BALTIMORE – Kentucky Derby (G1) champion Nyquist galloped a mile at Pimlico Race Course Tuesday, finishing his morning training session with good energy under exercise rider Jonny Garcia.
Trainer Doug O’Neill sent the 3-year-old son of Uncle Mo to the fast racetrack shortly after 6 a.m. rather than his usual 8:30 a.m. scheduled time to avoid a looming rainstorm.
O’Neill timed Nyquist’s eighth-mile splits from the press box porch as the undefeated colt continued preparations for Saturday’s 141st Preakness Stakes (G1).
“It’s more just for me getting a read on how quick he went. Ideally, he’s just going smooth, comfortable, putting his feet where he wants to put them the last part,” he said. “He looked great today.”
In 2012, the O’Neill-trained Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another galloped two strong miles daily in preparation for his ensuing Preakness victory.
“This guy doesn’t do it all the way around there. Jonny has him pretty controlled where the first half is more like 20-second eighths, then the last half is more like two-minute clip eighths, 15 seconds,” O’Neill said.
The undefeated Nyquist has flourished under a somewhat unusual training regimen that includes alternating jogging and galloping days.
“You don’t want to overdo it. At the same time, you don’t want to tiptoe into a race either,” O’Neill said. “When you get longer in the tooth as a trainer, you get more comfortable working with the horses and listening to what they say. Probably a little less is better. As you’re early on into it, you feel like you’ve got to let them rip once a week and gallop some in between. That’s just maturity, I think, as trainers develop.
“Prior to I’ll Have Another we had Lava Man, and he always galloped like a beast. I tried to work him slow and gallop strong, so I kind of started off training with that philosophy: slow works, fast gallops. This particular guy has taught me you could alternate jog days, which I felt was never part of my philosophy, really,” he added. “That’s been something I’ve done with him just because he was so brilliant as a 2-year-old, and with babies you can’t let them gallop strong every day or you’re going to chew them up. But as he’s gotten into his 3-year-old year, we’ve been able to give him days to recover with the two-mile jogs, and he continues to dive into the feed tub and show up in the afternoon.”
O’Neill admitted to doing a bit of scouting during Derby runner-up Exaggerator’s morning gallop Tuesday.
“We went out and hid in some bushes and watched him,” O’Neill quipped. “He looked great. He always does. His coat looks great; his weight looks great; and he has good energy. He went straight off, but he galloped very similar to the way Nyquist did. I would imagine (trainer) Keith (Desormeaux) would be happy with it. We weren’t very happy about it. But he looked really good.
“He’s a big, good-looking horse. He always carries his flesh well. He just shows up every race. It looks like we might get some rain Saturday. I’m sure Team Exaggerator is high-fiving and excited.”
While Exaggerator romped to a 6 ¼-length triumph over a sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), O’Neill is confident that Nyquist will handle Pimlico’s surface, wet or dry.
“I think this one will be safe. We’ve seen the amount of rain the Pimlico track has taken, and the track continues to bounce back. The track crew is doing a great job,” O’Neill said. “We’ve seen that Nyquist can handle a bit of weather at Churchill Downs. The Florida Derby, it rained pretty good too. He’s a sure-footed horse. Whatever the weather will be, I think he’ll show up and run his race.”
(Nyquist is scheduled to jog two miles Wednesday at 6 a.m. O’Neill will be available to media at 8:45 a.m.)
EXAGGERATOR – Trainer Keith Desormeaux and owner Matt Bryan are a combined 0-for-8 with the talented duo of Exaggerator and Swipe while taking on unbeaten champion Nyquist four times each, including Exaggerator’s rallying second in the Kentucky Derby. So how do they turn the tables in Saturday’s 141st Preakness Stakes?
“Obviously numbers-wise, horse for horse-wise, it’s tough to think we can beat him, right?” Desormeaux said Tuesday morning at Pimlico after arriving Monday night from California. “But the strongest attribute Exaggerator has is his ability to recover. As you know, this Preakness is run back in two weeks. That’s not normal in this day and age to run a horse back that quickly.
