One year after thoroughbred racing fans finally welcomed back the thrill of celebrating a Triple Crown winner when American Pharoah completed the rare feat to taking the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Nyquist will look to keep his hopes alive of becoming the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner when he goes postward this Saturday evening in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Wednesday afternoon Nyquist (Mario Gutierrez) drew post three in a field of 11 for the Preakness and was promptly installed as the 3-5 favorite by morning line maker Keith Fuestle. But after winning the Kentucky Derby by two lengths to extend his unblemished record to eight wins in as many starts for trainer Doug O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam, Nyquist will likely dip to 2-5 or less when the gates open on Saturday.
Last year’s champion two-year-old colt, Nyquist has won all three of his starts this year and showed no signs of relinquishing his division title. He captured the Derby in a solid 2:01.31 – granted the Churchill Downs strip was two seconds fast that day – and has banked nearly $5 million in his career to this point and all signs point to a better effort in the Preakness. Nyquist stalked the speedy Danzing Candy for nearly a mile in the Derby, swept to command turning for home and then outlasted the solid late bid of Exaggerator to score as the 2-1 favorite.
This Saturday afternoon Nyquist will not have to travel as far – the Preakness distance is a sixteenth of a mile less than the Derby – and the Pimlico oval is an eighth of a mile shorter in circumference than Churchill Downs. Horses with his running style that won the Derby have often come back to repeat in the Preakness, while big closers such as Orb have often failed miserably in the Preakness. Nyquist looms as the odds-on choice this weekend and few of his rivals should pose serious threats.
Of course, one of his main threats in Exaggerator (Kent Desormeaux) who rallied from well off the pace to finish second in the Derby. Exaggerator has only won once in four starts this year, but he has already banked over $1 million and his victory in the Santa Anita Derby was among the most impressive Derby prep scores. He should be the clear second choice again in the Preakness, but bear in mind the middle jewel of the Triple Crown is shorter than the Derby and on a smaller oval, so his chances of overtaking Nyquist in the lane may not be favorable.
But those not willing to settle for a Nyquist-Exaggerator exacta box will have some live new shooters to swing at. Collected has won three of four starts and banked nearly 400,000 for trainer Bob Baffert, including recent scores in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and the Festival of Racing Stakes (normally the Sunland Park Derby). Uncle Lino only owns one win in five starts this year, but he was second once, third once and fourth once in three key Derby preps in southern California and would not have to improve much to complete the triple or split the two favorites in the exacta.
Other potential upsetters include newcomers Cherry Wine, Stradivari and Awesome Speed, who earned a berth in the Preakness courtesy of a placed-first tally in the “win & you’re in” Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park. Stradivari has won his last two starts for trainer Todd Pletcher, but the Preakness will mark his stakes debut. Lani finished a respectable ninth in the Derby for Japanese contingents and could find a spot in the superfecta.
Saturday’s Preakness Stakes is the 13th race on a stellar 14-race card at Pimlico and the most lucrative and most prestigious of eight stakes on the card.
One race earlier older horses will contest the Grade II Dixie Stakes on the turf, proceeded by the Sir Barton Stakes for three-year-old colts who might venture to the Belmont Stakes next month. Prior to that fillies and mares will contest the Grade III Gallorette Stakes on the turf, named for a Maryland-bred Hall of Fame first class inductee. Before that the track will host the Chick Lang on the main track, the The Very One on the grass, the James W. Murphy on the lawn and the Maryland Sprint Stakes on the main track featuring Grade I winner Salutos Amigos.