05/25/2016 2:10PM

Hovdey: Plenty of company for Gutierrez's gaffe


The Preakness is always run in a fishbowl when the Kentucky Derby winner is front and center – especially when the Derby winner is an undefeated champion with one leg up on the Triple Crown.

So it was last Saturday when Nyquist and jockey Mario Gutierrez could not sustain the pressured momentum of a hot first quarter and half and ended up beaten conclusively by their former wingman, Exaggerator, and Pimlico homeboy Kent Desormeaux.

Let the flogging begin.

“It was the worst ride,” said the estimable Andy Beyer on Steve Byk’s “At the Races” radio show Monday morning. “A ride that ranks right up there with Ron Franklin on Spectacular Bid in the Belmont as one of the most horrible rides in the Triple Crown.”

Certainly, the 19-year-old Franklin’s decision to gun and go with a longshot on the Belmont backstretch in 1979 contributed to Spectacular Bid’s loss to Coastal. Beyer also cited Stewart Elliott’s midrace Belmont burst aboard Smarty Jones in 2004 as the reason they were caught by Birdstone.

But even though Gutierrez made an early, unforced tactical error that set in motion events that led to Nyquist finishing 3 1/2 lengths and a nose behind Exaggerator at the end of 1 3/16 miles on a muddy racetrack, he still must take a backseat to these beauties. If that ride was “one of the most horrible,” in Beyer’s parlance, how would you describe …

◗ Calvin Borel, flummoxed by the alien layout of Belmont Park, hitting the gas too soon on the turn with Mine That Bird in 2009 to take the lead, only to surrender in the final yards.

◗ Bill Shoemaker, already a Derby winner with Swaps, misjudging the Churchill Downs finish line aboard Gallant Man in 1957 and losing by a nose to Iron Liege.

◗ Manuel Ycaza, on the favored Ridan, throwing a desperate elbow into John Rotz nearing the end of the 1962 Preakness, thereby assuring himself of a disqualification even if Rotz and Greek Money hadn’t beaten them a nose.

◗ Herb Fisher, who had Head Play off the rail late in the 1933 Derby, reaching over in a panic to grab Don Meade, who was slipping through inside with Brokers Tip. With no help from either a photo finish or patrol film, the judges gave the bout to Brokers Tip.

The Nyquist team – including owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill – has fallen on their assorted swords in taking the blame for Gutierrez carrying out a flawed game plan. That is good of them and bodes well for Gutierrez keeping the mount when Nyquist bounces back from the illness that has him temporarily sidelined.

But it also says something about the idea of overthinking a horse race. The variables in a contest like the Preakness are boundless. It is impossible to account for them all, and to address only a few – as did the Nyquist team – is to leave a horse and jockey handcuffed to a strategy that could prove to be without merit from the moment the gates open. Race-riding at the Triple Crown level is not algebra, it is art. Preparation is fine, but improvisation is the key.

It is Chris McCarron, attuned to a perfect clock, going from first to last to first aboard Touch Gold to stun Silver Charm in the 1997 Belmont. It is Steve Cauthen, in extremis against Alydar at the end of the 1978 Belmont, using a left-handed stick on Affirmed for the first time and getting the job done. It is Ron Turcotte, aboard the greatest turn runner in the history of the game, shocking the 1973 Preakness field with Secretariat and ending the race around the first bend.

Beyer said the Nyquist team should not have “put their trust in a jockey like this instead of one of the big boys,” referring to Gutierrez.

But it does not matter that Mario Gutierrez is not Turcotte, Cauthen, or McCarron, or that Nyquist is neither Affirmed, Secretariat, nor even Touch Gold. What they should have done is put their trust in the jockey who had won eight of eight aboard their horse, and let the chips fall where they may. Because the chips will always fall.

Trainer Buddy Raines had it right when he spoke briefly with John Rotz before sending him out with Greek Money at Pimlico 54 years ago.

“Johnny,” Raines said, “ride him like you own him.”

Oh, and watch out for Ycaza.

Redemption in Californian

When you fall, if you can, you get back on the horse, which is what Gutierrez did Sunday at Santa Anita when he won the Grade 2 Californian Stakes aboard Second Summer at 10-1.

Trainer Pete Eurton was asked if he was worried Gutierrez might be suffering from an emotional Preakness hangover.

“We were a little concerned about it because we didn’t know where his mindset would be,” Eurton said. “But his attitude was very positive. And he rode an unbelievable race for us, moving when he needed to, and the horse responded.”

Second Summer is a 4-year-old son of Belmont winner Summer Bird who has reacted to a loss of testicles and a return to the main track with three wins and a second in his last four starts, along with steadily improving numbers. The one-length score in the nine-furlong Californian sets him up well for the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 25, and Gutierrez will be back aboard. It’s not the Preakness, but it’ll do.

Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Worst ride ?   Recent examples include the rabbit mike smith on three derby horses...palace malice, bodemeister and danzing candy.  45 and change at a distance never been covered before.  
Victor espinoza on bafferts horse that purposely drifted shared belief 5 wide on both turns.  This was done so bafferts other horse could retire a graded stakes winner.
Then you have garcia wiping out half the breeders cup field at the start aboard bayern, who wouldnt be taken down by three clowns.
philcoforde More than 1 year ago
Don't forget Sandy Hawley misjudging finish line aboard D Wayne Lukas' Parthez in 1981 Derby.  If you watch the youtube clip around the 2:05 mark, you'll see it.   

P.S. Mario let up late and cost Nyquist's connex 2nd money.   
Paul Gundy More than 1 year ago
Andy Beyer is the type of guy who always has to have everyone believe he's the smartest guy in the room. He doesn't care at whose expense that may come. His assertions on where MG should place Nyquist on Steve Byk's radio show were wrong. The one place that would almost surely cost Nyquist the race would be (as pointed out on the NBC telecast by Donna Brothers) was dead against the rail in the heaviest going. He could not get boxed in against the rail by the outside horses. Some might say that Exxagerator was on the rail for the early part of the race and he was but he was in the two and three path and not dead against the rail. When Nyquist broke well from the inside as did Uncle Lino MG now has a buffer to keep Nyquist off the rail and he must keep up with UL early to keep that buffer rather than drop back off him and end up boxed on the rail into the first turn. As you can see in the replay, MG down the stretch the first time is looking to his right not his left. He does not want to get pushed to the rail by the outside horses. The problem came when Nyquist cleared the outside speed horse giving the opportunity to take off Uncle Lino and find his spot behind him, Nyquist is too keyed up and MG could not get him to relax. The key to win in any distance race is to get your  horse to relax or be a hell of a lot better horse than anyone else has. If Nyquist had gone after Danzig Candy in the Derby head to head down the backstretch he would have lost that race. Nyquist usually was tractable to a point in his races but was not in the Preakness. MG ride and the connections strategy  to get out of the gate quickly was not the reason for the loss. Nyquist  for the first time being unable to relax was the problem.
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
It's amazing how smart everyone is after the fact, but the truth is, that in every race, from bottom maidens to the Kentucky Derby, trainers and jockeys have a plan, in their heads, as to how a race should go, and I don't care if it's Willie Shoemaker, Johnny Valasquez, or dopey donald, when the circumstances force different action, things may not end up as planned.  Mario and Doug admitted that it didn't work out as planned, but Exaggerator wasn't supposed to be within five lengths of the lead at the half mile pole, but he was, so it certainly can't be blamed on a duel Kentucky Derby winning jock, who has only ridden in two such Derbys.  How many Kentucky Derby's has Johnny V, Rosales, or the leading rider in New York or California won.  How much better are they than Mario.  It just tells me that those who blame him for a bad ride are the idiots.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
Jay, why do you think trainer was just taking the heat for his jockey? I believe him when he says he told Mario to ride Nyquist from the gate and get the lead. It was a strange "unforced error" of group think for many reasons. I hope Desormeaux sent a thank you card. And I agree that same jock  will and deserves to be on the colt without doubt when he returns.
jeffmejia33 More than 1 year ago
I commented on this on an earlier Preakness aftermath article--but the O'Neill Team needs to learn how to read the DRF.  There was plenty of speed in the race---there was no need to "send" Nyquist. This is a simple case of a camp trying to get "cute" with a strategy.  Just run your race.  Nyquist was in a perfect "hole" to start so he didn't need to be gunned to the lead--Most of the speed was on the outside of him---let it go and stalk like you always do.  No one was fooled---if anything Desormeaux was counting his lucky stars all throughout the backstretch for the "gift" he was receiving by watching Nyquist burn himself out.  
I'm guessing Gutierrez has ridden his last race on Nyquist with all this fallout.
Rich Blaho More than 1 year ago
Everyone knew going into the Preakness that there was far more speed on Saturday compared to the Derby. So I don't know why the connections changed tactics. I would have told Mario to do the same thing he did in the KD. Just sit off the speed, keep Nyquist clear and make your move in the far turn and lets see what everyone else has. I believe the other thing that hurt Nyquist was the fact that they wanted him to run about 5 paths out from the rail because they felt that was the best part of the track and better than the rail.
One last thing. Is anyone else besides me mad about the move Mario made between the 8th and 16th poles moving Nyquist out about 4 paths? That move cost him 2nd and totally killed my trifecta and superfecta. I jsut did not think Cherry Wine could run second.
Mike Rutledge More than 1 year ago
Did anyone other than me read that Doug O'Neill told Mario to send Nyquist.  Now it could be said that O'Neill's order to send Nyquist was a very bad idea. 
ED Kike More than 1 year ago
How it's a bad ride just cause he ran 22 46 if ur a great horse triple crown winner I could go that fast American Pharoe when the same when added wt Mr Z and still kept going o'neil just thought he was that good so I blame trainer 4 thinking he was a great horse don't get me wrong nyquist is good but not great 
Ken Rossi More than 1 year ago
My god, you write like a second grader!
David Torregiano More than 1 year ago
Mr Beyer is correct.  It will rank as one of the worst rides in the history of major racing.  You can make all the excuses you want but no top jockey would get into a speed duel, in a speed laden field, with a horse processing that much tactical speed and class...period.