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Nyquist's not quite performance reinforces how difficult it is to win the Triple Crown

Exaggerator (5) with Kent Desormeaux aboard moves past Nyquist with Mario Gutierrez during the 141st Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 21, 2016, in Baltimore. Exaggerator won the race.
Exaggerator (5) with Kent Desormeaux aboard moves past Nyquist with Mario Gutierrez during the 141st Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 21, 2016, in Baltimore. Exaggerator won the race. (Garry Jones / AP)

If American Pharoah made us believe again, Nyquist reminded us Saturday that nothing really changed when that interminable Triple Crown drought ended last June.

The quest to win all three of horse racing's most legendary races is a nearly impossible one for all sorts of reasons, and it was silly to think that just because a very special horse finally broke through after nearly four decades it had somehow cleared a path for the next one.

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Nyquist certainly is another special horse. He had never been beaten before Exaggerator finally pulled away down the stretch to score a deflating upset in the 141st Preakness Stakes. He may never be beaten again, but he joins a legion of fine thoroughbreds who have won the Kentucky Derby and fallen short either in Baltimore or at Belmont Park.

Why Nyquist will not go to New York with a chance to give a struggling industry a second straight Triple Crown will be the subject of debate for at least the next three weeks if he and Exaggerator accept the opportunity to resume a rivalry that already included four races which, of course, all were won by Nyquist.

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Sometimes, the most obvious explanation is the best one, and Keith Desormeaux did not shy away from it after the race.

The one thing Nyquist's team feared coming into the race was the unknown impact of the foul weather. Owner Paul Reddam conceded at the post position draw Wednesday that he had no way of knowing how his horse would handle a "soupy" track if the dire weather forecast for Saturday turned out to be accurate.

The rain came and the track was as muddy as advertised, which figured to benefit Exaggerator after the way he thrived under similar conditions on the way to a convincing victory on a sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby six weeks ago.

"We can't deny what's happening here,'' Keith Desormeaux said. "These are two huge races on off tracks. The one at the Santa Anita Derby I tried to play down because it was just a meltdown pace in front of us. Today, the pace was acceptable and he still ran huge. You have to think that the track means a lot to his performances, but his fast-track performances are not bad, either."

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The likelihood that the muddy track benefited Exaggerator doesn't necessarily mean that it was a handicap to Nyquist, who would stay at or near the front of the pack for the entire race before being overtaken by Exaggerator and surprising place horse Cherry Wine.

Maybe he went out too fast and simply got overtaken by a horse that ran a perfect race.

Trainer Doug O'Neill made no excuses, saying only that he didn't know if the sloppy track was the difference in the race. Instead, he congratulated Team Desormeaux and praised both Exaggerator and his own horse.

"What a great run,'' he said. "I didn't think we could get beat, to be honest with you. Nyquist is such an amazing horse and he still ran a great race."

If nothing else, the muddy track saved us from the inevitable resumption of the "fresh shooters" debate that reached a crescendo two years ago when California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn went on a verbal rampage after his popular horse came up one jewel short of the Triple Crown.

He blasted the horse owners and trainers that ambushed him after skipping one or both of the previous Triple Crown races, calling it "a coward's way out" after Tonalist pulled the upset at the Belmont.

There had been talk after that about a possible rule change to increase the five-week window for the three races, but it didn't get very far. American Pharoah quickly made a liar of Coburn, who also claimed that unless something was done he would not see another Triple Crown in his lifetime.

It may well be a long time before there is another one, because the reasons why there were 37 years between Affirmed and Pharoah will still exist next year and – presumably – for decades to come.

No doubt, there are a lot of disappointed fans and racing officials in New York, but the Belmont Stakes will still have a measure of intrigue if O'Neill and Nyquist's connections decide the horse is fit enough to renew a no-longer-so-one-sided rivalry with Exaggerator.

It'll almost be summer by then, so the weather might even cooperate.

Twitter.com/@SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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