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After smooth final workout, Nyquist's team eagerly awaits race day

Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, ridden by Jonny Garcia, heads back to the barn after a morning jog on the track Friday at Pimlico Race Course.
Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, ridden by Jonny Garcia, heads back to the barn after a morning jog on the track Friday at Pimlico Race Course. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

With one last workout on the track for Nyquist at Pimlico Race Course on Friday, trainer Doug O'Neill had a final chance to identify a hiccup with the 3-5 favorite ahead of Saturday's Preakness.

And again there were none.

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Nyquist, whose preparation for the Preakness has gone smoothly by all accounts, jogged two miles around the track Friday. On Saturday morning, the horse will walk the shedrow around the barn for about a half-hour. About eight hours before Saturday's 6:45 p.m. post time, O'Neill and his team will pull the feed tub from the barn. Two hours later, they will pull the water tub.

"Once we pull the feed tub, he knows," O'Neill said. "And the game face begins. It's really exciting to watch that all unfold."

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O'Neill has no concerns about Nyquist as he goes for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

"I think what keeps me awake at night is just the excitement and realizing how blessed I am to be around such an amazing animal like Nyquist, and just the eagerness to get to the barn the next morning," O'Neill said. "It's just been a really awesome journey, and it continues to move forward."

In the Kentucky Derby, Nyquist let Danzing Candy set the pace and then came from behind, leading from the final turn until the finish. In the Preakness, however, O'Neill said Nyquist would ideally take an early lead from the No. 3 position and keep it all the way around.

The rest, he will leave to jockey Mario Gutierrez.

"He knows Nyquist so well, and Nyquist has so much natural speed away from the gate, that ideally he gets good position, wherever that is, and runs a big race," O'Neill said.

Why shouldn't trainer Doug O'Neill be smiling? Not only does he have an undefeated horse who's seemingly impervious to anxiety. He's surrounded by a team of people — and when he says "team," he utters the word with religious conviction — who have stood with him through some of the harshest disappointments the racing game could muster.

Nyquist has Kentucky Derby runner-up Exaggerator to compete with, as well as eight new horses. But Nyquist is in good position to advance to the Belmont Stakes undefeated, though O'Neill didn't deny having nerves on race day.

"I'm sure when they're on the track going to the gate, there'll be some butterflies in Mario's stomach, in our stomachs," O'Neill said Friday alongside his brother, Dennis, who first spotted Nyquist. "That's what it's all about. That's what sports are all about."



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