BALTIMORE – Reddam Racing LLC’s Nyquist jogged twice around the Pimlico Race Course oval Friday morning in preparation for a highly anticipated start in Saturday’s 141st Preakness Stakes (G1).
“It went really well. It was designed to be a nice easy day. He had a good gallop yesterday and jogged two miles real composed today. He looked good today,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “Everybody is smiling, happy and optimistic for tomorrow.”
The son of Uncle Mo is the 3-5 morning-line favorite in a field of 11 entered in the $1.5 million Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown on the strength of his undefeated record and his 1 ¼-length triumph under Mario Gutierrez in the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs May 7.
Nyquist will exit from the No. 3 post position, where O’Neill is hopeful that his Eclipse Award champion can break sharply from the starting gate.
“An ideal trip would be: we break great, have the lead and go really easy around there. That would be ideal,” O’Neill said. “Mario knows Nyquist so well. He has so much speed away from the gate, ideally, he gets good position wherever that is and he runs a big race.”
O’Neill said he wished the Preakness Day weather would be fair and sunny, like Friday, for the fans and the event itself but isn’t concerned about the prospect of a sloppy track.
“With a horse like Nyquist I’m not overly concerned about the weather,” O’Neill said. “As far as rain or shine, we’re not going to change anything shoeing-wise. He’s going to wear the same shoes he has on, so we’re not concerned about that other than we’d like to have a beautiful day.”
Nyquist will have a leisurely day Saturday leading up to the race.
“He’ll walk the shedrow for about 30 minutes. Then, he’ll go back in his stall. We’ll pull his feed tub eight hours before the race and his water bucket about six hours before the race,” O’Neill said. “Once we pull his feed, he knows and the game face begins. It’s really exciting to watch that unfold.”
EXAGGERATOR – Kentucky Derby runner-up Exaggerator galloped 1 3/8 miles about 6:45 a.m. Friday.
The son of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin finished second behind Nyquist in the Derby, rallying from far back under Kent Desormeaux.
“There’s plenty of speed and we’re obviously coming off the pace,” trainer Keith Desormeaux said of the late-running Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner. “We’re not going to change tactics that work. I’m going to pick him up here at the gap (after training), and I’m going to walk him to the barn, give him a bath and put him in the stall, and guess what? My job is over. It’s in Kent’s hands. He’s got to judge that pace correctly.”
While Exaggerator has won two major stakes and been second in three starts over a wet track, Desormeaux said, “I want to take my picture in the sun.”
ABIDING STAR – Stonehedge LLC’s Abiding Star went to the track at 5 a.m. Friday for a once around gallop at Pimlico, accompanied by stablemate Always Sunshine, who is entered in Saturday’s Maryland Sprint Handicap (G3).
“It went super. Both horses were out there and went dynamite this morning,” trainer Ned Allard said.
Abiding Star enters the Preakness on a five-race winning streak, all front-running victories. J.D. Acosta, who has been named to ride Abiding Star Saturday, has been aboard for four of the five victories.
“So far this horse has always made a relatively easy lead. It’s been catch me if you can, and no one’s caught him lately,” Allard said. “With that being said, tomorrow’s race has three or four horses that could do exactly the same thing. I don’t want the rider to put him on the lead and burn him up to get there. He’s just going to have to use his judgment and play it by ear.”
The prospect of a wet track doesn’t concern Allard.
“Both of the horses I’ll run tomorrow have been running well over every kind of racetracks, but their mud races were probably as good as any races they’ve had,” Allard said.
AWESOME SPEED – Colts Neck Stable’s Awesome Speed went onto the track at Pimlico for the first time Friday morning, galloping 1 ¼ miles under exercise rider Alberto Delgado. He will be ridden by Preakness newcomer Jevian Toldeo on Saturday.
“He looked good, nice and relaxed,” said Jorge Duarte, assistant to trainer Alan Goldberg. “Alberto said he seemed very comfortable and was happy with him. It [the track] will probably change tomorrow, but he’s happy in his stall and everything is good.”
Awesome Speed is projected to be one of several pace runners in the Preaknesss, and he was on the lead all the way in winning the Federico Tesio at Laurel in his last start except the final jump. He lost by a nose, but Governor Malibu was disqualified for a late bump near the wire.
“It seems like a lot of us have to be forward,” Duarte said when asked to size up the race ahead. “Everybody is going to be looking for position. We’ll just have to see how it unfolds.”
CHERRY WINE – The third-place Blue Grass Stakes (G1) finisher Cherry Wine cut quite the picture galloping about 7:30 Friday morning.
Dale Romans, trainer of the late-running Cherry Wine, offered a detailed description of how he sees the Preakness unfolding: “I see a mad dash into the first turn – we’ll be galloping. Nyquist coming out of the turn in front heading down the backside, everybody pushing him. They’ll start to fall off. I see Cherry Wine skimming the rail, picking up horses around the three-eighths pole. As Nyquist wears them all down, they start to flounder a little at the quarter pole. By the eighth pole we’re in second. Then they hit the wire together. Wait to see the photo.”
Cherry Wine, who is bred for the turf, won a maiden race in the slop by 9 1/4 lengths. Romans acknowledged that a wet track would move up the Paddy O’Prado colt but said, “Personally for Cherry Wine, I’m hoping for rain. But as a racing fan, I’d love to see a beautiful sunny day for everybody to have a good time. Either way will still be all right for me.”
COLLECTED – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert expects Collected, the colt he trains for Speedway Stable, to be part of the quartet on the front end of the field of 11 in the important early portion of the Preakness. Collected will start from Post 7.
“The break is going to be the key,” Baffert said. “Uncle Lino is speed. Nyquist is going to go. Collected, he’s got to go. Laoban, I don’t know what they’re going to do with him. They took the blinkers off, but you never know what’s going to happen there. And you’ve got Stradivari. He’s on the outside. He’s going to be up there close. He’s got to get down there because he doesn’t want to lose too much ground, but stay in the clear because his horse is lightly raced.
“I think whoever wins the break is going to have a little bit of an edge there early. My horse got away bad in the Southwest, got behind horses and didn’t respond well. It’s going to be an honest pace.”
FELLOWSHIP – Jacks or Better Farm’s Fellowship completed his on-track training for Saturday’s Preakness by galloping a mile Friday under exercise rider Brian O’Leary.
Trained by Mark Casse, Fellowship will be the most experienced starter in the Preakness with 12 career outings on his resume. Casse has been his trainer for only the most recent start, a fourth-place finish in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
Two of those starts came on off tracks – a seventh-place finish last September on a sloppy track at Gulfstream in the Florida Stallion Series Affirmed Stakes and a third-place finish in the Florida Derby (G1).
“I have two theories on mud,” Casse said. “If I have the favorite, I hate it because it changes so many variables. If I have a long shot, which we are here, I say ‘Bring it on.’ ”
Fellowship, a 30-1 proposition on the morning line, will break from Post 10 under Jose Lezcano. Lezcano has been aboard for Fellowship’s past three starts.
“I would like to see him in a spot where he is comfortable,” Casse said. “In the Pat Day Mile, we pushed him a little early because speed was holding and took a little of his crunch away. I think we could have been second (if he hadn’t been used early), but nobody was going to beat the winner (Sharp Azteca). I don’t think that will happen tomorrow.”
Fellowship is scheduled to ship back to Churchill Downs on Sunday after the Preakness.
LANI – Koji Maeda’s Lani, with regular exercise rider Eishu Maruuchi aboard, was on the Pimlico track for 35 minutes early Friday morning with an activity that included four circuits of the track and a trip to the starting gate. Later in the day, he was outfitted with four new shoes.
Lani, who arrived at Pimlico Thursday morning from Belmont Park, was on the track at 5:15. His first circuit consisted of walking and galloping with laps two and three accomplished in a gallop.
On his fourth trip, he stopped at the starting gate for a schooling session, jogged back to the finish line and then finished the lap with a combined jog and walk.
Trainer Mikio Matsunaga was happy with what he saw from the Tapit colt, who finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby.
“I was very happy with his behavior at the gate this morning,” Matsunaga said. “He did not get excited at all and he is completely different here than the day before the Derby.”
Lani has run three times on “off” tracks in Japan with a win, a second and a fifth-place finish.
“It would not be great, but everybody has to run on it,” Matsunaga said of the possibility of a sloppy track Saturday. “My hope is everybody gets around OK.”
Yutaka Take, who has ridden Lani in six of his seven starts, has the mount Saturday on the gray, who rallied from far back while racing very wide in the stretch of the Derby.
“The field here is half the size of the Derby and that is much better,” Matsunaga said. “This time we will be 11th early and not 20th. He has trained very nice since the Derby and that is a big difference.”
Where Lani will be saddled prior to the Preakness remains a question.
“Quiet is the top priority with him,” Matsunaga said. “If most of the horses saddle outside (on the turf course) we will saddle inside (the enclosed paddock). If most of them are inside, we will be outside.”
Lani is scheduled to go to the track in the morning with a combined walk/jog for one circuit or two, according to Matsunaga. After the Preakness, Lani is scheduled to return to Belmont Park on Sunday.
The Preakness Stakes will be telecast in Japan at 7:45 a.m. Sunday.
LAOBAN – Trainer Eric Guillot put maiden Laoban through a 1 ½-mile gallop the wrong way around under exercise rider Clay Courville at about 6 a.m. Friday on a fast Pimlico Race Course surface that could turn up sloppy Saturday should forecasts for rain prove correct.
“I think it’s going to depend on how the weather permits,” Guillot said when asked to assess the race. “They’re talking about all this rain. I finally had some time and looked at the PPs (past performances) last night. I’m still one of the fastest horses in the race. Just because I took the blinkers off doesn’t mean he’s going to be farther back.
“In the mud, speed’s dangerous. I don’t care if you go two furlongs or two miles, it’s always dangerous. I’m going to tell [jockey Florent Geroux] to ride him with confidence and use his best judgment; don’t get him stopped, brush your teeth before they take your picture.”
Laoban is one of four sons of Uncle Mo in the Preakness field.
STRADIVARI – Stradivari, the 14 ½-length winner of a Keeneland allowance race in his last start, galloped 1 3/8 miles at Pimlico about 6:30 a.m. Friday.
“I think there’s a fair amount of pace. It should be a big, strong, honest pace,” trainer Todd Pletcher said by phone from New York. “Some factors are yet to be determined, depending on how the weather follows through and how it affects the track. But it looks like on paper there’s plenty of pace.
“We’ll be where Johnny (Velazquez) wants to tuck in, going to the first turn. That’s one of the advantages to drawing outside, you can take a little while to see how the race is unfolding inside of you instead of having to commit one way or the other.”
Asked how the pace might impact Nyquist, Pletcher said: “He caught pretty fast fractions at Churchill. That didn’t seem to affect him much. I think the potential for a wet track and really strong pace, you could maybe argue would give Exaggerator a similar setup to what he ran at Santa Anita, when he ran arguably his best race. It looks like the major contenders handle a wet track fine.”
Keys for Stradivari: “Ideally we want to get a smooth run. He’s a lightly raced horse with less experience than a lot of the other runners, so we don’t want to get into any complicated positions,” Pletcher said. “But the main thing is to get into a nice, steady rhythm going into the first turn and allow him to get into his cruising speed, which seems to be a pretty high and comfortable cruising speed, and take it from there.”
Is he curious about how Stradivari stacks up with the unbeaten champion?
“Well, yeah. We’re interested to see. We think a lot of him. But we also know we’re coming into it at a bit of a disadvantage, considering the experience of the other horses,” Pletcher said. “He’s making his first start in a stakes; he’s giving up quite a bit of an experience edge.”
UNCLE LINO – Veteran trainer Gary Sherlock said there is no secret to what he plans to do with the Preakness runner he co-owns with Tom Mansor and Jim Glavin. Uncle Lino will leave from Post 2, just to the inside of Nyquist, in the 141st Preakness.
“I’ll be on the lead,” Sherlock said. “I don’t know if any of the outside horses will jump over and go fast enough to be second or third. I think Nyquist will be laying and tracking me, whether that’s second or somebody on the outside is there and he’s a little bit behind. Then hope we keep going.”
Sherlock said his horse’s strength and the post position dictate a pretty straightforward strategy.
“He’s that way anyway, but when you’re outside you can see what’s happening. Now we have no choice. But there is no speed inside of him, so off we go,” he said.
Sherlock said he is happy with the way things have developed as he approaches his first Triple Crown start.
“The horse is good,” he said. “That’s all you can hope for.”
Pimlico Race Course