Still Trying to Beat Nyquist? You bet.

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TwinSpires Staff

May 19th, 2016


Horseplayers are a determined bunch, and though we took our licks trying beat undefeated champion Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby, that won’t stop us from trying to beat him again in the Preakness Stakes. It’s just what we do when we see an underlaid favorite.

The replay is usually where we start, and we’ll use this space to talk through how we tease out what we think is important.

First, remember that a track profile and a track bias are two separate concepts. We don’t see true track biases all that often today because of innovations in track surfaces and maintenance methods. That does not, however, mean that we should ignore the ways certain running styles couple more tightly with a particular track’s profile than do others.

Watching the Kentucky Oaks - Derby day replays on, you see a pattern: success coming from the outside. This is a matter of profile, not bias. If you watch the trips of Cathryn Sophia winning the Oaks, Nyquist winning the Derby, and American Pharoah winning last year’s Derby you’ll see very similar races, and there were several other examples on the Oaks-Derby cards, including Majestic Harbor’s ‘3w duel, drove clear” victory in the Alysheba on Friday.

There is just an optimal trip on each surface at racetracks, and at Churchill, that trip includes staying out of kickback. This pattern is what we call a profile versus a bias.

We combed the Kentucky Derby replay for a horse who ran lights out against that profile and found Exaggerator’s performance to be incredibly impressive.

If you watch the race again, Exaggerator is making moves left and right. He was a horse that made every hole. In the past, it would have been a Derby-winning performance. He ran through the kickback and came from next to last—something few horses did all Derby-Oaks weekend—to almost get the job done.

The amount of kickback demonstrated by how much dirt was left on horses who weren’t in the clear means the Churchill surface could have been a little cuppier than normal, and that makes the ground Exaggerator made up even more impressive. 

You have to give horses like Nyquist and Cathryn Sophia who negotiate their own trips all the credit, however, for being handy and using that asset well. Some horses get their trips; really good horses make their own. In the moments after the race, we did throw up our hands and declared our fatigue in trying to beat Nyquist, but as horseplayers we have to keep digging for that nuance easily missed when focusing on the winner in the heat of the moment. Exaggerator’s race has the kind of depth best appreciated after a few careful views of the tape.

Pimlico is known as a speed track but that’s not entirely true. A race run at a shorter distance through a slightly shorter stretch around turns less conducive to big moves, can favor a horse on the lead, but horses do come from off the pace at Pimlico. Even if we are tired of trying to beat Nyquist, we’re horseplayers, and this weekend we get another shot.

So by now you have a pretty good idea that our answer to the question posed in the banner below is "we'll bet against it," but what about the other 13 races? Bruno With The Works Preakness report includes full-card selections with wagering strategy and our proprietary Delta Figures.