“Nyquist, I think the goal was to keep him fresh by only running him twice this year (before the Derby), but maybe that will backfire. Exaggerator has much more racing experience (10 races to eight), therefore fitness and the attribute of recovering quickly.”
Asked if horses know when they’re facing the same horse repeatedly, Desormeaux acknowledged “if (Exaggerator) knows anything about Nyquist, it’s the rear view. But as far as forgetting or knowing each other, some people say they size each other up in the paddock and maybe warming up. If that’s the case, then I can tell you from a horsemen’s perspective that Exaggerator does not have one nervous bone in his body about looking Nyquist in the eye.
“There are some horses that get nervous. If you watch the Derby paddock scene, Whitmore, Lani and a few others just lost their crackers, sweating up and freezing up. I told my owner (Matt Bryan) leaving the paddock in Kentucky, ‘Matt, what you see here you can’t teach. Your horse has class to the bone.’ And we can’t get him any better.
“The bad news is that Nyquist is just as cool and calm. Those are two very classy horses, and they’re not fearful of each other at all.”
Kent Desormeaux, Keith’s Hall of Fame younger brother, rides Exaggerator.
Asked if there is anything tactically that the usually late-running Exaggerator could do to diffuse Nyquist, Keith Desormeaux said: “This horse won the Saratoga Special at 6 1/2 (furlongs), sitting a length and a half off the lead turning for home. He’s got all the speed you want. He broke his maiden going five-eighths. It’s pretty cool that a horse going that fast is also that smart. He can control his speed. That’s my job, as a trainer, to teach him to relax, teach him to respect the rider’s commands. And the fact that Exaggerator does that shows his class.
“Now I don’t care if he’s five lengths off or 15 lengths off, as long as he’s comfortable. That’s the jockey’s department, not mine. My job is to teach him to relax; Kent’s job is to judge pace. Where he sits in the race is not a concern to me as long as he’s comfortable. Comfortable usually means clipping off eighths (of a mile) in 12, 12-and-1 (seconds). That’s all we need. If you add that up, that adds up to a mile and a quarter in two minutes flat. If he accomplishes that he’ll win all the races, including the Preakness.”
Desormeaux said of Nyquist that he “totally thought I had him nailed in two races. The one with Swipe, I knew I had him in the FrontRunner. Swipe came through on the inside and was running as though he had him measured. Kent, I could tell, still had horse left. And Nyquist dug down the last eighth and held us at bay. The other race where I was even more confident I had him beat – I mean, I knew it was over – was the San Vicente at seven-eighths. When the race started, and Nyquist set the pace 44-and-2 (seconds for the half-mile), I said, ‘This race is in the bag,’ because Exaggerator is sitting right off of him, just waiting to pounce. When you set a pace like that, I don’t care if it’s Santa Anita, a speed-favoring track or not, they usually come back. And he re-broke. We hooked him, we got to his throat latch, and he re-broke. I mean, the horse is just a good horse, period.”
Desormeaux started out his training career in Maryland in 1990 after being an assistant to the legendary Charles Hadry. He said it was his first time at Pimlico since the spring of 1991, when he returned to Louisiana Downs.
“I haven’t been around much yet, but I’m getting a flood of emotions that I haven’t figured out yet,” he said.
Desormeaux couldn’t recall his last race in Maryland, but said, “I can guarantee the word ‘stakes’ was not involved in that era. I was an assistant trainer to Charlie Hadry for a couple of years and went on my own in 1990, which was way too soon. I learned a lot from Charlie and probably should have stayed a lot longer. There was a lot more learning to do. I should have stayed and acquired more experience before going out on my own. But I have no regrets. I learned the hard way, worked in the trenches for years and it’s taught me to be the horseman I am now.”
Exaggerator galloped a strong 1 1/2 miles at Pimlico Tuesday at about 7:45 a.m., a training session Desormeaux moved up as he sought to avoid the predicted rain. He said Exaggerator will train about 7:30 Wednesday
“I thought he floated over the track, and looks like he adapted to the surface real well,” Exaggerator’s trainer said. “That’s about his normal speed, so I wouldn’t consider it aggressive. It was a typical gallop for him, but it was very nice.”
