NOT. Feeling. The. Love

Cloud Computing won the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes by a head over Classic Empire.  Clap…Clap. The first two legs of the Triple Crown have left me unimpressed in terms of performance and the fields of horses with the exception of Classic Empire.

The race went about as expected in that Always Dreaming and Classic Empire hooked out of the gate and went eye to eye through the first two-thirds of the race.  I have zero problem with that.  It was the Derby champion and the two-year-old champion, presumably the best two horses in the race, doing what was expected and what they were bred and born to do.  Classic Empire, in theory could not just let Always Dreaming loose on an uncontested lead and expect to win.  What nobody expected, myself included, was Always Dreaming wilting like 8-day-old flowers without water and dropping rapidly to an eighth-place finish.  The early pace was respectable, brisk but not blistering, unlike last year when Nyquist incinerated himself early and unnecessarily.  Having not heard anything being amiss with him, I’m going to go back to what I said right prior to the Kentucky Derby about Always Dreaming–nice colt, but a lot was being asked of him in a very short span of time; it caught up to him yesterday.

Classic Empire, for me, was the real winner of the day yesterday in that yet again, he demonstrated he is a racehorse.  Look at his racing year to date: a third in the Holy Bull where he went into the gate agitated, barely ran, and then it was found that he had a hoof abscess which is extremely painful and often hard to detect. Then he had back issues and refused to train for about a month.  Then he runs a wide, come-from-behind (rather than a stalking trip that is his style) race to win the Arkansas Derby at the wire.  He has the trip from Hell in the Kentucky Derby–body slammed out of the gate and again taken out of his natural stalking style to race from behind, seven wide, AND smacked in the eye by enough mud or something else to give him a swollen-closed eye the next morning, but still he ran on to finish fourth. And then yesterday he throws down against the Derby champ and loses to Cloud Computing who entered the race off six weeks rest. Classic Empire was the winner of three graded stakes races as a two year old.  The experience has paid as he’s run as a three year old.

Now you’ll get zero opposition from me about “new shooters” entering the Preakness and/or the Belmont after not running in the Derby. That’s how the game is played and to be a Classic champion the horse must handle and vanquish all comers. Period.  What I didn’t like yesterday was that (in my opinion and proven to a point in the race) yet another weak field of horses was running at our highest level of racing.  The other horses returning from the Kentucky Derby to contest the Preakness finished more than five lengths behind Cloud Computing in 4th (Lookin At Lee), 5th (Gunnevera), and 9th (Hence).  I must mention here too that only five Derby horses advanced to the Preakness; we need a 20-horse field in the Derby why? A discussion for another day, but also a contributing factor to what happens in the Preakness and Belmont.

These appear to be a very average to below average crop of three-year-old colts attempting to run at the highest level.  It’s really not a reflection on the horses as much as the American tendency to breed for speed over endurance and stamina being exposed in both races so far.  No horse, year to date, is stringing together stakes wins, the wins they have are at average times, and when most of the colts get “looked in the eye” during a race, they crumble. Virtually every Thoroughbred is a natural athlete, even those who fail as racehorses can go on to excel in a variety of other disciplines and competitions.  This crop to date hasn’t demonstrated much consistent aptitude for racing or heart and will to win.  Yes, they are young and in many instances relatively inexperienced; down the road they can mature mentally and physically; there is substantial room for improvement here, but at the moment much as I felt post-Derby I’m not seeing it.  I’m hopeful (horses always surprise), but at the moment FAR from optimistic…

Today, I can’t even guess who will be entered for the Belmont Stakes (I have’t heard any names thrown into the ring yet; STOP! As I write, it’s been announced that Classic Empire is being pointed to the Belmont).  If Classic Empire stumbles, the winner of the mile and a half race will essentially be the last horse standing/still running; Secretariat’s dazzling record of 2:24 for the Belmont Stakes is in no jeopardy on June 10.

need the three-week break at this point as much as any of the colts to hopefully regenerate some enthusiasm for these three-year-olds.

Preakness Time

Post positions were just drawn for this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore.

