Too often, bonus schemes in the seven-figure altitudes go uncashed, a little too ambitious for the horses and connections vying for them. When a lofty bonus appears attainable in its first year of existence, it can only be described as refreshing.
When Fasig-Tipton moved its marquee Florida sale of selected 2-year-olds in training to Gulfstream Park in 2015, it introduced a $1 million bonus to the owner of a sale graduate who went on to win the following year's Grade 1 Florida Derby at the same track.
The list of likely contenders for the April 2 Florida Derby who qualify for the incentive includes the undefeated champion Nyquist, who would ship from his home base in Southern California to run for the added money.
Fasig-Tipton president Boyd Browning said the bonus will return for graduates of the 2016 Florida sale, which will take place Wednesday in the walking ring of the Hallandale Beach track beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern.
"It creates interest, and it's a nice incentive for buyers," Browning said. "I think we're going to have some nice representation. The bonus is a unique setting with the sale there at Gulfstream and the race being held at Gulfstream. It's just one more way to add a little sizzle and excitement to the sale and, ultimately, to the Florida Derby."
After a win in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes improved Nyquist's record to a perfect 6 for 6, owner J. Paul Reddam said the Florida Derby and its greater prize had long been on the colt's road map to the Triple Crown races.
Dennis O'Neill, the brother of Nyquist's trainer, Doug O'Neill, purchased the son of Uncle Mo as agent for Reddam at last year's Florida sale for $400,000. Between the Florida Derby purse and the auction bonus, a win would nearly double Nyquist's lifetime earnings of $1,733,600.
"When we talked about it at the beginning of the year, we said we'd go to the San Vicente and the Florida Derby because we liked the timing," Reddam said after the San Vicente. "I think Doug will change his mind a couple times between now and then because there's the temptation to stay home. We love Santa Anita, but we'll see. We just want to take it in stride. It was a good first step."
A total of 132 horses are eligible for Fasig-Tipton's Florida Derby bonus in this year's running, having been offered in the ring and sold or bought back under their reserve at the previous year's auction. Horses who were cataloged but scratched do not qualify for the incentive.
The spectrum includes Eclipse Award winner Nyquist and high-profile runners such as Grade 1 winner Mor Spirit, Grade 2 winner Annual Report, Grade 3 winner Flexibility, and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes runner-up Zulu. Trainer Todd Pletcher said the Florida Derby could be a possibility Zulu, who ran second to Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth.
On the other end are some less likely candidates, including 50 fillies and still-unraced and -unnamed prospects such as last year's sale-topper, a $1.4 million half-brother to Breeders' Cup Classic winner Bayern, by Scat Daddy, who was purchased by the Coolmore partnership.