Preakness Stakes

Preakness Stakes News & Notes: O’Neill Elects Alternate Saddling Option for Preakness

nyquist - Maryland Jockey Club
Maryland Jockey Club

BALTIMORE –Wednesday was jog day at Pimlico Race Course for Reddam Racing LLC’s Nyquist, who has been on a somewhat unusual training schedule of alternating days of jogging and galloping throughout the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner’s unblemished eight-race career.

“The morning went great. As planned, we jogged him two miles. I sound like a broken record – great energy, he looked great,” said trainer Doug O’Neill, whose stable star jogged two miles in the company of a pony. “We’re just looking for him to continue what he’s been doing since he’s been in Baltimore and just keep his appetite up and stay injury-free and stay loose. I’m very happy.”

Nyquist, who arrived at Pimlico two days after winning the May 7 Derby, is scheduled to face 10 rivals in Saturday’s 141st Preakness Stakes (G1). Keith Desormeaux-trained Exaggerator, who finished 1 ¼ lengths behind Nyquist in a second-place Derby finish under Kent Desormeaux, is slated to seek his first decision over the O’Neill trainee after falling victim to him in four meetings.

“I have great respect for both Keith and Kent Desormeaux. They’re great horsemen. Obviously, with Keith now in Southern California we’re around each other a lot. Both Desormeauxs are very competitive,” O’Neill said. “Both Nyquist and Exaggerator are top horses. We have a lot of respect for Exaggerator.”

While it’s customary for Preakness starters to be saddled on the turf course across from the grandstand, O’Neill will accept the option to saddle Nyquist in the paddock inside the grandstand building.

“We’re going to saddle inside just with the theory that we saddle the horse in the stall every day,” O’Neill said. “Sometimes saddling in the wide open, they can get looking around and not paying attention, so we’ll saddle him in the downstairs paddock area and then come out on the grass.”

Nyquist will seek to become the third West Coast-based horse in a row to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, following 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah and California Chrome, whose 2014 Triple Crown bid fizzled with a fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

“I think it probably goes in cycles. Probably the next three or four years, it’ll be East Coast horses. Yeah, it’s been a pretty good run for West Coast horses,” said O’Neill, who speculated that the consistent weather could be a contributing factor.

Nyquist is scheduled to gallop under exercise rider Jonny Garcia at 8:30 Thursday. O’Neill will address the media at 9:15 a.m.

EXAGGERATOR – Keith Desormeaux entertained the media with his homespun way on a dreary Wednesday morning, spending about five seconds perched on the interview podium before vaulting over a rail to stand on the ground with the journalists and videographers. That proved his warm-up act.

Asked the daily administrative question concerning his Kentucky Derby runner-up Exaggerator’s morning training session, Desormeaux said playfully, “He jogged two miles. You want more than that? Nothing happened. How about this? He bucked two times at the three-eighths pole and then settled in and jogged twice.

“He was feeling good. The kids were running around on the grandstand, and that usually gets him stirred up, any horse stirred up. He handled it well.”

Told that assistant trainer Julie Clark had quipped Sunday that she wished that ever-energetic Exaggerator would get a little tired just once, Desormeaux said, “It’s not a dangerous energy. Some horses, their energy can be used in dangerous ways. His is just a happy energy. He’s really not hard to handle. He’s a lot of fun to be around, to tell you the truth. Easy for me to say, though; they [his crew] spend a lot more time around him.”

Asked if he finds horses more fun to be around and have more personality when they win Grade 1 races, Desormeaux said, “I haven’t had enough Grade 1 winners to expound on that question. But I can tell you, in my experience with Exaggerator, it seems like that (based on his) reaction to the clicking of the cameras. Maybe some horses will shy from that. But it seems he enjoys it, or he takes it as a cue to pose. He starts hearing the clicking, he’ll plant his feet and put his ears up and look over the horizon. It’s a pretty cool scene. That’s about the only equine characteristic I’ve seen with the Grade 1 wins.