(Keith Desormeaux will be available to media at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.)
ABIDING STAR – Stonehedge Farms’ Abiding Star breezed four furlongs in 50.16 seconds Tuesday morning at Parx Racing in anticipation that a quarantine at the Philadelphia-area track would be lifted later in the day.
“Abiding Star just ran two weeks ago, so all I needed to do was blow him out a little bit,” trainer Ned Allard said.
Plans call for Abiding Star to be shipped to Pimlico early Thursday morning.
Maryland Jockey Club is prepared to take special precautions for Parx-based horses shipping to Pimlico, should the quarantine be lifted. Parx horses would train at 5 a.m. before regular training hours and would be housed in isolation stalls on the Pimlico backstretch, far from the Preakness Stakes Barns.
AWESOME SPEED – Colts Neck Stables LLC’s Awesome Speed put in his final timed workout for the Preakness Tuesday morning at owner Richard Santulli’s training facility in New Jersey, breezing a half-mile in 47 and 2/5 seconds over a fast track, according to trainer Alan Goldberg.
“It’s fine,” Goldberg said of his colt’s third official work since his victory via disqualification in the April 9 Federico Tesio at Laurel Park. “It’s all good, nice half.”
Goldberg said the son of Awesome Again would walk the shedrow Wednesday, then gallop Thursday morning at Colts Neck before being shipped to Pimlico to join the rest of the Preakness cast. Assistant trainer Jorge Duarte will supervise his program at Pimlico leading up to Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“We’ll put him on a van at about 8 o’clock,” Goldberg said. “It’s about a three-hour trip if everything goes OK.”
Awesome Speed won three of his first four career starts, including the James F. Lewis III Stakes at Laurel to end his 2-year-old campaign and the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream to begin his sophomore season.
That’s when Goldberg decided it was time to try the upper echelon of the 3-year-old division in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream in late February. The colt had a troubled trip and finished fourth of six under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. behind Kentucky Derby contender Mohaymen.
“It just went awry because he got bumped so hard,” Goldberg said. “He went into that race as good as a horse can go into a race. I was somewhat confident. I didn’t know if he would beat Mohaymen, but I thought he would beat all the others. I think getting bounced around early just took all the run out of him.”
Goldberg and Santulli decided to not to pursue the Kentucky Derby and picked out the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio for his next start. Awesome Speed was knocked around again, but this time it was during the stretch run.
Sent off the favorite at odds of 7-10 under new rider Jevian Toledo, he was beaten by a nose by Governor Malibu. The stewards called an inquiry and reversed the decision, giving Awesome Speed the winner’s share of the $100,000 purse and an automatic entry into the Preakness.
CHERRY WINE – With a break from the rain that had drenched Churchill Downs Tuesday morning, Cherry Wine was on the track at 9:25 to gallop 1 ½ miles over a track labeled “sloppy” by the clockers.
Owned by William Pacella, Frank Jones Jr. and Frank Shoop, Cherry Wine is trained by Dale Romans, who will be seeking a second Preakness victory Saturday.
Five years ago, Romans brought Shackleford to Pimlico with a record similar to that of Cherry Wine. Making the trip with Shackleford was exercise rider Faustino Aguilar, who will be performing the same duties with Cherry Wine starting Thursday at Pimlico.
“Shackleford and Cherry Wine are a lot alike as they are easy to gallop,” Aguilar said. “Shackleford, he was a special horse.”
Before his Preakness victory, Shackleford had won two races and been graded-stakes placed. Shackleford completed his career by adding two more Grade 1 victories and posting earnings of more than $3 million.
Cherry Wine has won two races and finished third in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) in his most recent start.
“Cherry Wine has a good chance to be a special horse, too,” Aguilar said, adding with a nod to the saturated track. “He loves the slop.”
Cherry Wine broke his maiden in his fifth start on a sloppy track by nine lengths in November at Churchill Downs.
Romans is scheduled to arrive in Baltimore tonight with Cherry Wine shipping in Wednesday after training in the morning at Churchill Downs.
