CRAWFORD | Nobody knocking Nyquist as Preakness draws near
Everybody seems to have moved on to a discussion of whether unbeaten Nyquist can win a Triple Crown. Last year's Preakness winner, Bob Baffert, says he'll be surprised if he doesn't. Nyquist's trainer, Doug O'Neill, isn't quite ready to turn that page.
BALTIMORE (WDRB) -- Everybody, it seems, is talking about whether Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist can give horse racing its second straight Triple Crown winner.
Fewer people are talking about whether Nyquist can win the Preakness, the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown, at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday. He was installed as a 3-5 morning-line favorite. Three of the past four Kentucky Derby winners have gone on to win the Preakness Stakes two weeks later to set up a Triple Crown bid.
Doug O'Neill, trainer of Nyquist, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012 with I'll Have Another, doesn't want to get the cart before the horse. Or something like that.
"In 2012, it seemed like a blur," O'Neill said. "This year we're trying to enjoy it a little bit more."
Nyquist makes that easy. He's never lost, or been passed, in eight races, and has trained up to the Preakness well. A year ago, there were some questions about American Pharoah after jockey Victor Espinoza had to go to the whip better than 30 times in the Churchill Downs stretch. Nyquist required no such urging.
There's been little drama at all for the son of Uncle Mo, beyond a short bout of sickness after shipping to Keeneland from the Florida Derby.
"As long as Nyquist is doing well, I'm doing well," O'Neill said Thursday morning. "He had a nice, energetic gallop this morning, came back and cooled off well, so that left us all smiling. And (Friday) it's two miles of jogging, so hope all that goes well. We're just trying to enjoy it and live in the moment."
Bob Baffert, trainer of American Pharoah, has no choice but to live in last year's Triple Crown moment. He's asked about it constantly. It was that way in Louisville, and Baltimore this week has been no different.
When asked what he remembered specifically about last year's Preakness, Baffert mentioned the storm that hit the track right at post time, and hearing his son, Bode, ask his mother how they would get across the muddy track to the infield for the winner's presentation. Jill Baffert quickly corrected her son, saying they don't talk about such things before a horse has run. On Thursday, Baffert confided, "I was thinking pretty much the same thing."
Baffert doesn't come back with that same level of confidence. He brings in Lexington Stakes winner Collected, who skipped the Derby to try to get Baffert his eighth Preakness win.
"We're just hoping to come in here with a fresh horse and get a piece of it, be competitive," Baffert said. "I've come here before with horses that didn't run in the Derby, and we weren't very competitive at all. And I was asking, 'Why am I here?' . . . There's a lot of speed in this race. Something's got to give. . . . I'm not going to talk myself into saying we're going to blow Nyquist away and the rest of the field. I'm just hoping, when they turn for home, he's moving and going the right way. If he's not moving, and going the wrong way, it's like you want to beat everybody out of the parking lot. That's how it goes."
Baffert, like all the other trainers, is realistic.
"Nyquist, you can't knock him," Baffert said. "As a trainer, I've tried to put holes in him. You thought maybe his breeding wouldn't let him get the distance, but he answered that. Wet weather, Indian Charlie (progeny) love wet tracks. He's fast. He breaks really well. His jockey puts him in great spots. And Doug knows how to get them ready and manage the quick turnaround in just two weeks. Not a lot of trainers are great at that, but he knows what to do. So to me, it's just up to racing luck and how he feels that day."
Keith Desormeaux's Exaggerator is one of only a trio of Derby horses that will come back for the Preakness (Japan-based Lani is the other). Exaggerator won the Santa Anita Derby with an impressive late kick, and closed late for second in the Kentucky Derby. But this time, Desormeaux hopes to keep him closer to the pace to see whether he can get in front of Nyquist at the end. Exaggerator has run second to Nyquist four times.
"We've double-teamed him with Swipe and now Exaggerator, so maybe those two horses have dealt him enough blows that he can back up just a step and we can reach that goal that we're trying to get to," Desormeaux said. "He's very energetic. It's a happy energy, not a dangerous energy. So that's what we need, and we're hoping that we close the gap."
It stood to reason that Nyquist would get the immediate comparisons to American Pharoah after winning the Derby. His assistant trainer, Leandro Mora,
"It's two different kinds of horses with two different styles," Mora said. "American Pharoah was a horse which one stride of his was almost two of this guy, he was a long horse, if you watch him run, he had a beautiful, long stride. So, if our horse manages to advance a little more from what he's doing, that's all we need."
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