05/15/2016 11:11AM

Watchmaker: Hard to look past Nyquist in Preakness

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Nyquist will be extremely difficult to beat in Saturday's Preakness.

Like many folks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Preakness over the last few days. And no matter which way I look at the race, I’m having a difficult time right now coming up with anything other than this: If Nyquist runs his typical race, and certainly if he duplicates his Kentucky Derby, no one is going to beat him in the Preakness.

Moreover, there isn’t any reason to think Nyquist won’t show up Saturday. The Derby was only his third start of the year. He has been trained with what appears to be a delicate hand for the express purpose of keeping his tank full through the Triple Crown grind. And of course, the best reason of all for expecting Nyquist to be Nyquist in the Preakness is he has shown up, and won, every single time he has been sent postward, over five different racetracks, in three different states.

I can’t see anyone else coming out of the Derby turning the tables on Nyquist, not that there are many of them. Nyquist scared just about all of them off. I guess Exaggerator would have the best chance since he got to within 1 1/4 lengths of Nyquist finishing second in Louisville. But it really wasn’t that close when you think about how each actually ran.

Nyquist did all the dirty work being right on top of a fast early pace that burned up everyone who was involved in it, except for him. There will be people who will go gaga over the fact that Exaggerator rallied from 15th, 17 lengths off the pace. But the Derby set up ideally for just such a late run.

There are also those who will say that Exaggerator was compromised by a speed-biased track at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, and might even claim Nyquist was aided by it. Other than vehemently disagreeing with this, I just don’t know what to say to those who believe this other than maybe they really don’t understand the concept and fundamentals of track bias.

Track bias is an extremely subjective matter, and involves countless nuances. Simply put, a true speed bias (which is often really an inside bias since speed horses tend to gravitate toward the inside, thus forcing closers to the outside into the deeper going) will carry horses much farther than they figured to go if the race was run under fair conditions, and will impact results almost to the complete exclusion of other handicapping factors.

There was no speed bias at Churchill on Derby Day. There were 10 main track races run there on Derby Day, and not a single one of them was won by a front-runner. Not one. A statistic like that would be impossible if there was a speed bias of any sort in play. Also, late moves like the one Exaggerator made wouldn’t happen, or wouldn’t be nearly as impactful, if a true speed bias were in effect. And there were several deep closing moves like Exaggerator’s made for minor awards all day.

But back to Exaggerator, certainly the biggest reason to doubt he can turn the tables on Nyquist is he has faced him four times now, and has come up short each time. Exaggerator has tried sticking with him early, and surprising him late, and it’s not working. Nyquist just has his number.

I suppose the two new faces who might be accorded the best shot for upsetting Nyquist in the Preakness are Stradivari and Collected. But as much as my mind is open to alternatives to a 3-5 shot, the maximum price I expect Nyquist to be on Saturday, I just don’t buy them.

Stradivari’s connections say he is a very talented horse, and I believe it. But even accounting for his 14 1/2- length romp in a nine-furlong allowance race at Keeneland most recently, good for a 100 Beyer Figure, Stradivari has no edge on Nyquist, not in terms of Beyers, or pace. In fact, Stradivari will probably draw the same close-to-the-early-lead trip Nyquist will get, and it is a very tall order to expect Stradivari to outkick a Kentucky Derby-winning Eclipse Award winner in just the fourth start of career.

As for Collected, he earned good reviews for the way he worked lately at Churchill, and he comes off the two best performances of his career, decisive scores in the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes, and the Lexington. But even if Collected is in career form, the 90 Beyers he earned in his last two starts were only five points higher than his previous career best, and don’t put him in the same neighborhood with Nyquist.

Quick Saturday notes:

Let’s not sell Unified short after his win in the Peter Pan. He was stretching out from seven to nine furlongs in just his third career start, and was put to the test for the first time in his competitive life. So he showed quality to remain undefeated, even if his performance wasn’t an artistic success.

