By Kevin Martin
Nyquist and Exaggerator, the top two finishers in this year’s Kentucky Derby, will face off again in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes this Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. The California-based runners are well acquainted. Nyquist bested Exaggerator in the first career race for both horses last June and has beaten him three more times since. Exaggerator is a very good horse but the reigning two-year-old champion and Kentucky Derby winner has proven himself as a potential great one.
The undefeated Nyquist enters the Preakness as the heavy favorite and will try to become the fourth Derby victor in the last five years to win the Preakness. The owners and trainers for only two runners from the Kentucky Derby have committed to running against Nyquist in the Preakness, leaving a much weaker field for him to contend with. His performance in the Derby quashed all lingering doubts about his ability to maintain his form beyond 1 1/8 miles. It will take a true skeptic to find fault with him now.
In a parallel universe without Nyquist, Exaggerator would be the headlining attraction heading into the Preakness. He has won multiple stakes races from New York to California and ran a great race in the Kentucky Derby to finish a length and a half behind Nyquist. He is certain to be the second betting choice in the Preakness but will need to run the best race of his life (or Nyquist will need to have a bad day) for him to finally turn the tables on his talented foe.
Lani is the only other confirmed entry exiting the Kentucky Derby outside the top two. Lani started slow and finished tenth in his North American debut, ten lengths behind Nyquist. The Japanese-based runner has a victory in his native country and qualified to run in the Derby with a win in the UAE Derby in Dubai. He will need to improve significantly on his Derby performance to have an impact in Baltimore.
The remainder of the field will include colts that did not qualify for entry into the Derby. The most accomplished of the bunch is the multiple stakes winner Collected who is trained by last year’s Triple Crown trainer Bob Baffert. Collected won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in January and the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes in his most recent start. It is telling that Bob Baffert did not enter Collected in spring races that could have landed him in the Kentucky Derby field. Of the so-called “new shooters” in the Preakness he has the best resume, but his Hall of Fame trainer’s decisions earlier in the year with Collected leads to a reasonable conclusion that a trip to the winner’s circle Saturday is unlikely.
Stradivari is a horse expected to have his backers on Saturday and could be the third betting choice behind Nyquist and Exaggerator. He has only three career races but his two wins have come by a combined twenty-five lengths. While he has crushed lesser competition, the Preakness is a monumental jump in class. He is trained by Todd Pletcher who has a dismal record in the three-year-old classics.
Expected long shots Fellowship, Cherry Wine, Uncle Lino and Laoban have never won a stakes race but have run well against stakes competition. A third or fourth place finish is possible which makes them potential plays on superfecta and trifecta tickets. A Preakness win by any of the four would be a historic upset.
As it was in Kentucky, Nyquist is the headline attraction in Baltimore and looks poised to ship to New York with a chance to become the thirteenth Triple Crown winner in U.S. thoroughbred racing history.