05/21/2016 7:31PM

Fast opening quarter took its toll on Nyquist

Kim Pratt
Nyquist suffered his first loss in nine career starts in the Preakness.

BALTIMORE – Live by his speed, die by his speed.

That was the game plan trainer Doug O’Neill wanted to employ for his Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist in Saturday’s $1.5 million Preakness Stakes at sloppy Pimlico.

“If we’re going to get beat, let’s get beat being aggressive and not trying to get cute and get in trouble,” O’Neill said.

Nyquist was aggressive, and he did get beat. After dueling with Uncle Lino through the fastest opening quarter in Preakness history – 22.38 seconds – Nyquist could not hold off Exaggerator, who went by him in midstretch en route to a 3 1/2-length victory in the Preakness. Nyquist got nosed out for second by Cherry Wine.

The loss was the first in nine career starts for Nyquist, the 2015 2-yeaar-old male champion who two weeks ago won the Kentucky Derby by 1 1/4 lengths over Exaggerator.

“Being 8 for 8, I kept thinking this horse is never going to lose,” O’Neill said. “They all lose one time or another, so we’ll be okay.”

In the Kentucky Derby, Nyquist sat off one other speed horse and got the jump on Exaggerator, who was far back early in that race.

Though there appeared to be plenty of other speed horses in the Preakness, O’Neill wanted jockey Mario Gutierrez to obtain a forward position. But Uncle Lino, under Fernando Perez, was intent on being in front, and the two were head-and-head after the fast opening quarter.

“We thought we had the best horse and just wanted to ride him like the best horse and not get too cute with trying to get perfect positioning,” O’Neill said. “Him going fast early was really my idea; he’s the best horse, take it to ‘em.”

Nyquist and Uncle Lino were still head-and-head through a half-mile in 46.56 seconds and six furlongs in 1:11.97.

Gutierrez said he tried to get Nyquist off Uncle Lino, “but I just couldn’t.”

It wasn’t until the three-sixteenths pole that Nyquist was able to dispatch of Uncle Lino, but Exaggerator, under Kent Desormeaux, jumped on Nyquist and went past him. Exaggerator drifted over to the inside, and Gutierrez had to get Nyquist off the rail.  Nyquist tried to fight on, but he finished just evenly and was caught on the wire by Cherry Wine for second.

“When he swung out, I thought he might come back, but Exaggerator had that momentum, and Nyquist had done so much early in the race and just couldn’t keep pace,” O’Neill said. “He still gutted it out and almost held on for second.”

Four years ago, O’Neill won the Preakness after winning the Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another. He never had the chance to run for the Triple Crown as I’ll Have Another was diagnosed with a tendon injury the day before the race.

That may have been the ultimate disappointment. On Saturday night, in the mist and mud of Pimlico, O’Neill held his head high and tried to accentuate the positive.

“It’s more the process and the journey that’s so enjoyable,” O’Neill said. “You want to win every time you lead them over here, but it’s not realistic. We enjoy the whole experience and journey. He’s still a champ in my book.”

O’Neill said he would wait to see how Nyquist comes out of the Preakness before deciding whether to run in the Belmont. Following the Preakness, O’Neill called it “a good possibility.”