By Tim Reynolds
AP Sports Writer
BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — Few things are easy for Kiaran McLaughlin.
He walks with a pronounced limp, the most outward sign of the multiple sclerosis that he’s had for years. He was so tired Thursday that he hit the snooze button when the 4:45 a.m. alarm blared, which almost never happens. And after work he spent two hours getting the monthly infusion of medication that helps him keep some control of his nervous system.
He does not, and will not, complain.
The big gray horse in the stall nearest to his office is one of the reasons why. That’s Mohaymen, the undefeated 3-year-old who will go into Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park as the morning-line favorite. And if Mohaymen stays healthy, he’ll likely be considered a major contender at the Kentucky Derby when Triple Crown season gets going in five weeks.
“I’m happy to talk about MS and I’ve reached out to many people or they’ve reached out to me because I’ve been there and done that,” McLaughlin said as he sat outside his barn at the Palm Meadows training facility Thursday, sipping from a big Styrofoam coffee cup as his horses went through their morning work. “It was very hard for me when I first got diagnosed. Now I like to say ‘I have MS, but it doesn’t have me.’ And I’m lucky to come out and train great horses.”
Mohaymen may go down as his greatest.
He’s 5-for-5 so far, four of those wins in stakes races, and he’s been touted as a Kentucky Derby favorite for weeks. So, too, has the horse he’ll have to beat on Saturday, fellow unbeaten Nyquist — who shipped in from California for this showdown, in part because Nyquist’s connections could pocket an extra $1 million by winning the race because they bought him at a Fasig-Tipton sale at Gulfstream.
If McLaughlin is worried, he’s not showing that concern.
“He’s very easy to ride for,” said jockey Junior Alvarado, who will ride Mohaymen again on Saturday. “It’s better when a jockey is very comfortable with the trainer. I know I can make any decision and he’ll be happy with it. He’s always happy. He makes it better racing for me.”
The MS diagnosis came in 1998, and McLaughlin said it put him into a depressed funk for about 30 days. He’s found a way to deal with it since, and his record shows he’s not being held back whatsoever. McLaughlin trained Jazil to a win in the Belmont Stakes in 2006, prepped Invasor for a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that same year, and is nearing $100 million in purse winnings.
He doesn’t run or golf anymore because of the disease. All the MS prohibits him from doing in the barn or the paddock is actually putting saddles on horses, simply because, if one rears up, McLaughlin is unable to move out of the way quickly.
“If I was going to saddle, he’d be the right one,” McLaughlin said, nodding his head toward Mohaymen’s stall. “But my eye’s good, my heart’s good, and I’m able to train the horse, tell everybody what to do and pick the right spots.”
McLaughlin — who learned the training game from legendary D. Wayne Lukas, with whom he remains close and has modeled much of his own system around — doesn’t have a Kentucky Derby win yet, though he surely doesn’t need one as affirmation that he’s a success, either. He’s taken six horses to Churchill Downs in five previous attempts at the Run for the Roses, and nearly got one in his first try in 2005.
That horse was Closing Argument, who despite 72-1 odds narrowly finished second to another longshot named Giacomo.
“We were happy we ran second at 70-1 for a little while,” McLaughlin said. “And then you say, ‘That was the Kentucky Derby!’ But maybe it would have changed my personality. Maybe it wasn’t time to win it. It’s great to have another opportunity.”
A few minutes later, it was time to go back to work. McLaughlin got out of his chair, watched someone walk one of his horses for a moment and then made his way slowly back to the office.
He’s been looking forward to the Florida Derby and the showdown with Nyquist for weeks, and as the biggest race of the year at Gulfstream now draws closer the excitement is unmistakable.
That snooze button he needed Thursday will not be necessary Saturday.
“It’s going to be exciting,” McLaughlin said. “And it’s going to be fun.”