Here’s what we have with each horse’s latest accomplishment:

  1. Multiplier (Illinois Derby winner)
  2. Cloud Computing (3rd behind Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial)
  3. Hence (11th Kentucky Derby)
  4. Always Dreaming (Winner Kentucky Derby)
  5. Classic Empire (4th Kentucky Derby)
  6. Gunnevera (7th Kentucky Derby)
  7. Term of Art (7th Santa Anita Derby)
  8. Senior Investment (Winner Lexington Stakes)
  9. Lookin At Lee (2nd Kentucky Derby)
  10. Conquest Mo Money (2nd behind Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby)

Royal Mo who was also eligible for the Derby sustained a fracture during his final work for the Preakness this past Sunday.  He had surgery Monday and is recovering.  Unfortunately, he will never race again.

Most everyone, myself included, believes that the race will be between Always Dreaming and Classic Empire and they couldn’t have drawn more favorably for that matchup to take place.  The key will be that no one lets Always Dreaming get loose on the lead because it’s unlikely he’ll back up much to the field particularly if he gets a sizable lead.  The expectation is that Classic Empire will stalk and then attempt to overtake him.  And that’s not to say that Always Dreaming will necessarily take the lead.  There’s a fair chance that Conquest Mo Money or another horse will.

The smaller field will allow for a fairer test and at this moment the forecast for Baltimore on Saturday is nearly perfect–partly cloudy and 70 degrees.

There have also been a couple of jockey changes.  Javier Castellano is off Gunnevera to ride Cloud Computing, a horse to which he was previously committed.  “Big Money” Mike Smith will take the ride on Gunnevera Saturday.

Beyond that there’s not much more news.  I’m looking forward to the race and expecting a big effort from both Always Dreaming and Classic Empire.  Classic Empire is my pick and I also think Conquest Mo Money (son of Uncle Mo, sire of last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist ) will hold on to hit the board.  Hoping for a fun, safe race.

Post time is 6:45 on NBC.

What a Weekend

SATURDAY

The Jim Dandy Stakes (1 1/8), at Saratoga Racetrack was run with a field of six: Belmont Stakes winner and runner up, Creator and Destin, respectively; maiden Laoban; Governor Malibu (fourth in the Belmont); Mohaymen (fourth in the Kentucky Derby); and Race Me Home. When the gates broke, Mohaymen promptly fell to his knees, but quickly recovered. Laoban took the lead and Destin, Governor Malibu, and Race Me Home stalked, while Creator took his usual spot at the rear.  Laoban under red hot jockey Jose Ortiz set moderate fractions in the first three quarters at :24, :49, and 1:12, bordering on slow.  And it worked! Governor Malibu and Destin offered a mild challenge to Laoban’s lead, but never made a dent; they finished second and third. Mohaymen basically ran in place for fourth, Race Me Home dropped out to fifth, and Creator never made a move from last as if he didn’t realize he was even in a race.

It was entirely fitting that Laoban would win his first-ever race in the Jim Dandy Stakes. In 1930, Jim Dandy was the horse that at odds of 100-1 defeated Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox.

SUNDAY

The Haskell Invitational was also run at a mile and an eighth at Monmouth Park at Oceanport, NJ.  The outcome of the race was likely determined overnight into race day as it rained…and rained some more throughout the day, leaving the track sloppy.  Lining up to contest the Haskell were six more colts: Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator, Gun Runner (third in the Derby), Sunny Ridge, winner of the Withers Stakes in January, Iowa Derby winner American Freedom, and Awesome Slew.  When last seen, Exaggerator finished a dismal 11th in the Belmont. Nyquist didn’t get to contest the Belmont because he spiked a fever post Preakness; this was the awaited rematch between the two.

Well, if you saw the Preakness you basically saw the Haskell as it was essentially the same race repeated.  Despite trainer Doug O’Neil (who took the blame for the Preakness Stakes run strategy of Nyquist) and jockey Mario Gutierrez indicating Nyquist would be handled differently in the Haskell it didn’t turn out that way. Nyquist again hooked up for the lead with American Freedom and Awesome Slew and although the fractions weren’t as blistering as those set in the first two quarters of the Preakness they were swift enough that they appeared to soften the Derby champion up.  In the meantime, Exaggerator had taken his typical spot at the rail and the rear of the field although he wasn’t too far off the other horses. Exaggerator was hung four wide as he made his move out of the final turn and swept past all the other colts to take the lead and the win.  Once again he was a big kid colt, happily splashing though the mud. Nyquist fell back to fourth, his first-ever out-of-the-money finish of his career.  Sunny Ridge ground on to nip him, taking third.  Gun Runner never seemed happy with the conditions and finished fifth.  Awesome Slew plummeted to last, while American Freedom carried on for the runner up position.

There was a brief inquiry based on American Freedom’s jockey Rafael Bejarano’s objection against Kent Desormeaux and Exaggerator  for a bump in the stretch that was disallowed.

As of today, Laoban, Mohaymen, and Exaggerator are being pointed to the Travers Stakes August 27 at Saratoga.  There has been no word on the next race for the remainder of the colts that participated in the two races that typically are used to prep for the Travers. There is also no word as to any reason for Creator’s poor effort Saturday.  As I indicated in my previous blog, I anticipated that some colts might move forward (Laoban and American Freedom) since the Triple Crown races while others might start to regress (Mohaymen and Nyquist).  Only time will tell if some colts just had a bad weekend and who ends up at the top of this year’s three-year-old class.  We shall see.

Back On Track

The post-Triple Crown lull in major stakes races is ending and the start of the second half of major Thoroughbred  racing culminating in Breeders’ Cup World Championship weekend (November 4 and 5) at Santa Anita Racetrack is at hand.

Before I jump into who’s going to be participating in this weekend’s two major stakes a few quick updates.

Stradivari, who ran in the Preakness and Belmont, to fourth and fifth place finishes respectively, sustained a career-ending fracture Friday morning (July 22) while being worked in preparation for his next start.  He suffered a break to his right front leg; both a condylar fracture and a break in the sesamoids (condylar is the cannon or long bone of the leg and sesamoids are smaller support bones lower in the leg that would roughly translate to support apparatus in our ankle). He was scheduled for surgery to place plates and screws in the leg in the attempt to repair it earlier this morning at the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital at Saratoga Springs, NY where he was in training.

On a MUCH brighter note, champion filly Songbird once again demonstrated why she may actually be the best three-year-old Thoroughbred in the country by dispatching the four other fillies that attempted to challenge her in Sunday’s Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Racetrack.  In so doing, Songbird maintained her perfect record, she’s now nine for nine, and she overcame the Saratoga “Graveyard of Champions” curse (Remember last year with American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes? Yeah, I’d as soon forget too). Songbird, much like Nyquist, has show she takes her track with her and runs exceptionally wherever she’s entered to race.

On Sunday, unlike most of her other races, she got a wee mite bit of a challenge from a nice filly, Carina Mia on the turn for home, but under Mike Smith’s expert hands and handling she quickly shook off the attempt, and opened to daylight rapidly to win by five lengths.  Best of all, all reports indicate that Songbird came out of the race happy and fresh.  She’ll remain at Saratoga to prepare for the August 20th Alabama Stakes.

On Saturday, it was the return of California Chrome to American racing since his last start and win in the Dubai World Cup at the end of March, and the four-year-old debut of Dortmund, American Pharoah’s former stablemate and third place and fourth finisher in the 2015 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, respectively. The race was the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar Racetrack and it turned out to be bit of a surprise to me.  Since it was Dortmund’s first race of the year, I expected him to engage Chrome for a little while, but give way, being short race-wise and despite trainer Bob Baffert’s ability to rarely have a horse be short on conditioning even off a long layoff.

I was WRONG.  Dortmund not only engaged California Chrome, he wouldn’t let go of him and the two battled stride for stride from about the final sixteenth of a mile to the wire.  It’s an overused description, but here it’s apt–this race was a thriller and California Chrome was able to prevail by a head. It was a delight to watch and even the jockeys–Gary Stevens on Dortmund and Victor Espinoza on Chrome were in awe of the effort both horses had put forth in an effort to win, tapping each other in congratulations after they crossed the finish line nearly in tandem.  It will be very exciting to watch these two go at it again, most likely in the Pacific Classic near the end of August; that race will also likely feature 2015 Pacific Classic winner Beholder who made the group of colts entered in the race with her look like amateurs with close to an eight-length win. Fingers crossed that all three remain healthy and happy for that matchup.

