Surprising absolutely nobody, we are going to stick with our top two picks in the Kentucky Derby — undefeated Nyquist and Exaggerator — in that same order, for this afternoon’s Preakness Stakes. We’re hoping Nyquist becomes our third consecutive Preakness winner and 11th in the last 16 years.
Now 8-for-8, Nyquist continues to amaze. He attended a fast pace in the Derby, took over the lead when asked, opened up on the field and coasted home comfortably in front of a strong-closing Exaggerator by a length and a quarter. Nyquist possesses natural, tactical speed which is crucial in this year’s running of the Preakness. There seems to be much more early speed in this race than in the Derby, which will give jockey Mario Gutierrez plenty of options, including taking back. Remember that Nyquist rallied from eighth to win last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Gutierrez, the only jockey Nyquist has ever had, turned in a tremendous ride in the Derby, as he continues to ride this horse with great confidence.
Though he’s never raced on a wet track, Nyquist won the Derby on a “good” track which had a bit of moisture in it. His breeding suggests strongly that he’ll be OK if the track today is muddy or sloppy.
Exaggerator ran well in the Derby to finish second, and, in the race before, won the Santa Anita Derby by daylight on a sloppy track. He has now faced Nyquist four times in his 10-race career and lost all four, including their debuts as maidens last year. He may step up on a sloppy track, but until proven otherwise, he is not as good as Nyquist.
That being said, he has proven quality and is strictly the horse to beat in the Preakness.
TWO PROMISING NEW FACES
Collected — This is a dangerous Triple Crown newcomer who has won two straight and three of his last four starts for trainer Bob Baffert. The victories include a pair of Grade III stakes, the second one a four-length romp in the Lexington Stakes in his most recent race in mid-April. Collected had a huge work for this race, seven furlongs in 1:24 4⁄5 at Churchill Downs.
Stradivari — Trainer Todd Pletcher hasn’t won the Preakness and hasn’t started many horses in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, but he’s sending this lightly-raced, talented colt who’s only raced three times. After finishing a tiring fourth in his debut at Aqueduct last November, he won a maiden race at Gulfstream Park by 11 1⁄4 lengths in December and an allowance race at Keeneland by 141⁄2 in mid-April. He’s taking a gigantic step up, but had a strong seven-furlong work.
THREE CONTENDERS WITH A SHOT
Cherry Wine — An also-eligible who did not get to race in the Kentucky Derby, he was a rallying third in the Blue Grass Stakes in the field of 14 in his last start in early April. He has a closing kick and he won his only race on a sloppy track by 91⁄4 lengths. He’s finished in the money in five of his last six races.
Lani — The Japanese import had an eventful trip in the Derby, but did finish ninth in the field of 20. Considering it was his first start since winning the UAE Derby March 26, and also his first start in North America, he has a right to improve off the Derby. In this field lacking proven quality, he’s got a shot.
Uncle Lino — He followed a third by 81⁄2 lengths to Exaggerator on a sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby with a half-length victory in the ungraded California Chrome Stakes by a half-length as the 6-5 favorite. Prior to that, he was fourth behind Exaggerator when he finished third in the San Felipe. At least he’s faced top company.
THE FINAL FOUR
Abiding Star— Though he’s failed to even start in a graded stakes, he’s a quality speedster with five straight victories, the last in the Parx Derby in Philadelphia. He also ran huge in his lone start on a sloppy track.
Laoban — The other also-eligible who didn’t get to race in the Kentucky Derby was a front-running fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes in his last start in early April, three lengths behind Cherry Wine.
Fellowship — He raced on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs, but it was in the Grade III Pat Day Mile when he tired from second to finish fourth. That was his seventh consecutive defeat.
Awesome Speed — After finishing a distant fourth, 6 3⁄4 lengths behind Fellowship in third, in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes, he was second by a nose and placed first on a disqualification in the ungraded Federico Tesio Stakes in early April at Laurel Park.