All set to return to the races, Nyquist will take on five challengers in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in his first start since his only loss in the Preakness more than two months ago.
The Kentucky Derby winner is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for Sunday's 1 1/8-mile Haskell over a field that includes Exaggerator, who ended Nyquist's 8-0 record in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
"We're coming into the race with a lot of optimism," Nyquist's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said at Thursday's post-position draw at the track in Oceanport, N.J. "Hopefully, he brings one of his better races because he will need that to win."
Nyquist breaks from the inside No. 1 post under Mario Gutierrez, while Exaggerator is the 5-2 second choice and leaves from the No. 6 post under Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux.
"The far outside post is perfect for my horse," trainer Keith Desormeaux, Kent's brother, said. "He's an off-the-pace style runner. The inside runners can shoot away from there, go to the front, and he can watch all of the goings on from the outside and take back and make his run when he's ready."
Nyquist and Exaggerator are meeting for the sixth time. Nyquist won the first four, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Derby before Exaggerator ended the streak in the Preakness. Nyquist did not run in the Belmont; Exaggerator finished 11th.
The rest of the Haskell field is American Freedom (3-1), Gun Runner (4-1), Awesome Slew (15-1) and Sunny Ridge (20-1).
American Freedom is trained by Bob Baffert, who last year was on top of the racing world when he came to the Haskell and won with Triple Crown champion American Pharoah. The Hall of Fame trainer is looking for his ninth Haskell win. The lightly-raced American Freedom missed the Triple Crown races, but comes into the Haskell off wins in the Sir Barton Stakes and the Iowa Derby.
"We've been quite high on him from the moment he arrived in the barn," Baffert's assistant Jimmy Barnes said.
This is the 49th running of the Haskell, and nothing tops American Pharoah's exhilarating run. But the Jersey Shore's signature race features the first three Derby finishers in Nyquist, Exaggerator and Gun Runner. And it's the first time since 2010 the Derby winner has gone against the Preakness winner. Six years ago, Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky won over Derby winner Super Saver.
Laurel Park: Olympic gold medalist and world champion skier Bode Miller's Ravenheart, winner of the 2015 Maryland Juvenile Futurity, is set to make his 3-year-old debut in a 6-furlong allowance Saturday. The Maryland-bred son of Dance With Ravens, based at the Fair Hill Training Center with trainer Francis "Tres" Abbott III, drew post 2 of seven in the main track sprint for 3-year-olds and up with jockey Forest Boyce.
Boyce was aboard for the first time in Ravenheart's last race, a head victory over stakes winner Flash McCaul in the 7-furlong Maryland Juvenile Dec. 26 at Laurel.
"He's been doing good. He had a little setback in January and just needed a little bit of time," Abbott said. "We entered him in a couple races the last couple of weeks and this is finally the one that went. He's gotten bigger and a little stronger. He looks good and he's been training great."
Ravenheart shows six works over Fair Hill's dirt track for his return including a bullet half-mile in 48.20 seconds July 9, the fastest of 24 horses. His most recent move of 49 seconds from the gate July 15 ranked second of 24.
Bayhawks fall to Lizards, who move into 1st place
The New York Lizards moved past the visiting Chesapeake Bayhawks into first place in Major League Lacrosse with an 18-12 victory Thursday night. The Lizards improved to 8-4 to move percentage points ahead of the Bayhawks, who dropped to 8-5. Paul Rabil (Johns Hopkins) had six goals and two assists to pace the Lizards. Joe Walters (Maryland) led the Bayhawks with two goals and three assists, and Brendan Mundorf (UMBC, Mount Saint Joseph) added three goals and an assist.
Youth soccer: Defending national champion Baltimore Celtic 98-99 lost, 1-0, to Challenger Crew Jrs Gold 98 (Ohio) in an Under-17 boys game on the final day of group play at the US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas, but advanced to the semifinals along with Loudoun 98 Red (Virginia) on a three-way tiebreaker with Challenger, which got an early first-half goal from Justin Libertowski on a header. Pipeline Black (Maryland), which defeated Sporting St. Croix (Minnesota), 2-0, and Seattle United 98 Copa (Washington) advanced out of Group A, with Pipeline set to play Celtic and Loudoun facing Seattle. In U-14 boys, Baltimore Darby 01-02 reached the semifinals with a 2-1 victory over West Pines United Carrillo (Florida). In U-18 girls, MD United Coyotes routed Tennessee SC 16, 3-0.
NFL: The Washington Redskins placed wide receiver Josh Doctson, their first-round draft pick, on the physically-unable-to-perform list with a sore left Achilles tendon that has bothered him since May. Coach Jay Gruden said Doctson underwent a nonsurgical treatment before training camp. ... Left guard Shawn Lauvao (ankle), linebacker Perry Riley (foot), tight end Derek Carrier (knee) and wide receiver Reggie Diggs (knee) also went on the PUP list. Chicago Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, a former Raven, began training camp on the PUP as he works back from offseason arthroscopic left knee surgery. General manager Ryan Pace indicated McPhee, who missed all of this year's offseason program, might not play in any exhibition games as he gets his knee acclimated to game condition.
NBA: The Washington Wizards re-signed reserve shooting guard Marcus Thornton, 29, who averaged 8.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 16 minutes per game in 14 contests last season after being signed as a free agent March 9.
Local golf: Southern Maryland friends Mark Cusic and Tracy Vallandingham, both from California, posted par-matching 71s to share the championship of the 14th Public Links tournament sponsored and conducted by the Maryland State Golf Association at Greystone Golf Course in northern Baltimore County. There was no playoff, and a second weather delay forced cancellation of a scheduled second round in advance of a storm front.
Olympics: Swimmer of Baltimore was the men's recipient of the U.S. Olympic Committee's Best of July honors. Phelps became the first American men's swimmer to qualify for a fifth Olympic Games with three wins at the team trials in Omaha, Neb. Phelps won the 200-meter butterfly and 200 individual medley for the fourth consecutive time and claimed his third straight 100 butterfly win. He has a record 16 career victories at Olympic trials.
Minor league baseball: The Bowie Baysox will open their 2017 season on the road, then play their first home game April 13 at 6:35 p.m. against the Harrisburg Senators.
Sun staff and news services contributed to this report.