05/18/2016 6:50PM

Crist: New factors likely to change little in Preakness

Kelsey Danner
Nyquist scores a 1 1/2-length victory over Exaggerator in the Kentucky Derby.

There are several key differences between the fields for the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago and the Preakness on Saturday. Are they enough to change the outcome?

There was very little early speed in the Derby field, and there’s a lot in the Preakness. Eight of the 11 Preakness entrants are new shooters who did not run for the roses. Finally, the National Weather Service is predicting an inch of rain Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, making it likely that the Pimlico track will be sloppy as opposed to the fast track at Churchill.

These differences, however, may be the kind of straws you grasp at when you’re trying to talk yourself into a longshot. The truth remains that Nyquist and Exaggerator, the 1-2 Derby finishers, tower over this Preakness field and, if anything, probably both will benefit from the changes in circumstance.

Their virtues are obvious. Nyquist is unbeaten in eight starts and has won five Grade 1 stakes, which is four more than the rest of the field combined. He has not been worse than second in the early going of seven of those races but showed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall that he can rally from off the pace. He was able to relax behind a fast and loose front-runner in the Derby and should be able to do the same while sitting off a multitude of inferior front-runners in the Preakness. He hasn’t raced on a sloppy track, but his pedigree (by Uncle Mo out of a Forestry mare) and his performance on a “good” track in the Florida Derby suggest that he won’t mind it a bit.

Exaggerator has been unable to beat Nyquist in four tries but has been closer each time and comes off two outstanding efforts: a runaway victory over a sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby and a second in Louisville, where he passed 13 horses and made up a dozen lengths on Nyquist in the final six furlongs. Nyquist will and should be favored to beat him a fifth time, but Exaggerator may provide better betting value as the 3-1 second choice than Nyquist at 3-5.

The next-most-plausible winner of the race is Stradivari, a very talented colt who is making just his fourth career start and his first start in a stakes race of any kind. He comes off a 14 1/2-length victory at Keeneland last month that earned a gaudy Beyer Speed Figure of 100, but he was facing overmatched allowance horses. He would have to be a really special colt to beat the top two here, which is not impossible, but he seems like an underlay as the 8-1 third choice on the morning line.

The field’s only other graded stakes winners beyond the two favorites are hard to recommend. Lani, the United Arab Emirates Derby winner, had some issues while running ninth in the Derby, but not enough to suggest he’ll make up 10 lengths on Nyquist. Collected, the Sham and Lexington stakes winner, has never faced the cream of the division and seems more like a solid Grade 3 colt than a potential classic winner.

:: PREAKNESS: Buy PPs, watch Saturday's card live

The horse I’m going to try to get on the board at a big price is Cherry Wine, a genuine finisher whose sole slop effort was a 9 1/2-length victory as a 2-year-old. His best efforts are well behind the two favorites, but he will be charging late past a bunch of tired ones. The Derby was packed with closers, but Exaggerator and Cherry Wine look like the only ones in the Preakness.

So, I’ll call the race Exaggerator, Nyquist, Cherry Wine, and Stradivari in that order. The Preakness is the last leg of several multirace wagers, and my plan is to try to get alive to Nyquist and Exaggerator only.

The Exaggerator camp deserves credit for running in the Preakness, bucking the too-common trend of skipping the race to await the Belmont. The persistent notion that horses run better with many weeks between starts and that the Preakness is too soon after the Derby is nonsense, contradicted by the successes in Baltimore by one Derby winner after another.

If Nyquist wins, here we go again with another Triple Crown bid, just a year after the first successful one in 37 years. If Exaggerator wins, we might get something nearly as rare: a showdown between the Derby winner and the Preakness winner in the Belmont.

It also will be interesting to see what kind of narrative NBC Sports will try to weave around the sport during its Preakness telecast after its Derby Day premise was so wrong. Two weeks ago, we were told that American Pharoah’s Triple Crown had ushered in a renaissance in the sport, prompting increases in handle, television ratings, and the size of the foal crop. (Never mind that the 2016 crop was bred before the 2015 Triple Crown.) Then the rest of the theory fell apart when ratings and handle on this year’s Derby declined rather than increased.

Here’s my premise: There’s going to be a good horse race, many people will watch and wager, and the precise size of the crowd, handle, and Nielsen ratings will signify absolutely nothing.

Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
Well, NYRA now faces the worst scenario for its Belmont Stakes. No horse going for the Triple Crown, no showdown between the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, just a (sorry to use the phrase) meaningless race between a bunch of horses the public has never heard of racing at a distance on dirt that they will never again be asked to race.

What to do? I'm usually as much of a traditionalist as anyone. I just didn't get it when the Yankees, who talk about tradition all the time, tore down Yankee Stadium while the Red Sox kept their small and quirky Fenway Park. The Yankees may have pulled down a curse on themselves for what they did.

What to do about the Belmont? Change the distance. To what? A change to a mile and three eighths would not be meaningful, and they don't run that distance at Belmont. A mile and an eighth, run one turn out of the chute, is a possibility. On the right track.

What is one of the very most prestigious races run at Belmont every year? A race coveted by owners and breeders alike. The Met Mile. A test of speed and endurance, with only one wide turn to be a concern for a horse to lose due to a bad trip. A "win and you're in" Breeders' Cup race.

It may take a little getting used to, but it's really a natural. Even without the Derby winner in the race this year, a flat mile race would attract the best of the remaining three year olds, including a few crack sprinters trying to stretch to a mile.

You don't even have to pay me for the suggestion.

William Cervetti More than 1 year ago
The great Steve Crist has never been more prophetic than in picking the first four finishers in the Preakness......NAILED IT!!
William Cervetti More than 1 year ago
Steven Crist has never been more prophetic than he is here in picking the first 4 finishers in the Preakness! Outstanding!
BrownRiggle More than 1 year ago
Uncle Lino never got the memo.
greager8 More than 1 year ago
cherry wine for the Preakness upset !!!!!
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Danzig moon
Firing line
Ride on curlin
California chrome
General a rod
I'll have another
Creative cause
Dialed in
Animal kingdom

More than half of the derby preakness starters get sidelined or retired shortly after running in these two lasix filled races.
Ron Beal More than 1 year ago
Absolutely agree with your 'nonsense' comment regarding the two-week turn around between races. This regrettable training fashion has been eroding the quality of top stakes races for more than a decade, robbing the game of what likely would have been many memorable confrontations between its top stars.  Meanwhile, racing's 'bread-and-butter' - the claimer population - somehow manages to bear up under the 'burden' of racing more frequently than once every five weeks, thereby insuring there's still a game for us all to care -and/or worry - about.  
flum1448 More than 1 year ago
Looks like the race is all about the show bet
Chuck Seeger More than 1 year ago
It is interesting to hear a key media person in the industry goofing on NBC and their "narrative" they tried to spin on Derby Day.  Obviously you fail to realize that is SOP for all the major networks in all sports.  Work on the premise that sports fans are idiots, come up with an angle that sounds compelling while ignoring the real facts, and beat it to death, or in some, cases until the next game.  Here's my premise - Wake up and quit acting like this is something new when DRF has been employing the same tactic for decades regarding numerous problems in this industry.
JasmineTedesco More than 1 year ago
Obviously the 1-2 pick is the chalk. Lani? Is "Lani" a Japanese synonym for "hara-kiri"?