“That’s what makes it so great, what’s great about owning a racehorse. When they take you to that highest level, it’s not like a football player who comes from the B leagues and makes the pros and after one year he’s asking for a multi-million dollar contract. We’re in the pros with Exaggerator; he’s won at the top level, and he’s not asking for any more feed, any more money, any more attention, shinier shoes. He’s still the same Exaggerator, and we’re just trying to keep him in peak health.”

Exaggerator’s Santa Anita Derby was Desormeaux’s second in a Grade 1 race, following Texas Red’s win the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). His nine graded-stakes victories started with Ive Struck a Nerve winning the Fair Grounds’ Risen Star (G2) at 135-1 odds in 2013. The rest have come after Desormeaux started training in Southern California, a move made possible after joining forces with Matt Bryan’s Big Chief Racing, the majority owner in Exaggerator.

California-based horses have won the Kentucky Derby for three straight years, with Nyquist following Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Preakness winner California Chrome in 2014.

“It is interesting, and I noticed that years ago,” the Louisiana-born Desormeaux said in response to a question. “Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I chose to head out West when I had the opportunity. The stats are just staring you in the face: If you want to be successful in the Triple Crown, it seems like being out in California is one of the first steps to accomplish that.

“I don’t know why I’m saying so, because if people listen, there will be more competition. And it’s tough enough out there as it is. Please, everybody, stay where you are. But if I had to go further and explain it, the only thing that makes real sense to me is the fact that these horses don’t have to deal with the weather changes as much out there. That’s why there’s 40 million people in California. The weather is outstanding, and I think the horses react favorably to it. They don’t have to constantly change their metabolism to deal with the seasons.”

Exaggerator is scheduled for a walk day Thursday morning. Keith Desormeaux will be available to the media at 9 a.m.

ABIDING STAR – Stonehedge Farm LLC’s Abiding Star will be Pimlico-bound Thursday morning now that the quarantine at Parx Racing was lifted Tuesday.

The Ned Allard colt, who jogged once around the Parx track Wednesday morning after breezing an easy half-mile in 50.16 seconds Tuesday, is scheduled to ship to Pimlico early Thursday morning.

“He’ll walk and ship tomorrow. He’s just going to gallop once around on Friday, and he’s good to go,” Allard said.

Abiding Star is riding a five-race winning streak that includes a triumph in the James F. Lewis III Stakes at Laurel in March and the Parx Derby on May 7. Allard acknowledged that the son of Uncle Mo will be making a sharp leap in class for the Preakness Stakes.

“I haven’t met that kind of horse yet, but I’m at least meeting it with a horse that’s confident and lately hasn’t smelled defeat. So I’m hoping he continues on,” Allard said.

AWESOME SPEED – Colts Neck Stable’s Awesome Speed walked the shedrow at owner Richard Santulli’s private training facility in New Jersey Wednesday morning, the day after his final workout for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.

“Everything’s fine,” trainer Alan Goldberg said by phone from Colts Neck, where Awesome Speed breezed four furlongs in 47.20 seconds on Tuesday. “He’ll gallop tomorrow and then get on the van for Pimlico at around 8 or so.”

Originally sold back to co-breeder Allen Poindexter for $80,000 as a yearling, the son of Awesome Again showed up at the March 2015 Fasig-Tipton Florida Select Sale for 2-year-olds in training and Goldberg bought the colt for $335,000 for Santulli.

So far, he’s earned $223,660 back for the stable with four wins in six starts, including a victory in the Federico Tesio at Laurel April 9 via disqualification that earned an automatic berth in the Preakness starting gate.

“I just liked him,” Goldberg said of the son of the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic champion. “I liked the way he breezed and I liked the way he looked.”

Goldberg isn’t exactly sure where his colt fits in the 3-year-old picture right now, but his Tesio victory was flattered by the fact that Christophe Clement-trained Governor Malibu, who impeded Awesome Speed at Laurel, came back to run a close second in Belmont’s Peter Pan (G2) last weekend to undefeated Unified, who had previously won the Bay Shore (G3).

