Nyquist continues on Triple Crown trail despite Preakness loss
Edited Press Release
It's on to the Belmont S. (G1) for champion Nyquist, trainer Doug O'Neill said Sunday morning, the day after the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner finished third in the Preakness S. (G1) at Pimlico. Though Nyquist no longer is undefeated, to O'Neill and his team, the colt hasn't lost any luster.
“Even the great Secretariat got beat," O'Neill said. “They're not machines, as much as he would seem like a machine, being undefeated and doing everything like a super horse. He is a super horse.
“He ran his race. Exaggerator just ran an unbelievable race. And whether he moved up on that off going, I don't know. I think Exaggerator has shown in the past, he's just a really good horse and caught us on a day where he beat us."
Nyquist came out of the Preakness in good order, O'Neill said.
“He looked great. He looked fantastic. Ate up well; legs ice-cold; jogging good. So I'm very happy,” the horseman stated. “And the plan at this point is to van to New York tomorrow (Monday, May 23). We're heading to Belmont, and as long as he continues to show good energy, does well, we'll try this again in three weeks."
The decision to aim at the third jewel of the Triple Crown wasn't difficult, O'Neill said. The Belmont will be run June 11 at Belmont Park.
“That was kind of the plan, to try to point to the Triple Crown, all three races, and ideally win all three,” O'Neill said. “But I thought he ran a real gutsy race yesterday, and just wanted to make sure he looked good this morning before committing to going to the Belmont.
“I'll talk to (owner) Paul and Zillah (Reddam) later today. We had dinner last night, and that was the plan. As long as he looked good, we would go on.”
Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Nyquist, who broke from the No. 3 post position in the Preakness, set a fast pace. He ran the first quarter-mile in :22.38 and the half-mile in :46.56. O'Neill said that the tactics were his idea.
“I wanted him to have a good, clean trip, free-running,” he said. “And the fast pace would be blamed on me, because I just didn't want any traffic trouble going into the first turn.”
The inside draw factored into the aggressive strategy, O'Neill said.
If we had been outside of speed, we could have gone into the first turn maybe at a little easier pace, but I don't think that beat us,” the trainer explained. “He ran such a bang-up race two weeks ago, and he had to really run going into the first turn.
“He tried hard. You could see, even going the last eighth, he was really plugging away, trying to get back to Exaggerator. He just couldn't keep pace with him."
O'Neill said that he was disappointed for the horse, not himself.
“To be part of an amazing athlete like that, we are blessed,'” O'Neill said. “I was really proud of the team, too. There was not one head hanging. Everyone was just so proud of him. And like Paul always says, 'You enjoy the journey. Don't worry about the outcome because that's out of our hands.'"
“And I think everyone, because of Paul and Zillah, the way they lead the way, this whole journey, going to the Kentucky Derby and going to the Preakness, has just been unbelievable.”
O'Neill will be heading back to California, where he'll start putting together a game plan for winning the Belmont with Nyquist.
“We have these Wednesday meetings, with Paul and Mario and my brother Dennis and Mario's agent, Tom Knust,” O'Neill said. “So I'm really looking forward to Wednesday's meeting, where we can all sit down and reminisce about the journey and (have) a learning experience, see what we learned from that, and how we can make adjustments to help Nyquist.
“We were saying last night, the motto is, ‘A new streak begins in three weeks.’ So it's to get us motivated, as humans. I'm still very proud, but I was definitely visualizing a Triple Crown winner. That's for sure.”
The Belmont storyline will be the rematch between Exaggerator and Nyquist. Exaggerator finished second to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby and lost three other times to him. O'Neill and Keith Desormeaux, Exaggerator's trainer, are friendly rivals. O'Neill said he sent Desormeaux a congratulatory text Saturday night.
“He texted me back, ‘Finally you let me have one,’” O'Neill said. “He was really cool. It's good. If you're going to get beat, you want to get beat by a true champion, and Exaggerator, he shows up every time. He's had a really stern campaign, and just keeps getting better and better. So I'm looking forward to turning the tables on him in three weeks.
“We're excited. I think it's going to be a great opportunity, and I can't wait to get ahead, get over there, get settled in and have him start galloping and move forward.”
Nyquist photo courtesy of Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Nyquist Preakness photo courtesy of Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos