Nyquist draws rail, installed as 6-5 favorite in six-horse Haskell

Profile Picture: James Scully

July 28th, 2016

Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist will attempt to rebound from his first career setback, a third in the Preakness (G1), when returning in Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park. Installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite, the Doug O’Neill-trained colt will break from the innermost post in the six-horse field.

Exaggerator, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby before turning the tables on Nyquist in the Preakness, is the main rival. Multiple Grade 2 winner Gun Runner, third in the Run for the Roses, and the up-and-coming American Freedom add plenty of depth to the 1 1/8-mile race.

A winner in 8-of-9 starts, 2-year-old champion Nyquist is the presumptive front-runner for leading 3-year-old honors but has little margin for error entering the second half of the season. The son of Uncle Mo figures to show speed from the rail with regular rider Mario Gutierrez.

Exaggerator, the early 5-2 second choice, will start from the far outside for trainer Keith Desormeaux. Winner of the Santa Anita Derby (G1) before a fast-closing second in the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Curlin colt dropped his first four meetings against Nyquist before finally gaining the upper hand at Pimlico, but Exaggerator will also be seeking a measure of redemption following a disappointing 11th as the Belmont Stakes (G1) favorite. Kent Desormeaux guides the late runner.

Gun Runner easily captured his first two starts this year at Fair Grounds, the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2), before entering the Kentucky Derby off a six-week freshening. He ran extremely well under the Twin Spires before weakening slightly in the final furlong of the 1 ¼-mile race and the Sunday’s 9-furlong distance figures to benefit him. Listed at 4-1, Gun Runner tuned up for the Haskell with a 5 ¼-length romp in the June 18 Matt Winn (G3) and Florent Geroux has the mount for Steve Asmussen.

American Freedom didn’t make his career bow until April and has captured 3-of-4 starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who will be seeking to pad his record with a ninth Haskell victory. American Freedom posted a game score in the May 21 Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard before registering a commendable 103 BRIS Speed rating for a 4 ¾-length tally in the July 1 Iowa Oaks (G3) and Rafael Bejarano will be in to ride the improving Pulpit colt. American Freedom is 3-1 on the morning line.

Rounding out the Haskell field are Sunny Ridge, who captured the Withers (G3) earlier this year but hasn’t started since a fourth in the March 5 Gotham (G3); and Awesome Slew, third in the June 19 Pegasus (G3) at Monmouth.

(Coady photo)