“That horse of Christophe’s ran a pretty good race the other day and had a pretty good final time,” Goldberg said. “He probably would have won if he didn’t get bumped.”

Still, Goldberg admits he’s a bit uncomfortable with all the front-running types signed up for the Preakness.

“He’s had some good races,” Goldberg said of his three-time stakes winner. “I just don’t really like the flow of the race looking at it. There’s going to be a lot of speed and he wants to be a forward kind of horse.”

Jevian Toledo, a 21-year-old who was Maryland’s leading rider in 2015, gets the return ride aboard Awesome Speed. He was the colt’s fifth different rider in six races when he won the Tesio.

CHERRY WINE – The third-place finisher in Keeneland’s Blue Grass (G1), Cherry Wine was to land in Baltimore around 2 p.m. ET Wednesday after the flight from Louisville, but trainer Dale Romans and partner Tammy Fox stopped by the track in the morning.

Romans’ only Triple Crown victory to date came in the 2011 Preakness with Shackleford, who held off the late-running Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom by a half-length.

“Shackleford was just fourth in the Derby and he was a special type of horse,” Romans said of his Metropolitan Mile (G1) winner. “Cherry Wine is one of those horses where he’s probably not the best horse, but he’s opportunistic. If he gets the opportunity, he’s going to capitalize on it. If Nyquist comes up a little tired where he can’t handle the two-week turnaround, we’ll be right there ready.

“Everybody knows that if everybody runs true to form, Nyquist isn’t going to get beat. But horses don’t always run true to form. We saw that last year in the middle of the summer,” added Romans, who saddled Keen Ice for an upset victory over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga last August.

“So you’ve got to just keep trying them,” Romans said. “They’re not cars. They’re animals, organic. Anything can happen. My horse loves the mud. If it comes up rainy and wet, he could run a huge race. But it’s going to take a huge effort, and it might take a little bit of Nyquist backing up, even with a huge effort, to win the race.”

Cherry Wine is owned by the partnership of breeders William Pacella, Frank Jones and Frank Shoop. The gray son of the Romans-trained Paddy O’Prado needed five starts to win a race, but then did so by 9 1/4 lengths in the slop last Nov. 28. He then won a Gulfstream Park allowance race by six lengths on Jan. 9. A scheduled appearance in the Fountain of Youth (G2) was derailed by an untimely temperature, with Cherry Wine later going in Oaklawn Park’s Rebel (G2), in which he rallied late to finish fourth. He rallied again in the Blue Grass, won by stablemate Brody’s Cause. He missed out qualifying for the Kentucky Derby field by falling just a head short of Blue Grass runner-up My Man Sam.

Asked to compare American Pharoah and Nyquist, Romans said, “The comparison would be Seattle Slew. That was the last undefeated champion 2-year-old to come in and win the Kentucky Derby. American Pharoah was a superstar, but he was beaten in his first start. And Nyquist ran faster. I’m a huge American Pharoah fan.  I think he’s a horse of a generation, but Nyquist is doing some amazing things. He has that intangible. He just wins.”

Romans expressed an opinion that Nyquist may not be under-appreciated.

“He doesn’t seem to have the same critical acclaim inside the industry that he deserves, and I don’t know what that’s about. But I think after the Derby that changed. I think going into the Derby, we could say he wasn’t getting the same respect that some of the other favorites going into it did. But coming out of it, I think people realized this is a special horse. And Doug has done a special job with him. I keep saying to everybody, to get out of your pattern that you won your first Derby with (I’ll Have Another in 2012) and to do something totally different, and bringing in a totally different horse, that took a lot of expertise and understanding of your horse. He trains him completely different, and that’s the sign of a good trainer. He knows his horse, and he knows what Nyquist needs compared with what I’ll Have Another needed.”