COLLECTED – After galloping a mile at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning, Speedway Stable LLC’s Collected shipped to Baltimore for the 141st Preakness.
The Lexington Stakes (G3) winner will be Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s 18th starter in the Preakness and this is the eighth consecutive year that Baffert will have at least one runner in the field. Last year, Baffert earned his sixth Preakness win when American Pharoah won the race en route to his sweep of the Triple Crown.
Collected has trained at Churchill Downs since his win in the Lexington at Keeneland on April 16. He breezed seven furlongs in 1:24.80 on Friday. Three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano was aboard for the Lexington and has been named to ride in the Preakness.
A son of sprinter City Zip, Collected has been prominently placed early in five of his six starts, winning four times. Baffert said the colt is likely to be at or near the front in the Preakness.
“There is a lot of pace in there, but he’s not going to change his style. I think the break is going to be important for all those speed horses. I think post position, break, everything is important,” Baffert said. “They have to run their race. They have to bring their ‘A’ game. If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game you’re going to get beat.”
Speedway Stable is the racing partnership of longtime friends and business associates K.C. Weiner and Peter Fluor. They named the stable after the street, Buffalo Speedway, where their business Texas Crude Energy, is located in Houston.
K.C. Weiner is the President of Texas Crude Energy. Peter Fluor graduated from USC after growing up in Arcadia, Calif. He joined Texas Crude Energy in 1972, and was President from 1980-1990, CEO from 1990-2001, and Chairman of the Board since 2001.
Taken to Santa Anita by his grandfather as a kid, Peter Fluor had put his racing interest on hold for decades until he and Weiner went to Saratoga in 2014 and decided to own horses together. Their fathers had owned horses in partnership long before. They bought two older females, Leigh Court and Hard Not to Like, in November 2014 and campaigned them in 2015. Leigh Court is still in training. They bought Hard Not to Like for $1.5 million. She earned $540,000 and sold her for $2.2 million.
DAZZLING GEM – Trainer Brad Cox said Tuesday morning that Dazzling Gem would be entered Wednesday in Saturday’s $100,000 Sir Barton and not the Preakness.
“The mile and a sixteenth is better for him,” Cox said for opting for the Sir Barton over the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, “and the competition.”
FELLOWSHIP – Jacks or Better Farm’s Fellowship was settled into Barn D Tuesday morning after arriving from Churchill Downs at 4:45 a.m. The son of Awesome of Course was accompanied on a van by 10 other Mark Casse-trained horses slated to run in stakes Friday and Saturday.
“Everybody looks good. Everybody is happy,” said Casse’s son and assistant, Norm Casse, said. “They’ll all go to the track tomorrow.”
Fellowship, who finished third behind Nyquist in the Florida Derby (G1), was transferred to Casse’s stable in mid-April.
“When we first got him, I didn’t have any expectations. I wanted to just assess him as a horse, not thinking Derby or whatever. He really overwhelmed me. I really think he’s a super talented horse,” Norm Casse said. “He has a tremendous stride. I think he has a high cruising speed. He doesn’t get tired. I judge horses on the horses I’ve trained and the horses I have now and he works like all of our good horses do.”
Fellowship, who has earned nearly $575,000, didn’t qualify for the Kentucky Derby and ran in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on the undercard, finishing fourth behind Sharp Azteca in the one-turn mile.
“I thought he ran really well. He was wide throughout. I think you can make a case that he should have been second that day,” Casse said. “He beat some highly regarded horses that day. He wasn’t going to catch the winner that day, nobody was.”
(Mark Casse will be available to Media at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday.)
GUN RUNNER – Trainer Steve Asmussen officially took Gun Runner, the Louisiana Derby (G2) winner who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, out of Preakness consideration.
“We’re going to pass on the Preakness,” the newly elected Hall of Famer said by phone. “We’re going to continue to train at Churchill and plan on a serious summer of 3-year-old races with him…. He’s been in tremendous physical condition going into the Derby and coming out of it, and we expect for him to continue to physically develop.”
LANI – Koji Maeda’s Lani returned to his normal routine at Belmont Park Tuesday morning, spending 45 minutes on the track for roughly six miles of exercise.
