CRAWFORD | Rainy forecast, sunny outlook for Nyquist in the Prea - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Rainy forecast, sunny outlook for Nyquist in the Preakness Stakes

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Nyquist (left) makes his final jog around the Pimlico track before Saturday's Preakness Stakes (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Nyquist (left) makes his final jog around the Pimlico track before Saturday's Preakness Stakes (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

BALTIMORE (WDRB) -- A year ago, just as the horses went to the track for the Preakness Stakes, the sky opened and a severe thunderstorm hit Pimlico race course.

This year, everyone is wondering whether lightning can strike twice. The weather forecast favors it -- a steady rain is expected at Pimlico all day. And the wagering points to it -- undefeated Nyquist is an even-money favorite to continue what has been a perfect march to the Triple Crown.

Unlike American Pharoah, who stormed into the sport to give horse racing its first Triple Crown in 37 years, Nyquist is not a lightning-bolt. He's a relentless runner, has not been passed after the start of any of his races, and has rained down one steady performance after another.

"We're confident, and when you look at him, how can you not be?" said his trainer, Doug O'Neill, who pulled off the Kentucky Derby-Preakness Double with I'll Have Another in 2012. "I know I sound like a broken record here."

Asked if there's anything that keeps him up nights worrying, he went the other direction.

"I stay up nights because I'm excited about this colt and what we think and hope he can do," O'Neill said.

Not even an off-track worries O'Neill. Nyquist already has excelled on a wet track -- in an impressive Florida Derby victory romp in the slop.

But Nyquist isn't the only off-track specialist in the field. Second-choice Exaggerator, whose odds dropped from 3-1 in the morning line to 8-5 in Friday's on-track wagering, turned in the most impressive performance of his life with a rousing late charge to win the Santa Anita Derby.

His trainer, Keith Desormeaux, is 0-for-8 against Nyquist with his colts Swipe and Exaggerator (who is winless in four tries against Nyquist), but says he doesn't need an off track to be competitive.

"He can handle a sloppy track if we have to," Desormeaux said. "But I'd rather have the same track we've trained on. He has trained so well here at Pimlico, even better than he trained at Churchill Downs, I really think, that I'd rather run on the track like it is. Truthfully, I'd rather have my (winner's) picture taken in the sunshine."

If that sounds like supreme confidence from a guy who hasn't been able to beat Nyquist yet, it is. Desormeaux has great confidence in his horse, who is ridden by three-time Kentucky Derby-winner Kent Desormeaux, his brother.

It's not cockiness. But Desormeaux knows he has a good horse, and people who know horses and who have watched him train know that he's a legitimate competitor.

"He's good. Now, he's not as good now as he's going to be, most 3-year-olds aren't," Desormeaux said. "It's like those freshmen playing basketball at Kentucky. He's good, but he'll be really good down the road. But now is when you have to do the racing."

With the track iffy, the pace of the race will be a question. Desormeaux denied reports that he plans to have his colt closer to the pace.

"That's just Kent saying stuff," he said. "I guarantee you, he will be coming at the end, and he will be coming from off the pace."

That's a bit more difficult on a sloppy track because so much mud gets thrown into the faces of horses in back, yet Exaggerator didn't mind it in the Santa Anita Derby, and often he'll lay so far back that he's not involved in that mess.

Nyquist figures to be on the lead or just off it.

"He is a really great-breaking horse," said Bob Baffert, who trains the fourth betting choice, Collected, who was at 13-1 after Friday's betting. "He does a great job of getting away clean and getting into the position he wants."

Stradivari, trained by Todd Pletcher, is the third-betting choice at Pimlico at 8-1, and some view him, not Exaggerator, as the top threat to Nyquist. He has won his past two starts by 35 3/4 lengths, but he'll be stepping up in class.

If you believe in omens, Dale Romans' Cherry Wine is worth a look. He has a win in the slop on his resume -- a 9 1/2-length-win, in fact, as a 2-year old.

"I'll be one of the few people here doing a rain dance," said Romans, who trained Shackleford to a win in the Preakness in 2011.

Romans' Go Maggie Go upset heavy-favorite Land Over Sea in the Black-Eyed Susan, Pimlico's feature race for 3-year-old fillies, on Friday. Cherry Wine has drawn the No. 1 post, but Romans doesn't mind that, as he expects to fall back early.

"We're going to sit back and chase the speed," Romans said. "I want to challenge Doug (O'Neill) to be on the lead by the five-eighths pole, and don't listen to what anybody else says -- just go for it. Make him go fast!"

O'Neill, especially this week, doesn't seem in a hurry for anything. Rain or shine, fast or slow, he expects his versatile colt to be ready.

"I'm not overly concerned about the weather," O'Neill said. "I would love to see it be nice out just for the fans to come out, and Pimlico puts on such a good show here for everybody. I'd like for it to be sunny and nice, but as far as rain or shine, we're not going to change anything shoeing wise. He'll wear the same shoes he has on. We'd love to have a beautiful day."

As for Nyquist, his routine Saturday will be calm.

"He'll walk the shed row for about 30 minutes, and then he'll go back into the stall," O'Neill said. "We'll pull his feed tub about eight hours before the race and pull his water bucket about six hours before the race. And once we pull the feed, he knows, and the game-face begins, and it's real exciting to watch all that unfold."

And, O'Neill hopes, the excitement will continue with Nyquist giving horse racing a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown in the balance for a third straight year and -- just maybe -- a second lightning-strike, another Triple Crown, after such a long drought.

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