BALTIMORE – Trainer Doug O’Neill rejoined Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist at Pimlico Thursday morning after spending the previous few days overseeing his Southern California-based stable. The veteran conditioner liked what he saw in the 3-year-old son of Uncle Mo, who is scheduled to continue his Triple Crown quest in the 141st Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico May 21.
“He looks fantastic. The guys are all happy. He’s a horse that gives off such positive vibes,” O’Neill said. “He still continues to talk to us in his own way, and he’s doing really well.”
Nyquist, the first Preakness candidate to arrive at Pimlico, was also reunited with regular exercise rider Jonny Garcia Thursday morning while jogging two miles the ‘wrong way’ around the track. The undefeated colt was accompanied by a pony ridden by assistant trainer Jack Sisterson, who had accompanied O’Neill’s star during a ship from Churchill Downs to Pimlico Monday afternoon.
Video of Nyquist on the track Thursday morning
“This is great, absolutely great. We love it. We love being here early, getting the chance to settle in and have the track pretty much to ourselves,” O’Neill said. “Even though the track had a little bit of moisture in it, it was in great condition. Not having a lot of traffic, you can pick the lane you want to be in. Jonny was really happy with it. He jogged with good energy today, and the plan is to gallop tomorrow.”
O’Neill was confident Thursday morning that he and owner J. Paul Reddam made the right call in scheduling only two preps for the Kentucky Derby in the aftermath of his triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last fall.
“At that point he had 30 (qualifying) points for the Derby, so he didn’t have to go chasing points. The seven-eighths (G2 San Vicente) at home and the Florida Derby set him up for the Derby and still left him with fresh legs,” O’Neill said. “Here we are, and we’re happy where we’re at.”
O’Neill said he was thrilled to be back in Pimlico, where he saddled 2012 Kentucky Derby winner for a triumph in the Preakness after exploring the city of Baltimore.
“The memories are fantastic. Baltimore is a great city, and we got to experience so many cool things. It’s amazing with a great racehorse all the people you get to meet because of him,” O’Neill said. “It’s a fun, fun town. It’s a great racetrack. The Preakness has such a great tradition. Just being part of it is a dream come true.”
A dozen horses are regarded as at least possible for the $1.5 million Preakness, but O’Neill is concerning himself with just one horse.
“It looks like the field is going to be tough. 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 said. “He looks great and has good energy coming off a big win in the Derby. It’s amazing how good he looks.”
O’Neill said he didn’t have any concerns that Nyquist wouldn’t perform to his high standards over the Pimlico racing surface.
“Nyquist being undefeated speaks volumes. Here’s a horse that’s won five Grade 1s on five different racetracks. He’s won in Florida, Kentucky and Southern California. He’s special that way. He’s a great traveler,” O’Neill said. “He’s handled breaking cleanly from the gate; he’s handled getting bumped out of the gate; he’s handled running wide on the turns, saving ground on the turns. He’s just a special, special horse that’s handled everything that’s been thrown at him.”
Lani on Course to Make Preakness History
Koji Maeda’s Lani, who finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, is on course to be the first Japanese-based horse to compete in the Preakness. He is the maternal grandson of 1989 Preakness winner Sunday Silence, who had a distinguished career as a sire in Japan.
A Kentucky-bred son of top sire Tapit, Lani won the U.A.E. Derby in Dubai on March 26 and earned enough qualifying points to compete in the Kentucky Derby. He has been training this week at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., where he is under the supervision of a veterinarian appointed by the U.S. Drug Administration.
After shipping to Pimlico next Thursday, he will remain in a quarantined barn away from other horses on the grounds.
The name Lani means “heaven” in the Hawaiian language. His dam is Heavenly Romance.
Daily Racing Form reported Thursday that the Donnie Von Hemel-trained Suddenbreakingnews and Dale Romans-trained Brody’s Cause, fifth and seventh in the Kentucky Derby respectively, as well as the Jorge Navarro-trained Sharp Azteca, have been withdrawn from Preakness consideration.
Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Gun Runner jogged with a pony to the Churchill Downs starting gate, where he stood before galloping nearly once around Thursday morning.
Norm Casse, assistant trainer to his father Mark Casse, reported that Fellowship was outfitted with blinkers for his morning gallop at Churchill Thursday morning.
“It is not something we normally do, but he seems to go better with them,” said Casse of the fourth-place finisher in last Saturday’s Pat Day Mile (G3) who is slated to van to Pimlico Monday.
Exaggerator, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, had a scheduled walk day at Churchill Downs Thursday and his scheduled to go to the track the next two days before vanning to Pimlico Sunday.
Pimlico Race Course