He’ll have another.
Happy, healthy and hangin’ in his new home, Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist is gearing up for another big race, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore next Saturday.
With a victory, Nyquist would head to the Belmont Stakes in New York three weeks later with a shot at winning the Triple Crown. What a turn of events that would be for horse racing — a record 37-year drought between Triple Crowns followed by back-to-back Triples for only the second time in history.
“He’s full of energy, and looks fantastic,” Nyquist trainer Doug O’Neill said this week as his unbeaten Derby winner settles into his fourth new stall in the past seven weeks. “He should be ready.”
O’Neill likes to say one race at a time, but it’s difficult not to think of the glory that awaits if his brilliant 3-year-old bay colt wins his next two races. Especially since O’Neill, along with owner J. Paul Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez — has been on the cusp of history before.
In 2012, O’Neill won the Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another, but the horse was retired the day before the Belmont with a tendon injury. A year ago, American Pharoah swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, a feat many consider the toughest in sports.
Like almost everyone else in racing, O’Neill saw how American Pharoah became the people’s horse, a calm, friendly and gentle colt that thrived on the attention. He’s hoping it can happen again with Nyquist.
“I thought the American Pharoah camp did a wonderful job, and having a horse that thrived on it (the attention) helped,” O’Neill said this week. “And I think Nyquist — they are big shoes to fill — has the ability to fill them if we were to get so fortunate and do what American Pharoah did last year.”
For his part, Pharoah’s owner Ahmed Zayat is all in.
“Let’s have another Triple Crown, back to back,” he said hours after Nyquist’s 1 1/4-length Derby win in a time nearly 2 seconds faster than American Pharoah ran.
But on to the Preakness, where a whole new set of challengers await. Unlike a huge 20-horse field in the longer 1 1/4-mile Derby, the second leg of the Triple Crown has a 14-horse limit, and is run at a shorter distance of 1 3/16 miles.
Back to take on Nyquist is Derby runner-up Exaggerator, a fast-closing second but an exasperating 0 for 4 against Nyquist. In the career debut for both, Exaggerator was fifth behind Nyquist, then fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and second in the San Vicente prior to the Derby.
Kent Desormeaux, the brother of Exaggerator trainer Keith Desormeaux, says “a clear trip” is what it’ll take to turn the tables. The Hall of Fame rider was aboard for three of those losses, and claims he had a troubled trip every time. Which is why, he figures, “I still have a chance.”
Lani, who ran ninth in the Derby, is a definite for the Preakness, with third-place finisher Gun Runner still possible. Lani would become the first Japan-based horse to run in the Preakness.
The list of newcomers is long in a field that could total 12. It includes Laoban and Cherry Wine, a pair of colts who were on the Derby also-eligible list but did not get to run because no horses were late scratches.
Others looking for an upset include possible rising start Stradivari, Lexington Stakes winner Collected, Federico Tesio winner Awesome Speed, California Chrome Stakes winner Uncle Lino and Fellowship, who ran third behind Nyquist in the Florida Derby.
With Collected, trainer Bob Baffert is seeking a record-tying seventh Preakness win. He’s currently tied with D. Wayne Lukas. Robert Wyndham Walden won seven, including five in a row from 1878-1882.
Stradivari is trained by Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by John Velazquez. The lightly-raced son of Medaglia d’Oro will be making his second start of the year and his stakes debut — he’s 2 for 3 overall — but won his last two races by a total of nearly 26 lengths.
“We’re behind in experience and seasoning to quite a few of the competitors in there,” Pletcher said. “But from everything we’ve seen from a talent standpoint, he belongs.”
For now, there seems to be no horse in a class with Nyquist, a perfect 8 for 8 and a presumed heavy favorite when the post-position draw takes place on Wednesday.
Nyquist is the eighth undefeated Derby winner to run in the Preakness, and first since Big Brown won the first two legs in 2008 but was pulled up in the Belmont with a quarter-mile to go and did not finish.
“It looks like the field is going to be tough,” O’Neill said. “It’s going to be a full field and there are a lot of new shooters, so that’s always a concern. But our main focus is on Nyquist’s health. He looks great and has good energy coming off a big win in the Derby. It’s amazing how good he looks.”
Maybe good enough for another.