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Watchmaker: Nyquist lost, but he ran courageously
BALTIMORE. – It was a little weird, coming into this Preakness on Saturday. So many people thought Nyquist’s march toward an attempted sweep of the Triple Crown series at Belmont Park on June 11 was going to be easy, a fait accompli, and I must include myself in this as well. Even crusty curmudgeons are susceptible to rookie mistakes.
Nyquist, we thought, was going to remain undefeated through the Preakness, and shoot not only for racing immortality in the Belmont, but also try to complete the first back-to-back sweep of the Triple Crown series since Affirmed followed Seattle Slew in 1978, and also become the first undefeated winner of the Triple Crown since Seattle Slew in 1977.
But nothing – nothing – is easy in the Triple Crown. Ever.
Many of us were probably guilty of letting our Triple Crown guard down after American Pharoah last year became the first to sweep the series in 37 years. And after as fine a colt as Nyquist could not even make it to the Belmont alive for a chance at the Triple Crown – and he is still a very fine horse despite his defeat Saturday – it just makes you appreciate all the more what American Pharoah accomplished last year.
That said, let’s talk about this Preakness. Exaggerator was clearly, decidedly best on the day. I mean, this horse has gears, and I personally love horses with gears. When Exaggerator finished second in the Kentucky Derby, he came from way back off a fast early pace. But when he won the Preakness on Saturday, he sat closer to a pace that was also fast – extremely fast. And after Exaggerator made that inside-out move into the stretch to overtake the front-runners, and then lugged in and seemed to lose focus, he got himself together again, and ran away late.
The other thing that you have to like about Exaggerator is every time he was knocked to the mat by Nyquist – and he was knocked to the mat the four times he previously raced against him – he got back up and tried again. This time, Exaggerator didn’t get knocked to the mat. His perseverance paid off, and you have to respect the try in him.
But without taking a single thing away from Exaggerator’s Preakness victory, it also must be noted that everything fell his way Saturday, from the weather, to the way the race was run.
Exaggerator is simply a superior wet track performer – trainer Keith Desormeaux admitted as much in the post-Preakness press conference. He won the Delta Downs Jackpot in the mud, turned in what was then the best race of his career when he romped in the Santa Anita Derby on a very sloppy track, and even in the Kentucky Derby, he caught a surface that had some standing water on it in spots after a brief, but fierce pre-race storm. So overnight and early morning precipitation in Baltimore, and then a steady late afternoon rain, resulted in a sloppy Pimlico surface that was tailor made for Exaggerator. As much, if not more so, than any other Preakness entrant.
And then there was the Preakness early pace of 22.38 and 46.56 seconds, over a surface that was anything but fast from a standpoint of time. This clip was simply unsustainable for anyone involved in it. This played directly to the strength of the closers, and there wasn’t any debate that Exaggerator was the best closer in the Preakness, and by miles.
The Preakness’s early pace is the reason why Nyquist remains a fine racehorse, even in defeat. Nyquist, the 3-5 favorite, dueled on that pace with overmatched horses you needed a search party to find at the finish. Uncle Lino, who dueled directly with Nyquist, finished 9 3/4 lengths behind him, and was vanned off. Awesome Speed and Collected, the other two who were closest to the early pace, finished 12 1/2 and 13 1/4 lengths behind Nyquist.
Nyquist had a similar trip when he won the Derby. He was right with a fast early pace, and survived it to win decisively. Meanwhile, the others who were close to that pace in Kentucky tired to be either soundly or distantly beaten, or not even finish. But Nyquist couldn’t withstand two trips like this in only two weeks. That was just way too much to ask, and he understandably weakened. But I give him lots of credit for only just losing the place by a nose to the useful, and perfectly set up, Cherry Wine, and still finishing a half-length in front of the highly regarded Stradivari for third.
Of course, this begs the question why Nyquist was given the trip he had in the Preakness. Unless Nyquist was being ridden to explicit instructions, I don’t get it. Nyquist is indeed a horse with natural speed. He likes being on or right with the early pace. But what distinguishes him is, he doesn’t have to run that way. He proved that when he came from well off the pace and as wide as the parking lot to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Heck, he proved it in the Derby, when he let Danzing Candy run off in the middle stages.
Nyquist might have lost for the first time Saturday, but in many respects, his Preakness performance was more impressive than a handful of his wins.
After the Preakness Stakes I hope to see Nyquist well rested in the Haskell. At this point it would be foolish to put the champ up against a herd of fresh horses.
