Nyquist wins the 2016 Preakness Stakes in route to becoming the next Triple Crown Champion!
That was the lofty expectation coming into the weekend’s 141st Preakness Stakes. Undefeated in all of his eight starts, the striking three year old colt, sired by leading freshman Uncle Mo, Nyquist, seemingly made easy work of every challenger. Five different courses, six different distances, five furlongs in a blazing 56.2 seconds in his debut, the 1 1/4 over Churchill’s Kentucky Derby; East Coast, West Coast; fast track, wet track, nothing seemed to faze him.
American Pharoah and Nyquist comparisons, with previous consecutive Triple Crown winners of the past, was the talk of the day; most notably the 1978 historical series with Affirmed and Alydar that followed Seattle Slew’s 1977 undefeated sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Heavy talk considering the many other great horses who failed to add their names to the hallowed halls of the Triple Crown legacy.
Similar to Affirmed and Alydar, a rivalry had developed over the span of Nyquist’s eight undefeated performances. From the June 05, 2015 initial start of his eight race winning streak, Nyquist’s skills would be tested by the tenacious Curlin colt, Exaggerator. Like Nyquist, Exaggerator had also competed over five different courses and at distances from five furlongs to a mile and a quarter. Four of them against Nyquist, and all four ending in defeat. The last two meetings were the February 15, 2016, 7 furlong San Vicente and the May 07, 2016 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby; Both times second and both times Nyquist had an answer for the late closing Exaggerator.
Following the 2016 Kentucky Derby, trainer Doug F. O’Neill shipped Nyquist two days later to give him a chance to get acclimated to the narrow straightaways and arguably tighter turns of Pimlico racecourse. J. Keith Desormeaux, the hard boot, old school trainer of Exaggerator opted to keep his colt in Kentucky and let him recover a bit before making the trip east to Maryland, the place where his training career began as an apprentice of Charles Hadry, alongside his younger Hall of Fame brother, Exaggerator’s jockey, J Kent Desormeaux.
Heavy, consistent rain was the flavor of the day in the weather forecast as Preakness day approached. The test of champions was close at hand and a muddy track would level the playing field. Nyquist had never performed over a muddy, rain drenched course and Exaggerator decimated of field of seven in the Santa Anita Derby over a muddy track in monsoon like rain.
Nyquist remained the heavy 3-5 favorite as they approached the gate. As expected, Nyquist broke smartly and moved straight to the front joined by Uncle Lino to his inside and Awesome Speed to his outside. Jockey Kent Desormeaux quickly placed Exaggerator down to the rail for a ground saving trip some 13 lengths back as they stormed through the stretch for the first pass by the fans. With speed to his outside and the inside post position # 3, jockey Mario Gutierrez pushed Nyquist through a blazing first quarter in 22.38 seconds as they made the first turn. As they moved to the backside, Desormeaux and Exaggerator tactically moved up the rail inside of horses to within just two lengths off of Nyquest and Uncle Lino as they continued the battle on the lead.
As they made their way for home, before a record crowd of 135,256 screaming fans, Kent Desormeaux and Exaggerator charged to the outside and swept past Nyquest and back to the rail as they extended the lead. Nyquest moved outside for another challenge only to falter late and be nosed out for second by the late closing, Dale Romans trained Cherry Wine.
Exaggerator completed the 1 3/16 miles in 1:58.31 to earn his fifth victory in 11 starts and the $900,000 winner’s share of the $1.5 million purse.
As winning trainer Keith Desormeaux made his way onto the track, following his upset victory with Exaggerator over the undefeated Nyquist, he responded to NBC’s question of his thoughts on the performance, “I’m just glad I get to walk across this track and take a picture on that side. When you get to take your picture taken on the turf course, you know you’ve done well.”
“It’s kind of like the Santa Anita Derby, to know that you have the race won pretty much at the eighth pole, you’ve got to enjoy it.”
