Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore will take center stage on Saturday when the Preakness Stakes is contested over a mile-and-three-sixteenths. After an impressive win in the Kentucky Derby, Nyquist will be the heavy favorite to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
American Pharoah became the first horse to sweep the Triple Crown since 1978 last year. If Nyquist wins the Preakness, he will vie for the title on June 11 at Belmont Park in New York.
Let’s look at the contenders at the Preakness, and make a betting suggestion or two.
You can knock his pedigree and point to the difficulty of running another “A race” after dominating the Kentucky Derby, but there are few flaws in what Nyquist has done thus far in his career. He’s eight for eight lifetime, winning at five tracks over seven distances. His tactical speed typically means he doesn’t have to rally overly wide and generally avoids horrible traffic problems. He has beaten the other top contenders in this race, and unless he has bad racing luck or shows signs of fatigue, he’s poised to win and is worthy of those short odds.
He went off as the 5/1 second choice at Churchill Downs, and ran hard down the stretch to finish second. If the race had been a little longer, he might have won. The Derby was already the third race he’s lost to Nyquist, but the margin of defeat has shrunk in each race. You could argue his last two races, a dominating win at the Santa Anita Derby in the slop and the Kentucky Derby, are his two best.
Jockey Kent Desormeaux (who won the Preakness aboard Real Quiet in 1998 and Big Brown in 2008) suggested that, without traffic, he may have won the Derby. That said, after watching race replays, it didn’t appear Exaggerator greatly altered his course.
The lightly-raced, Todd Pletcher-trained Stradivari crushed restricted allowance horses by 14 lengths at Keeneland on April 17. He broke his maiden in an 11-length romp on an off track at Gulfstream Park in December. Though, in his first career race (November), he finished fourth out of nine horses at 4/1.
While he is well bred, and has been very impressive during his last two races, he has never run against this type of competition. Neither his jockey (the two-time Eclipse Award-winner John Velazquez) nor his trainer (the seven-time Eclipse Award winner Pletcher) have ever captured the Preakness.
He’ll be the third choice somewhere around 7/1 if trainer Steve Asmussen elects to run him in the Preakness, but his status is unclear at this point. The third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby stayed with Nyquist for most of the race, giving ground late. The shortened distance at Pimlico should be to his liking. With four wins in six starts, including victories at the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby, he will be a lot of people’s upset choice for good reason.
It took Dale Roman’s colt five races to break his maiden, but he did so in a big way, winning by more than nine lengths at Churchill Downs in November. He put back-to-back wins together when he crushed a field of optional claimers at Gulfstream Park in January. Since then, he tried to come from way back in the Rebel Stakes and Blue Grass Stakes, finishing fourth and third, respectively. He’s well rested so, if the pace is hot, he should be poised to run late; but his speed figures do not stack up with the top contenders.
Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Preakness six times, including last year with American Pharoah. Collected’s best race came at Sunland Park’s Festival of Racing: he won the mile-and-an-eighth contest by two lengths in March. He returned to the track in April and romped to victory at Keeneland’s Lexington Stakes by four lengths. His racing style should have him forwardly placed, the question will be: can he out-kick the favorites down the stretch?
During the last 15 runnings of the Preakness, the favorite has won six times and a horse at 4/1 or better has taken all but three. The leading candidates, Nyquist, Exaggerator, and Gun Runner, are the logical top choices. You can get creative at the bottom of trifectas and superfectas, but the favorites are too good for this field.
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