Horse Racing

Nyquist arrives early in Baltimore to begin preparation for Preakness

Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist arrives at Pimlico Race Course this evening for the running of the 141st Preakness Stakes.

Nyquist handled his arrival in Baltimore the way he's handled everything in his impeccable career — according to plan.

The Kentucky Derby champion appeared calm and fit as he stepped out of his trailer at 6:08 p.m. Monday for a first look at Pimlico Race Course, where he'll try to take the next step in his Triple Crown quest at the May 21 Preakness Stakes.


"The beauty about Nyquist is he's mentally so prepared for anything you put in front of him," said assistant trainer Jack Sisterson, who traveled from Louisville, Ky., with the bay colt. "We're just blessed to have a horse like him to work with."

Anticipation for Nyquist's arrival had less than 48 hours to build, and he was greeted by a modest crowd of cameras and reporters. He beat the national media to Baltimore by at least a week.


The scene stood in contrast to last year, when eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah arrived at Pimlico just three days ahead of the Preakness. That's more typical timing, but trainer Doug O'Neill had success arriving early with Derby champion I'll Have Another, who won the Preakness in 2012.

"We can do anything with Nyquist, but it worked with I'll Have Another," Sisterson said. "So we kept kind of the same routine and got him over here early. He gets acclimated and he gets to turn over the stuff he'll run on."

Nyquist will walk the next few days and take to the track for a jog on Thursday, the same day O'Neill plans to arrive from California.

The Derby champion left the Churchill Downs backstretch at about 1:25 p.m. for his short van ride to the Lousiville airport. Sisterson posted a photo on Twitter of Nyquist sticking out his tongue on the plane.

His flight arrived at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport just after 4 p.m., and he rode to Pimlico accompanied by a police escort. He traveled with a pony and six other horses trained by O'Neill, including top filly Land Over Sea, who will run in the May 20 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

Also on Monday, the field of prospective Preakness horses grew to 14, with Sharp Azteca, winner of the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard, and Dazzling Gem, fourth-place finisher in the April 16 Arkansas Derby, joining the list.

Nyquist walked to the starting gate Saturday as a 2-1 Derby favorite still surrounded by plenty of doubts. Statistically-oriented handicappers, in particular, said he had not demonstrated enough high-end speed in his prep races. Many of them picked Exaggerator, the 5-1 second choice, to beat him.

O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam found the questions about their horse borderline ridiculous. He had always run exactly as fast as he needed to, and they were convinced he had barely begun to reveal the depths of his talent.


Nyquist persuaded the masses to that line of thinking with his 1 ¼-length win in Lousiville.

He does not have the air-gulping stride that marked American Pharoah as a prodigy before he ever ran in the Derby. But he does possess several traits essential for a Triple Crown hopeful — fitness, adaptability and competitiveness.

Already, he has won major races on five different tracks in three different states. He travels with minimal anxiety and maintains his appetite when he's recovering from a race. He races with an instinct only the best horses can claim.

"When he feels other horses come to him, he runs away from them, and that's an amazing quality to have," said O'Neill's racing manager, Steve Rothblum.

All of this explains why he'll likely be a strong favorite to win his ninth race in nine starts. There's a reason O'Neill keeps praying for his horse to avoid injury — he knows that otherwise, Nyquist has a strong shot to join American Pharoah in the exclusive club of Triple Crown winners.

O'Neill is certainly comfortable defying orthodoxy.


After shipping I'll Have Another to Baltimore early in 2012, the horse did not go into Stall 40, the corner spot traditionally reserved for the Derby champion. Instead, O'Neill went to the stakes barn usually populated by horses from the Preakness undercard, wanting to keep the horse away from the gawkers and cameras that invariably surround Stall 40.

Nyquist will also be in the stakes barn, in Stall 24.

O'Neill himself basked in the warm reception Baltimore offered. He and his team of assistants rented a house together in Canton. The mellow Californian threw out the first pitch at an Orioles-Yankees game, ate steamed crabs and visited children at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

He seemed to enjoy the run-up to this year's Derby as well, calmly addressing the doubts about Nyquist's talent and the questions about medication violations that clouded his training resume until a few years ago.

Again, he was unafraid to take an approach that mystified many of his peers, preparing Nyquist for the Derby at Keeneland instead of at Churchill Downs.

Ever since the colt tore through his undefeated 2-year-old campaign, O'Neill and Reddam have prepared him with an eye on the Triple Crown. Nyquist started in only two prep races, and he often jogged or galloped when his rivals were turning in hard workouts.


Their mission was to keep Nyquist fresh for the five-week test that has broken so many other gifted 3-year-olds. They came to believe they had worked I'll Have Another too hard in 2012, possibly contributing to the swollen tendon that caused him to scratch the day before the Belmont Stakes.

"He's definitely being colored by the I'll Have Another experience, when he just zinged the horse around there every day. We almost got away with that," Reddam said. "I think he's been thinking all along, 'Let's have a fresh horse.'"

So don't expect to see any aggressive work from Nyquist while he's at Pimlico. O'Neill and his team believe the horse is as fit as he needs to be, and they'll merely seek to keep him sharp until May 21. He'll jog and gallop on alternating days, much as he did in Kentucky.

"It's just keeping him happy," Sisterson said. "There's not much we can do in two weeks. I think his record speaks for itself, and we're not going to change what we've done with him in the past."