“I hope it’s not only because of the muddy track. The horse has been training phenomenally. I think there was a conscious decision on the training approach between the Derby and here. My philosophy was to take it as easy as possible because you’re not going to gain any fitness in those two weeks. I did what I could to get him happy and fresh and strong and I’ve always said he’s always had a great ability to recover and he showed it today. The Belmont is three weeks from today, so I’ll be there with bells on.”
Winning Jockey Kent Desormeaux (Exaggerator): (NBC Telecast) “I can’t even fathom. It’s going to take a while. I’m in shock right now. I think that Nyquist had company all the way around the course. They stayed really wide. For the [trouble] I’ve had in his previous starts, I had a dream trip today. I was on the fence and they all stayed wide. These turns, you want to paint the fence. We did, they didn’t and, not for nothing, but knowledge is power.”
Dale Romans (Cherry Wine, 2nd): I’m proud of my horse, proud of the jockey. Exaggerator looked great all week and Keith did a good job with him. It’s a special thing, two brothers in a classic like this. It was like the O’Briens (father-son) winning the Breeders’ Cup. That’s the special thing about the sport, it proves it’s a family affair. (Romans said Cherry Wine will go to the Belmont Stakes along with Brody’s Cause)
The way the race set up and the track being muddy and we were in the one hole. He knew what I was talking about, he’s a big Calvin Borel (rider of 50-1 Derby winner Mine That Bird in 2009) fan. I told him to ‘give him the Mine That Bird trip, sit way back, past the mile make sure you catch the last one.’ That’s the only part of the instructions he didn’t listen to.
(On longtime owners Frank Jones and William Pacella) “One of the greatest things that has happened in my career was when the horse was coming back, and I was congratulating them and they told me how proud they were of me and the horse. That was a special moment in my career.”
Doug O’Neill (Nyquist, 3rd): (Did slop affect your horse?) “I don’t know. Hats off to Exaggerator and Team Desormeaux. What a great run. I didn’t think we could get beat, to be honest with you. Nyquist is such an amazing horse and he still ran a great race. We’ll kind of figure this all out, watch some replays. I didn’t get a chance to talk with Mario (Gutierrez). Nyquist still ran a huge race.”
(On Belmont) “We’ll huddle up with Paul and Zillah Reddam and the whole crew and see how he comes out of it. It looked like he came back and got unsaddled in good shape. Maybe we’ll try again.”
“It’s a bummer, of course. Our horse, God, he’s such an amazing horse. I can’t wait to see him in a little bit, give him a big kiss and a pat on the head because he’s still a winner in our book. They’re not machines. Being 8-for-8, we kept thinking that this horse is never going to lose, but they all lose any one time or another. We’ll be OK.”
“They went pretty good early on. I just really wanted to see a good, clean trip and trouble free. I think Mario did a wonderful job with that. He didn’t bring it today and more than anything Exaggerator just ran a monstrous race. Hats off to them.”
“When he swung out, I thought he might come back, Exaggerator had that momentum and Nyquist had done so much early in the race and just couldn’t keep pace. He still gutted it out and almost held on for second. I’m very proud of him.”
(On weather) “It’s Mother Nature. What are you going to do? Pimlico did a great job of it with it raining all day long.”
“I thought we were good all the way around. I didn’t have the greatest angle but there was some point there where it just seemed like they were going to get into a head to head battle and all of a sudden I could see Mario going around him. Oh my God, I didn’t know Exaggerator was that far ahead of him. I’m just so proud of him and I still feel like a winner.”
“We just wanted a clean trip. We thought we had the best horse and wanted to ride him like the best horse and not try to get too cute and get perfect positioning. Him going fast early was really my idea, thinking ‘he’s the best horse, take it to them.’
If we’re going to get beat, let’s get beat being aggressive and not trying to get cute and get in trouble.”
Exaggerator’s upset victory capped a record-breaking day at Pimlico, where a record crowd of 135,256 attended the 14-race program. The previous record was set in 2015, when 131,680 watched American Pharoah win the Preakness on his way to a Triple Crown sweep. Saturday’s handle of $94,127,434 eclipsed the 2005 handle record of $91,028,704.
WRITTEN REPORT AND ALL PHOTOS BY: Rick Buckley