No Exaggeration

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.

At last.

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!

Ready to Roll

Preakness Stakes 141 post positions were drawn about an hour ago.  Eleven are entered.  Here we go–

1.Cherry Wine

2.Uncle Lino

3.Nyquist

4.Awesome Speed

5.Exaggerator

6.Lani

7.Collected

8.Laoban

9.Abiding Star

10.Fellowship

11.Stradavari

Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, has of course been made the prohibitive favorite to continue his unbeaten streak.  The morning line odds for him are 3/5. Since the Derby, Nyquist has put nary a step wrong; he’s maintaining good flesh, a great attitude, and seems completely at ease at Pimlico.

Exaggerator arrived at Pimlico Sunday and he was a complete vision as he walked off the van.  He and Lani are the only other Derby vets to continue on into the Preakness.  The remaining eight horses will be new entrants to the Triple Crown fray.  I’ll tell you as much as I can about them and let you draw your own conclusions; personally, I don’t believe any of them will be a significant threat to Nyquist, although they could crack the place or show position.

Cherry Wine was third in his last start in the Bluegrass Stakes.  He didn’t have enough points to crack the top 20 to run in the Derby.  Uncle Lino was second to Derby 10th-place finisher Mor Spirit in the 1 1/16-mile Robert Lewis Stakes in February, third to Exaggerator in the Santa Anita Derby, and the winner of the California Chrome Stakes at Los Alamitos Race Course.  Awesome Speed spent the winter running at Gulfstream Park in Florida. He was fourth behind Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in late February and won the Frederico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico early last month. He’s a speedy colt; whether he can carry that speed the full mile and three sixteenths Saturday remains to be seen.

Collected is Bob Baffert’s entry.  His horses always come prepared, but I doubt he takes out Nyquist.  He won the Lexington Stakes (1 1/16 miles at Keeneland) in his last out.  Laoban was another “also eligible” for the Derby.  He was fourth last out in the Bluegrass Stakes (which was won by Brody’s Cause).  Prior to that he was second, after leading the race until the final few strides, to Shagaf (who was pulled up and did not finish the Derby) in the Gotham Stakes.

Abiding Star I have not seen run.  According to records, he won the Parx Derby at Parx Race Course in Pennsylvania. Fellowship was fourth last out in the Pat Day Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard; he ran third in each of the Gulfstream Park Derby preps–Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth, and Florida Derby (behind Nyquist). Finally, there’s Stradivari. The Preakness will be his fourth lifetime start (foundation…) and first stakes race.  He’s entering the race off of two wins by daylight in a maiden stakes at Gulfstream and an allowance race at Keeneland last month.

I still believe Exaggerator will be Nyquist’s chief competition on Saturday and he may be getting a boost.  If you thought last year’s Preakness was wet in a last minute monsoon downpour, prepare for more of the same this Saturday as the forecast for Baltimore and Pimlico is 100 percent rain, all day. In spite of his outstanding effort over the dry Churchill Downs strip, I still believe Exaggerator is a better racehorse over a sloppy track.  Nyquist ran over a wet track in the Florida Derby and handled it perfectly. But I think the conditions might draw these two more even or equal for the day.  I don’t think a wet track does any of the other entrants any real favors.

Lani ran a great race in the Derby; better than his ninth-place finish might indicate. He broke poorly from the gate and was well behind from the start, but made up a lot of ground and put 11 other colts behind him at the wire.  I have no idea how he might handle off going and don’t think he’s likely to beat Nyquist, but with a better break I think he could be more in the mix.

Saturday’s race should be an interesting one and I’m thinking Nyquist either bakes the rest of the field or 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.  But I won’t be at all surprised if around 7:15 Saturday evening  we’re not all marking our calendars for June 11, 2016 and another potential Triple Crown run.

Post time Saturday: 6:45 p.m. on NBC. Safe trips for all.  Enjoy!!

 

 

 

Foundation

“And on this rock, I will build my Church.”–Matthew 16:18

“Own a piece of the Rock.”–1970s Prudential Advertisement

“Solid. Solid as a rock.”–Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson

Nothing of value, nothing that endures, nothing that succeeds has a chance unless it’s built on a sound, solid foundation.  Nyquist’s victory in yesterday’s 142nd edition of the Kentucky Derby exemplifies the importance of a sound foundation for success.  The four horses that finished immediately behind him are evidence of the same.