Now for the upcoming weekend which marks the return to racing by most of the prominent three-year-old colts that were involved in the Triple Crown races.  On Saturday, the Jim Dandy Stakes will be run at Saratoga.  It is the traditional prep race for the “Midsummer Derby,” the Travers Stakes also at Saratoga. Belmont winner Creator, fourth-place Belmont finisher Governor Malibu, Mohaymen (fourth in the Kentucky Derby), and Preakness winner Exaggerator are among the horses who may run.  The real question mark of this group is Exaggerator; he posted a less-than-pleasing work in the eyes of trainer Keith Desormeaux last out and thus the trainer is wrestling with the start. Desormeaux has indicated that the main goal for Exaggerator is the Travers and he might just give the colt a bit more time and train up to that race.

On Sunday, the Haskell Invitational will be run at Monmouth Race Course in Oceanport, NJ.  Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist will make his first start since his third-place finish in the Preakness Stakes.  He’s recovered from the bug that kept him out of the Belmont Stakes and has been working well out of his West Coast base at Santa Anita. Gun Runner, third in the Derby, has raced and won since then in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs.  Brody’s Cause, sixth in the Belmont, is also expected to run in the Haskell.

I’m not going to make any predictions for either race; at this stage I’ll just be watching and observing in an attempt to see who’s best.  Most of the colts have had a rest, grown a bit, and where they now stand among each other may have changed.  Maybe not and there’s always the chance that a colt that wasn’t ready for the Classics emerges that will give these more established colts a run for the money.  That’s why in many ways, this second half of the Thoroughbred racing year is more fun than the run through the spring.  And perhaps, at the end of the year, the horse that will be crowned best three-year-old in the nation could be the one running like the “girl” she is–Songbird.

 

 

No Crown, Fun Race

This Saturday, Triple Crown races for 2016 come to a close with the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes.  Some of the drama was lost when Nyquist had to be withdrawn (he’s back in California and may return to light work next week), but this should still be an interesting race.  And yet again, weather may play a significant role in the outcome.

Here’s the surprisingly large field:

1.Governor Malibu

2.Destin

3.Cherry Wine

4.Suddenbreakingnews

5.Stadivari

6.Gettysburg

7.Seeking the Soul

8.Forever D’Oro

9.Trojan Nation

10.Lani

11.Exaggerator

12.Brody’s Cause

13.Creator

With the exception of Governor Malibu, Gettysburg, Seeking the Soul, and Forever D’Oro, we’ve seen all the starters at least once before in the Kentucky Derby (of those 20, only Exaggerator and Lani have contested all three races). Of the four newcomers, Governor Malibu is the only one with a possibility of hitting the board.  He was second in the Peter Pan Stakes earlier in the Belmont meet.  It’s a traditional prep race for the Belmont and the race that positioned Tonalist for his Belmont win in 2014.  I don’t think Governor Malibu is quite the horse Tonalist was on the track. Gettysburg is primarily in the race as something of a rabbit to insure an honest pace. Seeking the Soul and Forever D’Oro are both recent allowance race winners.

The forecast for Saturday had looked pretty nice up until this morning and now there’s the possibility of severe weather at Elmont, New York Saturday afternoon. If the track does come up sloppy, I don’t think I need to tell you who benefits significantly in those conditions; you saw Exaggerator’s performance in the Preakness Stakes!  Lani and Cherry Wine will also move up if the track is wet.  Even if it doesn’t rain, I still believe this is Exaggerator’s race.  He appears to have taken to the Belmont track, his weight and coat are good, and he’s found his most effective running style.  I’ll also be interested to see if Lani can move up a few more places as he did in the Preakness and if Suddenbreakingnews can be closer to the pace to make that come from behind kick pay off.

Of the other horses in the race Destin, Stradivari (who I still think is being asked for too much too soon), and Creator could hit the board, but it’s harder for me to see them as the winner.  Super longshots–Trojan Nation and Brody’s Cause. It’s a horse race and that means anything can happen!

Post time Saturday is 6:37 p.m.

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!!