Maeda’s agent Keita Tanaka, who has been with the colt for two months since he left Japan to run in the U.A.E. Derby, said Lani walked once around the track, galloped/cantered two laps and walked another before returning to trainer Barclay Tagg’s barn. Lani had a half-mile breeze Sunday morning and was given a day of rest on Monday.
“After he had the day off he was fresh and was very active, nice and bright,” Tanaka said.
Lani was moved to Belmont Park on May 9, two days after he closed well to finish ninth in the Kentucky Derby. The original plan was to have the Tapit colt run in the Derby and the Belmont Stakes (G1), but his connections thought enough of his Derby performance to add the Preakness to his schedule. During his time at Churchill Downs, Lani earned a reputation as a horse with some behavioral issues. Tanaka said Lani’s conduct has improved at Belmont Park.
“The surroundings in New York are much quieter than at Churchill Downs,” Tanaka said. “The track is quieter, it’s wider with few horses, so he’s behaving much better than what he sometimes showed at Churchill Downs. I’m very satisfied with that. It’s not a big deal here.”
Tanaka said that Lani will have his final work for the Preakness at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday at Belmont Park. Trainer Mikio Matsunaga was scheduled to arrive in New York from Japan on Tuesday and would finalize the plans for the breeze that is expected to be at least five furlongs.
Lani is scheduled to leave Belmont Park at 4:30 a.m. Thursday on a van headed to Pimlico Race Course and is slated to be on the grounds before the noon deadline.
Tanaka, 33, is in his 10th year in the business of managing Japanese horses traveling abroad to race. Since the Derby, Tanaka, an assistant trainer and a groom have tended to Lani. The team will grow to 11 for the Preakness with the arrival of Matsunaga and others, including a veterinarian from the owner’s breeding farm and a blacksmith.
“We are working on different parts of the horse’s operation,” Tanaka said. “The assistant trainer is employed by the trainer and the groom is employed by the owner and the others are employed by the owner. My team is a mixture of people.
“I specialize in the international travel of Japanese horses. I work for a lot of different owners on individual contracts. Koiji Maeda has been my biggest client for five years.”
LAOBAN – McCormick Racing LLC and Southern Equine Stable’s Laoban was vanned from Keeneland to Louisville and departed on a 9 a.m. flight for Baltimore, according to trainer Eric Guillot, who was scheduled to fly out of Cincinnati later in the day
Rain was falling Tuesday morning and a chance for even more on Saturday is suddenly becoming a possible backdrop for Preakness 141.
“My partner (Mike Moreno) called me and said there’s supposed to be a half-inch of rain on Saturday – 80 percent chance for a half-inch on Saturday,” Guillot said. “That’s going to be a whole different scenario. I’ve seen a whole lot of horses who don’t want to be out there when it’s pouring down rain.”
Laoban is one of those unknown commodities on an “off” track, having run all five of his career starts on fast tracks. Guillot said, however, that he’s been on a wet track before.
“He’s trained good and he worked in the mud Sunday over here (at Keeneland),” said Guillot, whose trainee worked without blinkers in a six-furlong move timed in 1:14.40. “The blinkers off – that helps because the blinkers catch a lot of mud when it’s muddy. The horses don’t like mud in their eyes. It’s going to be a lot of unknowns. I’m just going to be happy to be there.”
Laoban, who is slated for a tough task of breaking his maiden in a Triple Crown event, is scheduled to be ridden for the first time by Ricardo Santana Jr. while racing without blinkers for the first time since his off-the-board debut effort five races back.
“The trick is to take the blinkers off and try to get him to relax and not drag the jock all the way around there,” said Guillot, whose most accomplished runner to date has been 2014 Whitney (G1) and Charles Town Classic (G2) winner Moreno.