The speed nature of Aqueduct would suit him perfectly. The poor animal was overworked Saturday, and deserves a rest, but isn't ready for retirement.
I'd love to see him, at his best, up against California Chrome and Exaggerator at this fall's Breed Cup Classic.
Everything fell Exaggerators way Saturday, but no mention of all the things that went perfect for Nyquist in Louisville. Nice objectivity. He got beat, and was ridiculously overbet at 3/5. Live with it.
Nyquist deserves a rest after the tremendous effort he has given so far. Forget Belmont and save him for the Haskell and Breeders Cup.
Absolutely, well said Mike. Well said.
mike, I totally agree with your take on the race! [this time, ha!]
first, lets go over the ride of MG throughout this race. He aggressively breaks the horse, duels three wide thru the first turn and the whole backstretch, and finally weakens in the stretch. He should have fanned the horse on the first turn causing the horse to lay second by default and not dueling the horse on the backstretch. In the derby, he laid slightly off the pace not dueling as in the Preakness. This effect caused the loss and not the effort of the winner.
Exaggerator was the best thing since slice bread (IMO) when the field was drawn I kept saying it on this forum all week. Nyquist had contesting speed, that wasn't just gonna run with him for the first half mile then disappear off the radar, but run with him every step if the way. Those who are up in arms about the tactics of MG need to just stop it, it was a similar tactic that he used in the KD. Had he allowed Uncle Lino to lead unmolested the way he allowed Danzing Candy in the KD Nyquist wouldn't have hit the board. Congrats to team Exaggerator we finally got him.
I agree with Mr. Watchmarker 100% here. I was actually as impressed as ever with Nyquists deep tank in this one. Floored actually that he could take all that and still have something anything at all left to contend. Those fractions in that slop tell a lot and also a bunch of ground surrendered. Exaggerator had the most perfect of trips he was loping going into the far turn and just ready to un cork. All things being equal I still really like Nyquist. Baffled by the game plan though yesterday unless Nyquist was just that hard for Mario to control.
There is indeed only one American Pharoah as I suspect we will be reminded of many times as the years go by. Agree completely with you on Nyquist, though. I couldn't take my eyes off him in the stretch yesterday as he gamely fought on, the very definition of a racehorse. It was probably Exaggerator's day anyway with the way the pace was going to set up and especially the sloppy track, and he is a deserving victor, too.
But Nyquist earns deeper respect from me every time I see him on a racetrack. I think he trainer did overthink tactics instead of doing what made sense, sitting off the inevitable hot pace of the race with his tractable horse. But he told his jock to send and at least he admitted it was his instruction. And better yet, Nyquist camp is game for the Belmont Stakes, which is very sporting of them.
Once again the Preakness proves to be one of the worst wagering opportunities in all of North American racing. I honestly don't understand why the race is so highly regarded. Either as a sign of accomplishment by the horses involved or by the wagering public. Maryland racing in general is some of the worst thoroughbred sport the industry has to offer and the Preakness itself is a perennial DUD in terms of not living up to the hype.
Nyquist for his part, did himself in. Or perhaps it would be more correct to state that the connections of Nyquist did the horse in. There was no need to attend the ridiculously suicidal pace, as he had proven in the Derby that he could stalk any sort of pace, even once set down by a quality horse such as Danzig Candy, and still take the measure of Exaggerator or any of another 18 horses who were coming at him in the stretch.
With Abiding Star, Laoban and Collected in the race any fool who can read the Daily Racing Form would have known that there was going to be plenty of heat on the front end. And while I won't go so far as to call any of them cheap speed, the fact that there were at least three horses, other than Nyquist, who figured to contest the pace on a sloppy track, the race set up perfectly for Nyquist to run the same type pf race he ran in the Derby and leave the rest of the field in his dust. Or maybe in this case, in his mud!
The second place finisher speaks volumes about how much of a toll the pace took on Nyquist as Cherry Wine is a horse who would never beat Nyquist or Exaggerator on his very best day under anything approaching normal race conditions. Only two races before American Freedom had cruised to a more or less wire-to-wire victory at 8.5 furlongs while laying down fractions that were a second slower across the board. And while AF may be a very good horse, he is no Nyquist. So the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the pace was too fast and Nyquist was too close to the pace in a race where he could have stalked the pace and let others do his dirty work.
Therefore the blame must fall to O'Neill and his jock...what they were thinking, I have no idea but they cost a very good horse a shot at the Triple Crown, in a year when he may very well have been able to pull off the sweep, given the sorry state of the competition.