05/16/2016 1:16PM

Preakness: O'Neill and Co. take their cues from Nyquist

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Doug O'Neill observes Nyquist at Pimlico on Monday.

In the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby, and the days after, trainer Doug O’Neill has seemed completely at ease for a guy going through his second serious go-round on the Triple Crown trail, this time with a horse who has yet to lose.

O’Neill is surrounded by a trusted team at these events – with assistants, exercise riders, grooms, and a physiotherapist who have been associated with him for years – but he said the reason for his calm nature can be directly tied to Nyquist, the Derby winner, who will go for career win No. 9 – and try to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive – in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico.

“I truly think all of us at the barn are feeding off of him,” O’Neill said. “He’s so calm and gives off so much confidence, it’s contagious.”

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Four years ago, O’Neill won the Derby with I’ll Have Another, who subsequently captured the Preakness. I’ll Have Another was a 15-1 shot in the Kentucky Derby and was not even favored in the Preakness. Nyquist was the 2-1 favorite against 19 rivals in the Derby and figures to be a far shorter price in the Preakness, for which entries were to be taken Wednesday.

Nyquist “gives us vibes like no other,” O’Neill said, “and he follows up with amazing performances consistently.”

“It’s definitely different,” O’Neill said on a recent teleconference, adding, “The whole team is trying to represent Nyquist in a first-class manner.

“It’s more calming and enjoyable being around a professional horse like Nyquist,” he said.

O’Neill’s entourage includes assistant Jack Sisterson, who is astride the pony who accompanies Nyquist to the track, and Steve Rothblum, a former trainer who acts as a stable manager for the barn. Jonny Garcia is Nyquist’s exercise rider, Elias Anaya his groom, and Tyler Cerin does therapy work. At the Derby, O’Neill’s longtime top assistant, Leandro Mora, came in for the race, and after the Derby, exercise rider Amir Cedeno traveled with Nyquist to Baltimore while Garcia got a few days off in California before rejoining the team.

Cerin, the son of trainer Vladimir Cerin, “works on Nyquist before he goes to the track, stretches him,” O’Neill said.

The net result with Nyquist is eight wins in eight starts, a championship at age 2, a Derby and a Breeders’ Cup victory, and the only horse this year capable of becoming the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner.

O’Neill and his team went to an Orioles game on Friday, trying to enjoy the perks that come with being associated with a Derby winner. Asked Monday morning at Pimlico if he hoped the week would go by quickly so he could get to the Preakness already, O’Neill said, “No.”

“Living in the moment,” O’Neill said. “Too many goofy things happen all the time; you want to enjoy the crap out of this. The stressful part, if you will, is getting here in the morning and seeing him bright-eyed, clean feed tub, and ice-cold legs.”

“After that, it’s all a carnival ride,” Rothblum said.

“Coming into Baltimore with the Derby winner, it’s hard to get much better in our sport than this,” O’Neill said.

– additional reportingby David Grening