Nyquist a towering figure despite any possible Preakness obstacles

Profile Picture: James Scully

May 11th, 2016

Nyquist will be odds-on to win the Preakness Stakes on May 21 and another impressive victory is the most probable outcome given his immense talent and ability to carry speed a classic distance.

The Doug O’Neill-trained colt confirmed his superiority in grand fashion on Kentucky Derby Day, tracking fast early fractions before accelerating powerfully into the stretch. Nyquist became only the eighth unbeaten winner in the Derby’s 142-year history and is drawing comparisons to Seattle Slew, the sport’s lone undefeated Triple Crown hero in 1977. But while Seattle Slew can be defined as a need-the-lead type, Nyquist’s versatility is among his key attributes.

Nyquist can run rivals into the ground up front or sit-and-pounce when called upon.

His Derby performance leads to a foregone conclusion in Baltimore, with pundits already asking “Will Nyquist win the Triple Crown” in the June 11 Belmont Stakes. The correlation between American Pharoah and Secretariat becomes part of the process, with the brilliant colts each snapping long Triple Crown droughts. When Secretariat ended a 25-year hiatus in 1973, two more Triple Crown winners followed in the next five years.

Perhaps the same flurry will follow in this outstanding era. American Pharoah, who became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and added the Breeders’ Cup Classic to his immortal legacy, has headed to stud, but racing fans continue to benefit from the exploits of Nyquist along with terrific performers like Beholder, Tepin, Songbird and Cathryn Sophia.

Two-week turnaround

Perfect from eight starts, Nyquist received plenty of time between outings in preparation for the Kentucky Derby. The 2-year-old champion opened 2016 with a facile tally in the February 23 San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita and came back six weeks later to capture the Florida Derby (G1) on April 2. Team O’Neill then had five weeks to prepare the son of Uncle Mo for the Kentucky Derby.

Nyquist will cut back in trip for the Preakness (from 1 ¼ to 1 3/16 miles) and is eligible to benefit from the fact many Derby winners hold their form on the two-week turnaround. Three of the last four, and 10 horses since 1997, have recorded the Derby-Preakness parlay.

There’s no guarantee Nyquist will show up with the same effort from Churchill Downs, but he may not need his best to keep Triple Crown hopes alive. The September 26 FrontRunner (G1) at Santa Anita serves as a testament to his grit and determination to win.

Nyquist has come a long way since his fourth career start, but he returned from only a 19-day rest in the FrontRunner and it's still the only race he’s struggled to win since making his stakes debut in early August. Nyquist was under pressure from the top of the stretch to the finish line, repulsing a couple of serious challenges before prevailing by less than a length.

“The other day, maybe he wasn't that impressive, maybe because we came back quickly,” O’Neill said of the FrontRunner after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

In the last 50 years, six horses have captured the Derby as the favorite before losing the Preakness at short odds: Orb (2013), Street Sense (2007), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), Foolish Pleasure (1975), Cannonade (1974) and Riva Ridge (1972).

It may very well prove inconsequential, but the two-week turnaround offers a glimmer of hope to those trying to beat the mighty Nyquist.

New shooters

With a full field of 14 possible, more than half the Preakness could be made up by horses joining the Triple Crown fray. The prospective new shooters are Awesome Speed, Cherry Wine, Collected, Fellowship, Laoban, Sharp Azteca, Stradivari and Uncle Lino.

The cast includes plenty of speed, with Collected, Laoban, Sharp Azteca, Stradivari and Uncle Lino all candidates to mix it up from the start. In the last 50 years, seven horses have captured the Preakness that didn’t contest the Derby: Bee Bee Bee (1972), Codex (1980), Aloma’s Ruler (1982), Deputed Testamony (1983), Red Bullet (2000), Bernardin (2006) and Rachel Alexandra (2009).

The new shooters could make it more difficult for Nyquist to work out a favorable trip while benefitting a closer like Derby runner-up Exaggerator, but a scenario where Nyquist fails to win the Preakness remains difficult to envision.

Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Coady Photography