COLLECTED – Bob Baffert said Wednesday that the Speedway Stable colt Collected deserves a shot in the Preakness, but the Hall of Fame trainer acknowledged that Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist will be difficult to beat.

Baffert secured his sixth Preakness last year with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. A victory by Collected would put him into a tie with Robert Walden for the most victories by a trainer, but Baffert has never won the Preakness with a horse that did not compete in the Kentucky Derby. In his most recent start, Collected ran his record to 4-1-0 from six starts with a victory in the Lexington Stakes (G3) on April 16.

“It’s going to be a step up for him,” Baffert said. “He’s fast and there are a lot of fast horses in there. We never thought about the Derby with him. We thought about the Preakness, the shorter one. The owners get excited. He’s the kind of horse that brings it every time. He’s handy. He’s quick.”

That said, Baffert turned to Nyquist, who he said deserves respect for what he has accomplished – by staying unbeaten with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), the Florida Derby (G1)and the Kentucky Derby on his resume.

“He’s a really good horse,” Baffert said. “When you win eight in a row … It’s like California Chrome, where everybody was lukewarm. Then he won the Derby and it was like, ‘Oh, he is for real.’  Then he won the Preakness and it was like, ‘Oh!’

“He’s fast. He’s really fast and he stays out of trouble. He has a winning attitude. Horses like that are tough. It’s like ‘pass me to win.’ He’s tough. He’s fast. He reminds me of Smarty Jones, just really explosive.”

Smarty Jones was unbeaten in 2004 through the Derby and Preakness but was edged by Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes.

Baffert nodded in agreement when asked whether Nyquist was the standout in the field.

“I think he is better,” Baffert said. “That’s what the Classics are all about. He ran pretty fast in the Derby and kept running. It was a pretty impressive race.”

Baffert said Nyquist’s win over previously unbeaten Mohaymen in the Florida Derby made him a standout.

“When you can ship and win that’s a big thing,” Baffert said. “He really did that. He took care of business there. His comeback, the seven-eighths race (the San Vicente), he ran really fast. He’s just fast and he carries his speed. A lot of these horses are fast, but can they carry their speed?

“I probably would be surprised if he didn’t win it. He’s going to be tough to beat. The only way we can beat him is either if he does not bring his ‘A’ game or has some racing luck that hampers him. Any time you win the Derby and you come back, usually they’ll come back and it’s easy because you don’t have to do much and they’ll just fire.  Especially with a horse that has speed, you have an edge on them.”

FELLOWSHIP – Jacks or Better Farm’s Fellowship, who arrived from Churchill Downs early Tuesday morning, got acquainted with the Pimlico racing surface Wednesday morning.

“He’s settled in real nice. He seems to be really enjoying it here. Usually, when we ship in we’ll take it easy with them for the first couple days. He just went off and galloped just a mile instead of a mile and a half,” said trainer Mark Casse’s son and assistant Norm Casse.

Fellowship finished fourth in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on the Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs May 7. Like Derby winner Nyquist and runner-up Exaggerator, as well as ninth-place finisher Lani, Fellowship will run back in the Preakness with just two weeks between races.

“He seems like he has a really high energy level. He’s a horse when he gallops shows a lot of enthusiasm. He seems to be coming into this race the same way he came into the race Derby Day,” said Casse. “We’re excited to have the opportunity to be here.”

Fellowship closed late to finish third in three graded stakes at Gulfstream Park this winter – Holy Bull (G2), Fountain of Youth (G2) and the Florida Derby – and might be expected to benefit from an apparent abundance of speed horses in the Preakness field.

“We’re just going to let him settle into his stride. We don’t have a target on our back by any means. Nobody’s really paying attention to us. We find that his horse has a really good cruising speed, so I think, ideally, you just don’t mess with him – just let what happens in the race happen and let him come with his run when it’s time,” Casse said. “It’s certainly nice to know there’s going to be speed for him to run at, but we’re not going to take him back and take him out of his game because we think there’s going to be a ton of speed that’s going to collapse. We’ll just let him be who he is.”

