Advertisement

Trainer Doug O'Neill upbeat after Derby winner Nyquist draws No. 3 post for Preakness

After Nyquist drew the No. 13 post in the Kentucky Derby, owner Paul Reddam looked at trainer Doug O'Neill and said he thought the number might be lucky. O'Neill put an equally upbeat spin on the No. 3 after the undefeated Derby champion drew that post for Saturday's Preakness.

After Nyquist drew the No. 13 post in the Kentucky Derby, owner Paul Reddam looked at trainer Doug O'Neill and said he thought the number might be lucky.

O'Neill put an equally upbeat spin on the No.3 after the undefeated Derby champion drew that post for Saturday's Preakness.

Advertisement

"Well, No. 3 is like 13 without the one coming to the party," O'Neill said with his typical easy grin. "In an ideal world, we wanted to be outside of all the speed horses, but that would've been too good. We're so blessed to have such an amazing horse who has so many gifts, one of them being that he leaves the gate running. So we feel good about No. 3."

Nyquist, the 3-5 favorite in the morning line, inspires such confidence because he's answered every question asked of him in his eight-race career. He's a more decisive Preakness favorite than American Pharoah, who was a 4-5 choice in the morning line on his way to the Triple Crown last year.

Even the rain predicted for Saturday seemed to strike his connections as a mere inconvenience. "He's a very sure-footed horse and we're optimistic whatever the track condition is, he'll be fine," O'Neill said.

Nyquist's top rival, Derby runner-up Exaggerator, will start from the No. 5 post. He's the 3-1 second choice in the morning line.

Tabatha Laban, one of the Preakness hostesses, places the first post position. Starting post positions for the Preakness are drawn at Pimlico in the Sports Palace. Officials use a pill pull, which employs a small numbered ball in a blind draw to decide post positions.
Tabatha Laban, one of the Preakness hostesses, places the first post position. Starting post positions for the Preakness are drawn at Pimlico in the Sports Palace. Officials use a pill pull, which employs a small numbered ball in a blind draw to decide post positions. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

The late-charging colt has yet to beat Nyquist in four attempts, but trainer Keith Desormeaux hopes Exaggerator will be the fresher competitor Saturday.

"He's just a phenomenal horse and he's tough to beat, but it's fun trying," Desormeaux said. "I have a horse that one of his greatest attributes is his ability to recover. … His demeanor and body looked the same 24 hours after the Kentucky Derby. That's a great ability to recover. Maybe Nyquist doesn't recover that well. It's not normal for a horse to recover that quickly."

Desormeaux said he doesn't want his brother, jockey Kent Desormeaux, to change tactics from the Derby. He simply wants Exaggerator to find a comfortable groove and run as close to the lead as his Hall of Fame jockey sees fit.

With an 11-horse field instead of the 20 who ran at Churchill Downs, Exaggerator should have more room to make his push.

"The smaller field, it's got to help," Desormeaux said. "It's common sense."

Japanese import Lani is the only other holdover from the May 7 Derby, where he finished ninth after struggling to compose himself in the paddock before the race. The 30-1 choice will start from the No. 6 post.

From there, the field consists of fresh competitors looking to pull a startling upset.

Trainer Bob Baffert is back, looking for his seventh Preakness victory after last year's Triple Crown run with American Pharoah. His horse, Collected, is a 10-1 fourth choice and will start from the No. 7 post.

"This is like, take a shot here," Baffert said Wednesday morning. "We won't see any Belmont, nothing like that. It's a one-shot deal, so let's see what he does."

Baffert has never won the Preakness with a horse who did not run in the Derby, and he came away from Churchill Downs impressed with Nyquist's ability to break cleanly and avoid trouble.

Advertisement

"He'll like this track," Baffert said of the Preakness favorite. "He's definitely the horse to beat."

Collected is one of several early speed horses who could create a different dynamic than Nyquist faced in the Derby, where Danzing Candy was the only horse pushing the early pace.

Baffert's regular competitor for Trainer of the Year honors, Todd Pletcher, is making his first Preakness appearance since 2011 with Stradivari, a lightly raced horse who might be peaking after an impressive win in his most recent start, at Keeneland.

Stradivari drew the outside No. 11 post and is an 8-1 third choice in the morning line.

"We think he's a very good horse," Pletcher said Tuesday. "It's ambitious, but we think he deserves a chance. It might be that with only three lifetime starts, he's not quite ready for this big a jump, but we think it's worth a try, as long as he shows up and runs well, comes out of it well and continues to move forward."

O'Neill said Stradivari is the fresh horse who scares him, both because of the win at Keeneland in April and because Pletcher is always a formidable competitor.

Trainer Dale Romans took a shot at Nyquist with Brody's Cause in the Derby and will give it another go with Cherry Wine in the Preakness.

Romans, who trained 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford, said Cherry Wine loves a sloppy track, which might become a factor with rain in the forecast for Saturday. He said his horse isn't as good as Nyquist but could be opportunistic if the favorite slips up.

Cherry Wine will start from the No. 1 post and is a 20-1 choice in the morning line.

"Post means nothing for my horse, because he's going to drop back and then come running," Romans said. "Nyquist has a lot of speed outside of him, but he's such a quality animal that post position isn't going to get him beat. He's going to have to regress a bit."

Uncle Lino will offer another dose of early speed from the No. 2 post. He has faced top competition running in California but has not proved he can beat the best 3-year-olds. Trainer Gary Sherlock said his horse has come a long way in coping with the stresses of race day, and he's hoping for a surprise from the 20-1 choice in the morning line.

Fellowship, trained by Mark Casse, is the most experienced horse in the field, with 12 career starts. He's taking another shot at Nyquist after finishing third behind him in the Florida Derby.

He was transferred to Casse's stable in April and his talent has surprised the trainer. He'll start from the No. 10 post and is a 30-1 choice in the morning line.

Awesome Speed, starting from the No. 4 post, and Abiding Star, starting from the No. 9, have both won in Maryland, but neither has shown an ability to beat the elite of this 3-year-old crop. Both are 30-1 choices.

Laoban, meanwhile, has yet to win a race. He's another early speed horse who will start from the No. 8 post. He's also a 30-1 long shot.

twitter.com/ChildsWalker

  • Preakness 2016:


Advertisement
Advertisement