At two, Nyquist ran five times (with five victories). Hard closing second-place finisher Exaggerator ran six times. Gun Runner and Mohaymen had three starts each. Suddenbreakingnews (SBN) was also in five races at age two.  Successful Thoroughbred racehorses aren’t just born; that innate gift is also shaped, molded, and conditioned to peak performance.

By contrast, Shagaf, who was pulled up (due to tiring according to his jockey Joel Rosario) before crossing the wire ran once at two, as did Outwork (14th). Whitmore (19th), Majesto (18th), and Danzing Candy (15th) all started two times as two year olds.

It’s not to say that the last five finishers didn’t deserve to run in the Derby; they qualified for the race through victories and/or top three finishes in the most important preparatory races leading to the Derby through the early months of 2016.  However, in my opinion, they show that despite these successes, the seasoning–experience and foundation were lacking.  Starting in the mile and a quarter Kentucky Derby and succeeding in it as a fourth or fifth start is a particularly demanding feat and, more likely than not, a serious reach for still very much developing three-year-old colts.

But it’s time to celebrate the newest Derby champion, the now 8-for-8 Nyquist.  Although I’d had respect for Nyquist prior to the Derby, he hadn’t enthralled or enchanted me the way American Pharoah did.  Yesterday, he won me over in a performance that highlighted his innate talent, good mind, tractability, and tenacity. It also reminded me of why I had been so highly impressed with his jockey, Mario Gutierrez, in his first and winning Kentucky Derby ride on I’ll Have Another in 2012.

This Derby, as most are, was won in the earliest stages of the race.  Nyquist broke sharply and Gutierrez rode him into position while keeping an eye out for expected pacesetter Danzing Candy who he wanted to stalk while not stride for stride engaging him in the early phases of the race.  He and Nyquist executed this crucial move to perfection.  Although they were ahead and inside of Danzing Candy in those initial strides, once Danzing Candy got in full gear and took the lead, Gutierrez “tapped the brakes” ever so slightly, Nyquist responded, they took off the rail and to the outside of the leader, and were free and clear from that point on for their run  to the wire.  Nyquist just galloped along until deep stretch where he willingly passed Gun Runner who had briefly taken the lead. He then drove on holding off the late, hard-charging finish of Exaggerator (who appeared to sustain that move for at least a sixteenth of a mile) to win by a length and a quarter.  Gun Runner yielded to third while Mohaymen and Suddenbreakingnews were also driving well in the final strides of the race after both encountered their share of traffic issues to take fourth and fifth place, respectively.

In the process, Nyquist became the first undefeated two-year-old champion colt to win the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977.  Additionally, he became only the second winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (following Street Sense in 2007) to also win the Kentucky Derby.

As of this morning the news is good for Nyquist who appears to have come out of the race no worse for wear and will be shipping on to Baltimore shortly for the Preakness.  Interestingly, in this early stage, it appears Exaggerator will be the only Derby participant to accompany him on the trip to contest the Preakness.  Two horses also stabled at Churchill in the past few weeks as the “also eligibles” (horses who would have got in the Derby gate if one of the starters had scratched prior to Saturday morning) Laoban and Cherry Wine are also being pointed to the Preakness Stakes, May 21.

The field for the Preakness will be smaller if only for the fact that only 14 horses can start in that race.  But after watching Nyquist’s performance yesterday, unless he’s not at his best that day, for whatever reason, it seems only Exaggerator stands a chance of beating him in that race; to date, after four meetings Exaggerator has yet to nail him.  He gets very much in striking distance, but hasn’t been able to pass Nyquist.

And of course, now, with an undefeated Kentucky Derby champion, the talk of back-to- back Triple Crown champions is being kicked around.  I’m not ready to think about, let alone tout that possibility at the moment. I will say that I’d love to see Suddenbreakingnews take one more shot at a Classic and return to the series in the Belmont Stakes, which with (typically) a smaller field and the mile and a half, just seems to scream his name.  Outside of Nyquist and Exaggerator, no other horse in yesterday’s Derby showed me they’d want or maybe even thrive at that distance.

For now Pimlico waits and in 13 days we’ll know if the developing legend of Nyquist grows or hits a speed bump.  On to Baltimore!!

