05/15/2016 10:11AM

Watchmaker: Hard to look past Nyquist in Preakness

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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.