Unified was hard pressed to turn back the unheralded Governor Malibu, whose only previous stakes victory was over New York-breds in February, and the 96 Beyer he was assigned was, in my view, very generous. Unified is not ready for Nyquist, or anyone else of true Triple Crown race-level quality. Not right now. But that isn’t to say he won’t be with more time.

  Cavorting could not have been more impressive winning the Ruffian, and that at a one-mile distance that previously seemed beyond her best, and off a less than impressive effort in her seasonal bow.

Wake Forest was better winning the Man o’ War than he was last month when second in the Pan American. That said, if Flintshire is Flintshire when he returns to the races, he’s going to have a field day in these high-level, extended-distance turf stakes.

My Miss Sophia running off early in the Beaugay kind of threw that race out of whack. Still, Strike Charmer was very good in her upset victory, and has found the best form of her life since moving to trainer Mark Hennig.



James Gholam More than 1 year ago
I hope that Nyquist  doesn't  get injected in the leg by some kind of  anesthetics before the race, like they did to poor barbaro
Benton Brandon More than 1 year ago
Stradivari's 4/17 race was of course vs a low comp field...but you better not ignore a hand ride finishing just .10 of a second off the KEE track record....out kick the King he will...better watch out King. 
RaceTote More than 1 year ago
Looks like rain Saturday in Baltimore. If Nyquist can move quickly toward the rail as he did in the derby, I doubt he'll have much problem holding off the field. I just hope we don't experience another of those  heavy down pours like last year. I hate to see the field sliding across the track, getting bogged down in a swamp, or spitting dirt from start to finish. Even a great horse could be upset under those conditions.
RaceTote More than 1 year ago
The current Kentucky Derby qualifying point system has practically eliminated the likely hood of another 50-1 long shot out running the favorites. The system is designed almost like an Olympic event. By the first Saturday in May, top professional Handicappers can practically announce the order of finish before the horses leave the starting gate. 
 This is the second year in a row the top three finished in a boxed trifecta and the favorite crossed the finish line at the head of the field. 
 If this continues experts may redefine the nature of the event from a form of gambling to a short term investment. I hope not. 
BrownRiggle More than 1 year ago
Exaggerator will get him this time. No doubt in my mind. 
RaceTote More than 1 year ago

 I don't believe we have yet seen Nyquist pushed to the max. He always gives whatever is required to outrun the competition. The closest to catch him was Swipe at the wire in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, but it's never quite enough to overtake this talented colt. I'm just wondering if Gun Runner will participate, will Exaggerator properly time is charge to place, and if Todd's Stradivari is more than just another disappointing flash in the pan. 
Dahorsecapper More than 1 year ago
Lots and Lots of rain in the forecast. Rain Tuesday , Rain Wednesday.  Saturday 100% chance with 1 inch or more expected.
Rick Lamond More than 1 year ago
Exaggerator would have had a better chance by waiting for the Belmont. Nyquist should win the Preakness and go to Belmont with a great  chance of winning the Triple Crown.
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
I think some players sometimes confuse fast times with speed biases. Even though there may be a mild correlation between the speed of the track and  closer/speed biases, IMO they are not perfectly correlated.  I also made the Derby track honest. On the flip side, I think it can argued that the Derby pace was not as killer as the fractions imply. To begin with, the track was very fast.  Second, Gun Runner was also right in the mix and he held very well for 3rd and ran a lifetime top Beyer. So to think that pace had a huge impact you'd have to think that BOTH Nyquist and Gun Runner not only ran new top Beyers, but also did it against the race flow. That seems very unlikely. More likely is that Danzig Candy is more of a miler that set too fast a pace for him when he opened up and Outwork is nothing special coming out of that slow Wood. That caused them to tire badly. But overall the race flow was more neutral.          
colin More than 1 year ago
all you can do is pray for rain...............................................and Exaggerator will win
Dahorsecapper More than 1 year ago
100% chance of rain with an inch plus possible on saturday !