“I’m thinking Nyquist …is more closely pursued or being closed upon even more rapidly by Exaggerator. Or there’s the possibility that Exaggerator repeats his Santa Anita Derby tour de force in the slop and no one keeps pace.”–May 18, 2016 Post
Hey, a little bit of both. Exaggerator wins the 141st Preakness Stakes by three and a half lengths.
I’m sure at some point in the past year Exaggerator’s connections must have felt they were in a modified Brady Bunch episode; “Nyquist, Nyquist, Nyquist!” Hey, we have a fine colt as well!
For the first time in five attempts, Exaggerator got the best of Nyquist to take the second jewel of the American Triple Crown. How we got there is a tale of virtually everything going right for Exaggerator and about everything going wrong for Nyquist.
First of all, it rained in Baltimore. All through the night preceding the Preakness and on and off during the day. The track was sloppy and I suspect the only sunny (at least in terms of disposition), bright, and happy locale on the backside for Preakness connections was around Exaggerator’s stall. I’ve rarely seen a colt (maybe Tonalist) that relishes, devours, and seemingly moves like a hydroplane over such muddy conditions.
Next, sitting in Exaggerator’s saddle was Kent Desormeaux, already a two-time winner of the Preakness Stakes (Real Quiet, Big Brown) who years ago was based in Maryland and had been a champion jockey on that circuit. Perhaps, besides the colt’s innate talent, the most important asset in his success is trainer Keith Desormeaux who truly figured out the key to Exaggerator’s most effective running style–let him sit well off the pace and then unleash him for that one long sustained run he’s so capable of. Earlier in his career when Exaggerator was running on or near the lead (he ran on the lead in winning last year’s Delta Jackpot Stakes) it didn’t appear to me that he could win past much more than a mile or a mile and a sixteenth. Then came the Santa Anita Derby where he dropped back and sat well off a blistering pace up front and then in a flash kicked it in gear and blew by everyone to win at a mile and an eighth, finishing six-plus lengths clear. He replicated that style in the Derby and although he didn’t win, he closed on Nyquist as close as he’d ever come, showing the new style as effective on the dry surface as the wet. Generally, trainers won’t try and adjust a race horse’s running style, particularly going into such significant races. But Keith, I’m sure with Kent’s input, made the adjustment and it has paid huge rewards.
Then there was the beautiful ride Kent put on Exaggerator. After the gates opened he let him drop back and gather himself into a nice rhythm, placed him near the rail and watched the meltdown Nyquist had got caught up in, in front of him. They were much closer to the leaders as early as the the Pimlico backstretch. In an interview, when asked about whether he was concerned with this earlier than expected move, Keith indicated he was wondering whether it was “Exaggerator’s will or Kent’s will” to be there at that moment. He quickly realized that Exaggerator had taken Kent there. And I’ll add at that moment I was delighted and knew how this race was going to end because Exaggerator had got there and was galloping on with the greatest of ease. From that point all that was needed was for Kent to ease him off the rail, lock in, and get the jump on a tiring target in Nyquist which he did. Only two questions remained: Would Nyquist be able to respond (No) and how far would Exaggerator draw off to the wire?
So as smoothly and well as everything went for Exaggerator, everything unraveled and fell apart for Nyquist, also right out of the gate, where for him the race was essentially lost. I have ZERO explanation why Mario Gutierrez allowed Nyquist to engage early speedsters Uncle Lino and Awesome Speed. Neither was going to be able to sustain that pace or run off with the race, but there was Nyquist in the middle of a speed sandwich that, sorry for the awful pun, toasted him. Pimlico track announcer Dave Rodman called the first quarter in :22.1 a “wicked” pace and the mile split “brutal”; both apt, succinct descriptions and completely unsustainable (Uncle Lino finished 7th by 13 1/4 lengths; Awesome Speed 9th by 21 1/2 lengths). It’s a testament to the quality of horse Nyquist is that he was still hanging on, although weary at the end of the race, for third. Perhaps it was Gutierrez’s intention to replicate his Derby move–getting clear and then taking back off the pace (which I don’t think was as necessary as it was in the large Derby field), but it didn’t happen that way. Jerry Bailey may well have called it right that yesterday Nyquist got a touch rank and away from Gutierrez and he couldn’t rein him back in.
Further, Nyquist saved no ground throughout the race as this mini match race on the lead occurred near the middle of the track. Only near the end of the race was he near the rail and then was guided back off both the rail and Exaggerator after he’d been passed. The sloppy track was not an issue for Nyquist outside of possibly fatiguing him faster when coupled with the pace he was attempting to maintain.
And so Exaggerator got the victory in what I think was his best, most polished performance to date. And I can’t help but think about how tremendous he looked when he arrived at Pimlico following a van ride from Kentucky to Maryland. When he stepped off the trailer he looked like he owned the place. Yesterday, he did!
As of this morning the Exaggerator, Nyquist, and yes, fifth-place finisher Lani (if only he’d improve his gate breaks!) are all reported to have come out of the race no worse for wear and are being pointed to the Belmont Stakes, June 11th. Nyquist will ship out tomorrow morning to begin preparations. No Triple Crown in play now, but the storyline will be the potential Classic tie-breaking race between the Derby and Preakness champions. Other horses that may be under consideration: Cherry Wine (who ran a great second, enjoying the mud and crazy pace as well), Brody’s Cause, and Suddenbreakingnews.
Me, I’m calling for rain in New York!