STRADIVARI – Of trainer Todd Pletcher’s 7 starters in the Preakness Stakes, every one had at least been second or third in a prior graded stakes. So Stradivari is notable not only because Pletcher is running a horse in the Preakness for the first time since 2011, but because the colt never has contested any kind of stakes before making his fourth lifetime start in Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Stradivari, a son of Medaglia d’Oro owned by breeder John Gunther and Coolmore associates Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs. John Magnier, was fourth in his Nov. 8 debut at Aqueduct. He then won an off-the-turf maiden race as a main-track-only entrant by 11 lengths at Gulfstream before winning a 1 1/8-mile Keeneland allowance by 14 1/2.
“Someone said something about picking this as a good spot,” Pletcher said. “I said, ‘This isn’t a good spot.’ It’s not like I found this little, cozy allowance race. It’s a classic race, running against an undefeated 2-year-old champion (Nyquist), most impressive winner of the Kentucky Derby. Exaggerator ran very impressive in the Santa Anita Derby, ran a race good enough to win a lot of Derbys…. This is not a cupcake spot by any means.
“We think he’s a very good horse. It’s ambitious, but we think he deserves a chance. It might be that with only three lifetime starts he’s not quite ready for this big a jump, but we think it’s worth a try, as long as he shows up and runs well, comes out of it well and continues to move forward. Whether he wins or not wouldn’t be the end of the world. That would be fantastic if he were able to win, but if he runs well, comes back well and meets his full potential, it will have been the right thing to do.”
Pletcher said that Derby aspirations surfaced after Stradivari’s first victory “and we were thinking about preps.” But a minor issue “forced us to back off with him a little,” he said without elaboration. Stradivari did not have a timed workout after the Dec. 5 maiden race until Feb. 28.
“My only hesitation was that we were behind schedule a little bit,” he said of the April 17 allowance race. “He’d missed some time, and I was a little bit concerned about the mile-and-an-eighth distance. I actually kicked around the idea of taking him to Oaklawn to run in the Northern Spur (at 1 1/16 miles on the April 16 on the Arkansas Derby undercard) but decided to stay at Keeneland, try the mile and an eighth. I expected him to run well, but I don’t think you can ever expect a horse to win the way he did. That was, I thought, very, very impressive.”
“The Preakness was actually in the back of my mind before the race. He’d trained impressively enough that, while I knew we weren’t going to get to the Derby, I thought this horse could be good enough that something like the Preakness wouldn’t be crazy to think about. So naturally when he won the way he did and ran as fast as he did, then the Preakness becomes even more of a consideration.”
Asked if the Belmont Stakes could be on the agenda depending how Stradivari runs, or did the Preakness just make the most sense of the Triple Crown spots, Pletcher said: “If we were thinking about the Belmont as his only chance at a classic, then I think (last week’s) Peter Pan (G2) would have been the race to go in and develop into the Belmont. The Preakness was a race that might fit him, and it could still eventually lead to the Belmont, depending on how he runs and how he comes out of it.
“He’s impressed us and I think anyone who watched the Keeneland race had to be impressed. But there were no Nyquists in the allowance race, that’s for sure.”
Stradivari galloped 1 3/8 miles on the Belmont Park training track Tuesday morning.
UNCLE LINO – Veteran trainer Gary Sherlock, 70, said he is taking his first start in a Triple Crown race with Uncle Lino in stride and maintains he is not getting excited.
“I’m just going to go and have fun,” he said. “I’ve been in too many wars.”
In 2014, Sherlock purchased the yearling colt from the first-crop sire Uncle Mo for $52,000 with longtime friend and partner Tom Mansor. They subsequently sold a third to fellow Californian Jim Galvin, who operates as Purple Shamrock Racing. Twenty-one months later, their 3-year-old named for Mansor’s favorite uncle is a stakes winner, has a 2-2-2 record from seven starts and is ready to run in the Preakness. He was shipped from California to Baltimore on Tuesday. Mansor will attend the Preakness, but Galvin is staying home.
Uncle Lino will be Sherlock’s first starter in Maryland. He said he did not need a scouting report for his jockey Fernando Hernandez Perez on the second-oldest track in the country.
“I know how it plays,” he said. “It’s a speed-biased track more than anything. I watch them run. I’m hoping that Fernando gets to ride his race. I told him to turn left, turn left, turn left.”
Pimlico Race Course