The Draw

Barring any last minute changes or injuries, the final important piece of the pre-Kentucky Derby picture is in place with the completion of the draw for post positions.

First I want to relay some observations that were made during the draw program.  No one wants to be next to Lani.  Apparently, his unorthodox behavior during training is a concern as well when he’s in the starting gate.  In short, Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey said no one wants to be next to him in the gate.  Well, two colts for better or worse will be on either side of him.

The horses they felt might be most compromised by their draw are Brody’s Cause as he landed so far outside and Mor Spirit because he is in Gate 17 from which no horse has ever won.  I don’t think that’s such an issue, but ironically, Mor Spirit is trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Gary Stevens.  They teamed on a previous Derby favorite Point Given, who ran an inexplicably poor race out of…Gate 17.

Undefeated and favorite Nyquist drew Post 13.  You can be superstitious about that in and of itself, but in Bailey and Moss’ assessment it could be a problem because he’ll be inside the other speed of the race in Danzing Candy and Outwork.  Perhaps the horse with the best draw is Exaggerator in Gate 11.  Unfortunately, my preferred choice Suddenbreakingnew drew #2.  I can only hope he doesn’t get caught on the rail or in a tangle; it might otherwise work alright for him with his well off the pace style. I am concerned that as one of the better horses in the race and one who is training lights out, he may have no opportunity to show what he can really do.

So here it is, the field for the 2016 Kentucky Derby, 142nd running:

1.Trojan Nation (50-1)

2.Suddenbreakingnews (20-1)

3.Creator (10-1)

4.Mo Tom (20-1)

5.Gun Runner (10-1)

6.My Man Sam (20-1)

7.Oscar Nominated (50-1)

8.Lani (30-1)

9.Destin (15-1)

10.Whitmore (20-1)

11.Exaggerator (8-1)

12.Tom’s Ready (30-1)

13.Nyquist (3-1)

14.Mohaymen (10-1)

15.Outwork (15-1)

16.Shagaf (20-1)

17.Mor Spirit (12-1)

18.Majesto (30-1)

19.Brody’s Cause (12-1)

20.Danzing Candy (15-1)

My recommendation is think outside the box this year.  On paper, Nyquist is close to head and shoulders over the rest of the field in terms of consistency,  his 7 for 7 record, and his ability to run equally well on each track he’s covered to date.  Personally, for reasons I really can’t define I’m not sold on him winning this race, although I believe he can be well in the mix near the wire.

The horse I think who’s best positioned to win, outside his lousy post draw is Suddenbreakingnews.  He just looked fantastic in his work over the Churchill strip, as did Mohaymen.  I’m throwing his Florida Derby out; he looks fresh and ready to rock and roll. He got a great post draw.  If he can get the distance he’s well set for a good effort Saturday.  I’ve liked Exaggerator since his two-year-old season, but I think he’s a better horse on a wet track than dry and I’m not sure he can duplicate his Santa Anita Derby effort on a dry strip.  If he does, it could be game over.  Mo Tom is tenacious; his post isn’t great, but he is a horse that will fight to and through the wire. Lani may be crazy, but he is fit and he does have some talent; he nearly fell to his nose in the UAE Derby spotting the field lengths, yet he rallied, ran on, and won. Gun Runner is a talented, no frills colt that just runs his race; he could be easily overlooked to your detriment.

My recommendation to you, if you’re choosing to wager, is like I said–Think out of the box.  And if you really are attracted to a name, a number, a silk color, a jockey–the approaches I usually write off, go for it!!  This year I think there is no real way to pick the winner out of a group of otherwise inconsistent colts (outside of Nyquist, Mohaymen, and Exaggerator) whose true abilities are still developing at this stage more than in a typical year.

The forecast for Louisville Saturday has degraded a bit with now a 40% chance of rain according to The Weather Channel.  The rain is supposed to be in the morning which might not be much of an issue, but there is also a chance of rain later in the day and post time is 6:34 p.m.

Good luck, enjoy, and safe trips for all horses and riders!

Six Days

It’s now six days to the Kentucky Derby and I can’t wait to see what will happen.  It’s been a pretty quiet lead up to the big day so far.  The most notable news came in the day after the last major prep, the Arkansas Derby, was completed; Cupid, who had been favored in the race, but tanked badly was withdrawn from the Derby.  He had an excuse for his dismal Oaklawn run as he struggled with an entrapped epiglottis in the race.  Kinda hard to run your fastest or best when your breathing is severely impeded.  He’s had corrective surgery and will be able to return to racing later.