Jose Lezcano has the return mount aboard the son of Awesome of Course.

LANI – Koji Maeda’s homebred colt Lani breezed five furlongs in 1:01.2 Wednesday at Belmont Park to complete his preparations for the 141st Preakness Stakes.

The ninth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby will ship to Baltimore early Thursday.

According to Keita Tanaka, the agent for Maeda, the timed work went according to the plan laid out by trainer Mikio Matsunaga, who returned from Japan on Tuesday. Lani walked one time around the 1 1/2-mile main track, then galloped toward the five-eighths pole, where he began his run to the wire.

“It was an ideal work,” Tanaka said. “He showed a very good turn of foot.”

Just as important, the son of Tapit followed instructions and did not act up, which he did at times at Churchill Downs prior to the Kentucky Derby.

“The horse behaved very well,” Tanaka said, “and it was exactly what the trainer wanted to see this morning.”

Tanaka has overseen Lani’s two-month international journey, which took him from Japan to Dubai, where he won the U.A.E Derby, and then on to America for the Triple Crown series. He said that the decision to go to Belmont Park two days after the Derby has paid off.

“After he left Japan, we have been to many places,” Tanaka said. “For the training aspect, Belmont has been the best location for him. Because the track is wider and there are fewer horses out there, Lani just concentrated on what he needs to do. He has been behaving as good as he does back home in Japan. He been relaxing and when he needs to run he concentrates on running.”

Tanaka said he thinks the colt is as good as he can be approaching the Preakness.

“Since he left Japan for this trip, I would say that he is in the best form right now,” Tanaka said.

Regular rider Yataka Take, the 16-time Japanese champion jockey, will be aboard in the Preakness.

LAOBAN – McCormick Racing LLC and Southern Equine Stable’s Laoban made his first visit to the Pimlico Race Course track Wednesday morning under the wide and watchful eyes of trainer Eric Guillot, jogging two miles under exercise rider Clay Courville while in the company of a pony.

Decked out in customary cargo shorts and a hoodie, Guillot said the son of Uncle Mo was settling in nicely after arriving on a flight from Louisville Tuesday afternoon. He has been training at Keeneland since finishing fourth in the Blue Grass on April 9.

“There were a lot of moving parts, a lot of things to get done, but we did it,” said Guillot, who is set to saddle his first Preakness horse.

Probable Preakness favorite Nyquist has never lost a race in eight starts; Laoban has never won a race in five starts. That doesn’t faze Guillot, who needed 10 tries before his most successful runner Moreno broke his maiden. He then went on to win multiple graded stakes and nearly $3 million in purses.

Laoban was on the also-eligible list for the Kentucky Derby, along with Preakness contender Cherry Wine, but neither colt got into the field.

“I wanted to be the next one to win the Triple Crown, because it was 37 years since the last one, but that white-haired (expletive) did it last year, so now I’m trying to win the Preakness with a maiden,” said Guillot, referring to trainer Bob Baffert, who saddled American Pharoah for a sweep of the 2015 Triple Crown.

Laoban, which means “boss” in Mandarin Chinese, came closest to the winner’s circle in a maiden race as a 2-year-old and again in the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct in March, both second-place finishes in which he had the lead in the stretch.

With all the speed signed up for the Preakness, Guillot hopes to alter that strategy with the removal of blinkers and the addition of jockey Florent Geroux.

“He’s too big of a horse to show that kind of speed early,” Guillot said. “I think he’s going to relax more.  He’s had a few works with horses in front of him. This field is loaded with speed – loaded more than Guillot’s plate at a Chinese buffet.”

Guillot said he’s more than mildly impressed with Derby winner Nyquist.

“Nyquist looks great,” he said.  “I think Nyquist looked better today than he did previous to the Derby when I saw him. That’s not good for me.”

