Nyquist brings same vibe to Preakness

May 20th, 2016

If the Preakness goes according to form, Nyquist will be wearing a garland of Black-Eyed Susans and attention will immediately turn toward the Belmont Stakes three weeks later. The unbeaten 2yo champ answered the distance question in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby and owns a 4-0 record over his main rival, Exaggerator.

Nyquist was installed as the 3-1 morning line Derby favorite but was bet down early and held steady at 2-1 through post time, winning comfortably by a 1 ¼-length margin at Churchill Downs. He’s listed as the 3-5 choice Saturday and will certainly be odds-on versus 10 Preakness foes. It's a similar situation from two weeks ago.

However, nobody is comparing Nyquist to American Pharoah, who became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years in 2015. Nyquist will need to complete the hat trick to reach the same stratosphere and many believe a hangover affect is in play when it comes to giving Nyquist his proper due.

What I remember from last year’s Preakness is American Pharoah dominating on the lead through a sea of slop. Nyquist is facing the probability of a wet track as well, but the pace scenario appears vastly different this year.

In fact, it’s surprising to see so much early speed in the Preaknesss given the complexion of the Derby, which featured a single pacesetter (Danzing Candy) unopposed during the early stages. Similar to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Nyquist took advantage of an outside post to establish an up-close stalking trip just behind the speed before powering to the lead.

With a handful of confirmed front-runners wanting to avoid kickback and an inside draw (post 3), Nyquist is facing potentially adverse circumstances at Pimlico. And that will make it even sweeter if he continues to thrive.

“Nyquist is ready (for the Preakness),” trainer Doug O’Neill said at Thursday morning’s Alibi Breakfast. “Hopefully he leaves the gate running and we can get good positioning.”

O’Neill has been down this road before, successfully bringing Derby winner I’ll Have Another back two weeks later in the 2012 Preakness, but acknowledged the uncertainty of a quick return.

“He was pretty good before the Derby and he’s pretty good now,” O’Neill said. “He had five weeks to prepare from the Florida Derby to the Kentucky Derby. This a quick turnaround (but) he’s showing all signs that he’s as good as ever.”

Bob Baffert knows something about winning the Preakness off a short rest, posting a record six victories in the middle leg of the Triple Crown, all with horses who competed in the Kentucky Derby. The Hall of Fame conditioner reiterated the simplicity of bringing back in-form horses two weeks later.

“Doug knows how to get a horse ready off two weeks, he’s done it before,” said Baffert, who will send out a new Triple Crown shooter in Collected.

The jockeys of the other 10 Preakness horses will have one eye on Nyquist from the start, hoping to beat the overwhelming favorite, and Baffert can relate to unforeseen circumstances after losing last year’s Travers with American Pharoah, who became embroiled in an unexpected pace duel with another rival before weakening to second.

“The break is going to be the whole key,” Baffert said. “Nyquist is in a spot down there that if he were to get away slow it could be bad for him, because he would get caught up in the vacuum down there. I’m sure they are going to be aggressive with him. I assume he will be on the lead.”

Perhaps Mario Gutierrez will send about Nyqust from the start. The Uncle Mo colt is arguably the quickest member of the field, capable of winning any sprint for 3yos in wire-to-wire fashion, and six of his eight wins have come in front-running fashion. But a front-end commitment may not provide Nyquist with his best chance at the 1 3/16-mile distance.

I think Nyquist will flash forward with a good break, with Gutierrez trying to get outside before they reach the first turn, and then settle back off the speed. It doesn’t matter if he’s losing ground as long as Nyquist is in the clear. He doesn’t want to get trapped in a box behind horses or softened up in a long duel.

Baffert compared Nyquist to Smarty Jones, who was also unbeaten when posting a record 11 ½-length win in the 2004 Preakness, and a high probability exists for Nyquist to overwhelm the competition with his talent.

I’m looking forward to Saturday’s Preakness.