Sadly for those looking for another equine superstar, Nyquist lost his cloak of invincibility on the sloppy wastes of Pimlico on Saturday night. However, before we delve more deeply into the race, let’s have a brief look at the other graded stakes races on the undercard.
Salutos Amigos was the 5/4 favorite for the Maryland Sprint but, as we predicted, he is not nearly as effective away from his beloved Aqueduct and this again proved to be the case. He was never travelling in the race and came under a ride some way from home and plodded on to finish fifth.
In contrast, our suggestion, Always Sunshine, travelled well throughout under a confident ride and, when asked to take control in the straight, did so willingly to win by 2 ½ lengths. Always Sunshine has now won four out of his last five starts and looks to have the potential to go on to better things.
In the Gallorette Handicap Mizz money ran out a very game winner. Stalking the pace set by Josdesanimaux on a good turf track, she was checked slightly when making her move into the straight. She was soon straightened up to go clear and though the pack closed in the dying strides, she held off the threats of Vielsam and Heath by a head and a nose respectively.
This was the sixth win in 19 starts for Mizz Money, who is bred, owned and trained by Bernie Flint.
At the overnight stage of the Longines Dixie Stakes, there were 13 declared runners. However, as predicted, the rain softened ground severely affected the final turnout, which was reduced to just 8 by the off.
The one horse in the race, who was certain to handle the soft at this grade of racing was Takeover Target and he duly obliged at odds of 7/2. He raced off the pace (and well off the rail) in last for much of the race leaving Grand Arch and Za Approval to do the donkey work. He was bumped coming into the straight and was taken out wide into the home straight to finish fast and late to get up by a neck.
Grand Arch ran a fine race in third. He was up with pace if not leading throughout and only gave way in the last sixteenth. You would not bet against him turning the tables with the winner on a firm track.
So finally we come to race 13, the Preakness, second leg of the Triple Crown. Not surprisingly, Nyquist was all the rage to maintain his unbeaten status and was sent off the 7/10 favorite. Double digit odds were available on all the remaining runners apart from Exaggerator (2.6/1) and Stradivari (8/1).
We had highlighted in our preview that there would probably be plenty of hot early pace in the race and that seemed to have been in the mind of jockey, Mario Gutierrez, who was presumably riding to instructions. As a result Nyquist was gunned from the start and he and Uncle Lino went for it from the start at a suicidal pace on the sloppy track. The first quarter was taken in 22.4 seconds and the half mile in 46.5 as the two horses went for it.
This pace had to take its toll and Exaggerator, who was ridden closer to the pace in a ground saving trip, moved up stylishly to take the lead entering the straight. To Nyquist’s credit he battled hard for a while but had nothing left by the end and was passed for second in the dying strides by the fast finishing Cherry Wine.
Exaggerator was a worthy and ultimately decisive winner based on the way the race was run but there’s the rub. The ride given to Nyquist, particularly on a sloppy track, was bordering on the suicidal. The winner and Nyquist are exceptionally good horses but, at the end of the race, are we any the wiser as to who is the best over the mile and a quarter trip? Let’s hope we get the chance to see them fight for bragging rights plenty of times over this and forthcoming seasons.
Assuming Exaggerator gives off the right signals after Saturday’s exertions, he will head for leg three of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes over the stamina-sapping mile and a half trip. He looks to have the necessary scope and stamina to take the race and, if he does, he will be the first horse since Afleet Alex to win the Preakness and Belmont after tasting defeat in the Kentucky Derby.