Nyquist, Exaggerator teams scout the opposing side

TwinSpires Staff

May 17th, 2016

Edited Press Release

Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist galloped a mile at Pimlico on Tuesday, finishing his morning training session with good energy under exercise rider Jonny Garcia.

Trainer Doug O'Neill sent the son of Uncle Mo to the fast track shortly after 6 a.m. (EDT) rather than his usual 8:30 a.m. scheduled time to avoid a looming rainstorm.

O'Neill timed Nyquist's eighth-mile splits from the press box porch as the undefeated colt continued preparations for Saturday's Preakness (G1).

"It's more just for me getting a read on how quick he went. Ideally, he's just going smooth, comfortable, putting his feet where he wants to put them the last part," he said. "He looked great today."

"This guy doesn't do it all the way around there. Jonny has him pretty controlled where the first half is more like 20-second eighths, then the last half is more like two-minute clip eighths, 15 seconds," O'Neill said.

The undefeated Nyquist has flourished under a somewhat unusual training regimen that includes alternating jogging and galloping days.

"You don't want to overdo it. At the same time, you don't want to tiptoe into a race either," O'Neill said. "When you get longer in the tooth as a trainer, you get more comfortable working with the horses and listening to what they say. Probably a little less is better. As you're early on into it, you feel like you've got to let them rip once a week and gallop some in between. That's just maturity, I think, as trainers develop.

O'Neill admitted to doing a bit of scouting during Derby runner-up Exaggerator's morning gallop Tuesday.

"We went out and hid in some bushes and watched him," O'Neill quipped. "He looked great. He always does. His coat looks great; his weight looks great; and he has good energy. He went straight off, but he galloped very similar to the way Nyquist did. I would imagine (trainer) Keith (Desormeaux) would be happy with it. We weren't very happy about it. But he looked really good.

"He's a big, good-looking horse. He always carries his flesh well. He just shows up every race. It looks like we might get some rain Saturday. I'm sure Team Exaggerator is high-fiving and excited."

While Exaggerator romped to a 6 1/4-length triumph over a sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), O'Neill is confident that Nyquist will handle Pimlico's surface, wet or dry.

"I think this one will be safe. We've seen the amount of rain the Pimlico track has taken, and the track continues to bounce back. The track crew is doing a great job," O'Neill said. "We've seen that Nyquist can handle a bit of weather at Churchill Downs. The Florida Derby (G1), it rained pretty good too. He's a sure-footed horse. Whatever the weather will be, I think he'll show up and run his race."

Trainer Keith Desormeaux and owner Matt Bryan are a combined 0-for-8 with the talented duo of Exaggerator and Swipe while taking on unbeaten champion Nyquist four times each, including Exaggerator's rallying second in the Kentucky Derby. So how do they turn the tables in Saturday's 141st Preakness Stakes?

"Obviously numbers-wise, horse for horse-wise, it's tough to think we can beat him, right?" Desormeaux said Tuesday morning at Pimlico after arriving Monday night from California. "But the strongest attribute Exaggerator has is his ability to recover. As you know, this Preakness is run back in two weeks. That's not normal in this day and age to run a horse back that quickly.

"Nyquist, I think the goal was to keep him fresh by only running him twice this year (before the Derby), but maybe that will backfire. Exaggerator has much more racing experience (10 races to eight), therefore fitness and the attribute of recovering quickly."

Asked if horses know when they're facing the same horse repeatedly, Desormeaux acknowledged "if (Exaggerator) knows anything about Nyquist, it's the rear view. But as far as forgetting or knowing each other, some people say they size each other up in the paddock and maybe warming up. If that's the case, then I can tell you from a horsemen's perspective that Exaggerator does not have one nervous bone in his body about looking Nyquist in the eye.

"There are some horses that get nervous. If you watch the Derby paddock scene, Whitmore, Lani and a few others just lost their crackers, sweating up and freezing up. I told my owner (Matt Bryan) leaving the paddock in Kentucky, 'Matt, what you see here you can't teach. Your horse has class to the bone.' And we can't get him any better.

"The bad news is that Nyquist is just as cool and calm. Those are two very classy horses, and they're not fearful of each other at all."

Asked if there is anything tactically that the usually late-running Exaggerator could do to diffuse Nyquist, Keith Desormeaux said: “This horse won the Saratoga Special (G2) at 6 1/2 (furlongs), sitting a length and a half off the lead turning for home. He's got all the speed you want. He broke his maiden going five-eighths. It's pretty cool that a horse going that fast is also that smart. He can control his speed. That's my job, as a trainer, to teach him to relax, teach him to respect the rider's commands. And the fact that Exaggerator does that shows his class.

"Now I don't care if he's five lengths off or 15 lengths off, as long as he's comfortable. That's the jockey's department, not mine. My job is to teach him to relax; Kent's job is to judge pace. Where he sits in the race is not a concern to me as long as he's comfortable. Comfortable usually means clipping off eighths (of a mile) in 12, 12-and-1 (seconds). That's all we need. If you add that up, that adds up to a mile and a quarter in two minutes flat. If he accomplishes that he'll win all the races, including the Preakness."

Exaggerator galloped a strong 1 1/2 miles at Pimlico Tuesday at about 7:45 a.m., a training session Desormeaux moved up as he sought to avoid the predicted rain. He said Exaggerator will train at about 7:30 Wednesday

"I thought he floated over the track, and looks like he adapted to the surface real well," Desormeaux said. "That's about his normal speed, so I wouldn't consider it aggressive. It was a typical gallop for him, but it was very nice."

(Photos and video courtesy of Maryland Jockey Club)