With this, Mo Tom has been able to move into the race, which personally, I’m thrilled with because I think this colt has the potential to have a big run in the Derby.  The defection of Cupid also altered one of the most interesting subplots in the 2016 Derby as it gave leading sire Tapit one less starter and up and coming sire Uncle Mo one more colt in the gate.  Barring any more changes it’ll be Team Tapit (Mohaymen, Creator, and Lani) v. Team Uncle Mo (Nyquist, Mo Tom, and Outwork).

The next most interesting story post preps has been that of Japanese-based, Kentucky-bred, UAE Derby winner Lani.  Here I have to defer to the description The Blood Horse provided following one of Lani’s “works” at Churchill: “Take (one of Japan’s leading riders and Lani’s jockey, who came from Japan for this work…) acknowledged that Lani’s temperament is such that he’s not always willing to run, but ‘if he wants to run on Derby Day, we have a big chance.’ The jockey said he wouldn’t know which Lani was showing up until they broke from the gate.”   (Emphasis mine.)

Uh huh…  Lani’s times in his two works over the Churchill track have been gla-cial.  Now, I’m not a big times girl, I only use it as a point of reference and it’s just one factor in an overall picture. So I was really glad I could watch these two works that Lani put in and quite honestly, I’m just scratching my head.  He’s handing the Churchill track well enough and when he does move out, he does look comfortable and good.  However, as his jockey indicates, he also exudes attitude as he’s going through his morning paces; pretty much an appearance of “Is this really necessary, because there’s far better ways I could be spending my time back in my stall.”  Seriously.  So at this point all I can say is I hope Lani wakes up on the right side of the stall May 7 and enjoys all the excitement of the day.  Otherwise, by the end of the race it may well appear that he broke from the gate in Japan and not Louisville.

Now I haven’t had an opportunity to see the works of every horse entered for the Derby and some, like Nyquist, haven’t made their final moves at Churchill (Nyquist is the only horse I’ll give a pass on on this point, as to date he has carried his track with him. To date no surface has proven an impediment to him.  For me, the main thing is his connections left him here on the East Coast post the Florida Derby, stabling and working him at Keeneland as opposed to making the cross-country ship back and out again).  But of the works I have seen here is how I rank them:

Brody’s Cause–3 Stars

Creator–3 Stars

Destin–1 Star

Gun Runner–4 Stars

Lani–I don’t know; never seen anything so at odds with itself! 0 Stars for attitude/effort; 3 for movement

Majesto–3 Stars

Mohaymen–4.5 Stars

Outwork–4 Stars

Shagaf–3 Stars

Suddenbreakingnews–5 Stars

Tom’s Ready-1 Star

Basically, of the 11 horses I’ve been able to watch, most are working really nicely.  None of them seem to be having any problem handling the course.  Suddenbreakingnews was my hands down personal WOW work of the bunch–smooth, fluid, willing, into his effort, and flat out moving; it was beautiful to watch.  Mohaymen was a very close second.  The only reason I rank it a tick below Suddenbreakingnews is subjective; he was just a touch anxious at the start of both moves I saw.  Still, I’d rather see the more than willing worker than not (LANI!).  Mohaymen had at least one “bullet work” (best time of the day among all horses working the same distance) in his Derby prep moves and he really didn’t look like he was moving as fast as he was.  He also appears to be on the smaller, slight side which is either going to be a great advantage come Derby day in terms of agility and maneuverability or he runs the risk of getting smashed and knocked out of contention in the always too large Derby field.

As for the colts I ranked one star, I personally  just wasn’t impressed with what I saw them doing; there was nothing inherently wrong with their efforts.  The work that surprised me a bit was that of Shagaf.  I’ve found his races to be less than inspiring, but he looked ready to rock and roll in the work.  Maybe he’s a “morning glory.”

Perhaps the best news going into Derby 142 past the ongoing good health and preparations of the starters is that the long-range weather forecast for Louisville on Saturday sounds nearly perfect–dry and temperatures in the 70s!

I’ll be back later in the week once the critical post position draw is done with final impressions and thoughts.