They look alike, run alike and, most of all, win alike.
Could Nyquist be another American Pharoah?
After a 37-year Triple Crown drought, horse racing fans are giddy over the possibility of back-to-back sweeps. That’s the buzz as Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist prepares for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in the fabled series.
“Can he (win the Triple Crown)? He has a better chance than anyone else this year!” said Daily Racing Form columnist Jay Privman, part of NBC’s Triple Crown team of experts. “Is he as good? Too soon to say.”
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Undefeated through eight races, Nyquist already has scared off most of his Kentucky competition. Only two other Derby starters – runner-up Exaggerator and Japanese long shot Lani, who finished ninth – are back for the Preakness. Instead, eight fresh faces will fill out Saturday’s 11-horse field.
Connections for the newcomers hope to break through in the Preakness, but they’re realistic.
“The best horse wins, it’s as simple as that, and Nyquist is just the best horse,” said California-based trainer Gary Sherlock, who will send Uncle Lino in the Preakness. “How can you knock him? There might be a Triple Crown champion back-to-back. If he wins the Preakness, he’ll win the Triple Crown.”
American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert, who has won the Preakness six times, will try his luck against Nyquist with Lexington Stakes winner Collected.
“I would be surprised if (Nyquist) didn’t win,” Baffert told bloodhorse.com. “He has a winning attitude. (The Derby) was an impressive race. The only way we can beat him is for him not to bring his A-game or he has poor racing luck.”
Rain is forecast for Baltimore, with as much as an inch expected at Pimlico Race Course before Preakness post time. That could help Exaggerator, who won the Santa Anita Derby on a sloppy track.
In the Derby, Exaggerator rallied from 15th in a 20-horse field to finish second, just 1 1/4 lengths behind Nyquist.
Exaggerator trainer Keith Desormeaux doesn’t underestimate Nyquist’s ability.
“Nyquist should have been 2-5 (not 2-1) in the Kentucky Derby, in my book,” he told reporters this week. “I think one reason he wasn’t given credit is because people want to find excuses to build their own confidence even though the facts are staring them in the face.”
“I think Nyquist is a very special horse,” said trainer John Shirreffs, who won the 2005 Derby with 50-1 long shot Giacomo. “I don’t want to jinx the horse, but he reminds me of Seattle Slew.”
Both Nyquist and 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew were voted the nation’s top juvenile at age 2. Both were unbeaten before and after the Kentucky Derby. Like Seattle Slew, Nyquist has an abundance of natural speed and the ability to run away from competition. Nyquist looks like Seattle Slew, too.
Seattle Slew’s success followed 1973 champion Secretariat, who ended a 25-year Triple Crown drought. In 1978, Affirmed followed Seattle Slew for the only back-to-back Triple Crown champions.
Including Sir Barton in 1919, only a dozen thoroughbreds have claimed racing’s most coveted prize. Historically, Triple Crowns tend to come in bunches if not consecutive crops.
Three horses completed the sweep during the 1930s: Gallant Fox (1930); his son, Omaha (1935); and War Admiral (1937). The 1940s saw another run of Triple Crown champions: Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946) and Citation (1948).
So far, Nyquist appears ready to continue his winning ways, said trainer Doug O’Neill, who seeks his second Preakness victory (I’ll Have Another, 2012).
“Nyquist is just so unique, and he just gives off a vibe like no other, and then he follows up that confident vibe with just amazing performances,” O’Neill said. “He’s the best horse I’ve ever been blessed to be around.”
141st Preakness Stakes
Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore
When: Post time, 3:45 p.m. Saturday
TV: 2 p.m., Channel 3
Cal Expo: Watch and wager on the Preakness live. Doors will open at 7 a.m.