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(Reuters) - Favorite Nyquist ran a perfect race to extend his unbeaten record winning the 142nd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville on Saturday, sparking talk of a second consecutive Triple Crown champion.
Nyquist, who had won a record $3.3 million heading into the Derby, extended his unbeaten record to 8-0 with a smooth trip under jockey Mario Gutierrez.
Nyquist pulled away from Gun Runner down the stretch and then held off a closing charge by Exaggerator to win the first leg of U.S. thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown series for 3-year-olds.
Exaggerator, the second choice, finished second by 1-1/4 lengths followed by Gun Runner, who was 4-1/2 lengths off the pace. Mohaymen took fourth.
"He's amazing," said Gutierrez. "You get this 2-year-old baby with thoughts of getting into the Kentucky Derby," he said. "Everything has translated into reality. There are no words for it."
Nyquist paid $6.60, $4.80, $3.60 for a $2 bet in becoming the eighth unbeaten horse ever to triumph in the Run for the Roses.
Nyquist broke out of the 13th gate cleanly and Gutierrez eased him back to allow speed runner Danzing Candy, starting out of the 20th gate in the 20-horse field, to clear him from the outside.
After Danzing Candy dropped back in the later stages, Gun Runner took over the lead but at the top of the stretch, Nyquist blew past the colt and opened up a wide lead heading for the finish.
Exaggerator, who ran along the rail in the middle of the pack through the first half of the 1-1/4 mile race, made a gallant charge down the stretch and closed within a length but could not overhaul the favorite.
"He's such a special horse, you can see it in his eye on a daily basis," said winning trainer Doug O'Neill, who along with Gutierrez teamed up to win the Derby four years ago with I'll Have Another.
"He's such a professional. At any human sport he'd be the top notch athlete. He's just first class. Just the way he carries himself, he's the type of horse would be in the gym all day, go to bed early, he knows when to rest, he knows when to bring his A game.
"There is no way you could be nervous. You felt like you were going to the gym with Kobe Bryant. You just knew he was going to figure out a way to pull it out at the end and he did."
The next leg of the Triple Crown, swept for the first time in 37 years last season by American Pharoah, is the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore on May 21.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Steve Keating