STRADIVARI – Ten years ago, an unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner came into the Preakness Stakes, but the winner of the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown was a horse making only his fourth career start. The Derby winner was Barbaro, who, in one of racing’s saddest chapters, sustained what ultimately proved fatal injuries not long after leaving the starting gate. The Preakness winner was something of a footnote at the time, but became the 3-year-old champion: Bernardini, who went on to win Saratoga’s Travers and Belmont’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) before finishing second behind Horse of the Year Invasor in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Stradivari brings form into Saturday’s Preakness that is reminiscent of Bernardini’s at the same stage. Both colts were fourth while sprinting in their racing debuts, though Stradivari’s came in November and Bernardini never ran until January. Both then impressively won a maiden race at Gulfstream Park, Bernardini by 7 3/4 lengths and Stradivari by 11 1/4. While Bernardini in his third start captured Aqueduct’s Withers Mile (G3) by 3 3/4 lengths, one could argue that an entry-level allowance race at Keeneland, which Stradivari took by 14 1/2 lengths, included comparable company.

“I hope you can draw the same comparisons following the race,” said trainer Todd Pletcher.

So breathtaking was Stradivari at Keeneland that if the Medaglia d’Oro colt goes on to be a classic winner, the question might become: How the heck did he lose his first race? Especially considering that since 2010, Pletcher’s horses debuting as 2-year-olds have gone 159 for 567 – good for a 28-percent win clip, according to Brisnet.

“Uh, the trainer didn’t have him ready to run first time out,” Pletcher said recently from New York. “It’s like I kidded with some of my clients, I think we’ve done so well with our first-time starters over the years that we’ve spoiled everyone thinking they just have to win first time out.

“At the time we were getting him ready, I felt like he was ready to run. I wasn’t a thousand percent sure he was what I would describe as super-tight ready to go. But the way the condition book fell, I didn’t want to run him six furlongs first time out. The seven-furlong race came up. I had Rally Cry for the next six-furlong race. I didn’t want to run Stradivari six and I didn’t want to run the two together and I didn’t want to wait three more weeks to run. So I decided to go ahead and run, and he came up a little bit short.

“At the eighth-pole he flattened out a little bit and got a little bit tired. We sent him to Florida after that race and a few more works moved him forward. Plus we got to stretch him out around two turns, which is what he really wants to do.”

Stradivari is owned by breeder John Gunther, who sold part-interest in the colt after his maiden victory to the Coolmore associates Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs. John Magnier, the wife of the head of the Coolmore stallion conglomerate.

Stradivari galloped 1 3/8 miles Wednesday morning over Belmont’s training track. He is to arrive at Pimlico around 9 a.m. Thursday, Pletcher said.

UNCLE LINO – Trainer and co-owner Gary Sherlock is confident that Uncle Lino is ready for the challenge of facing unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and the other nine horses entered in the 141st Preakness.

“I don’t know if I’m going to get it done, but I’m going to come in and give it a good shot,” Sherlock said. “The horse is doing good. He’s moving forward.”

Uncle Lino, who Sherlock owns with Tom Mansor and Jim Glavin, finished third  to Exaggerator in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and won the California Chrome, an ungraded stake at Los Alamitos in April. Those performances encouraged him to try the Preakness and he said every horse in the field has got to improve to have a chance to beat Nyquist.

“Exaggerator has beat me twice, but I’ve had some excuses,” Sherlock said. “I think my horse is better now than when I ran with him. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t run first, second or third. If nothing happens to Nyquist, he’ll probably win.”

Uncle Lino, named for Mansor’s favorite uncle, shipped from California to Baltimore on Tuesday and did not go to the track on Wednesday. Sherlock, 70, is a veteran horseman who has had success with Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds in California. Uncle Lino will be his first starter in one of America’s classic races. As he stood outside the Preakness Stakes Barn Wednesday morning, he said he was looking forward to the experience.

“It’s fun. It’s good,” he said. “It’s the Preakness, so it’s not just another horse race. I’ve been doing this for 50 years, so I don’t get that excited. Want to see me excited? Let me win.”

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