'Neill said at the time.
There will be little opportunity for such horsefoolery on Saturday, given the number of late-charging horses. Exaggerator, Mor Spirit and Trojan Nation, all based at Santa Anita, fit that bill as do Creator, Brody's Cause, Suddenbreakingnews and My Man Sam.
But the one to beat remains Nyquist.
"Statistically, we're most likely to lose," Reddam said. "Favorites lose two out of three times and this is a 20-horse field, so the law of averages say 19 times out of 20 you're going to get beat. But under those circumstances we have a degree of confidence."
Another number Reddam has been juggling is the huge entourage that has come with Team Nyquist. Given that the owner bears almost all of the expense of bringing a horse — and others — to the Derby, this could be a costly proposition.
Reddam said he had to buy 170 tickets.
"I think we'll lose money if we finish second," he said.