Baltimore — Undefeated Kentucky Derby champion Nyquist will start from the No. 3 post in Saturday’s Preakness as he aims to become the second Triple Crown winner in two years.
Nyquist, made the 3-5 favorite in the morning line, has answered every question asked of him in his career, with eight wins in eight starts. And trainer Doug O’Neill sounded none too worried about Wednesday’s draw.
“Having the gate speed that Nyquist has, and just the continuity of (jockey) Mario (Gutierrez) and Nyquist, is so huge,” said O’Neill, a Dearborn native. “There are certain posts you don’t really want, but no matter where he gets, as long as he leaves there running, Mario’s got enough speed underneath him to put himself in a good position.
“The 3 is exactly what I wanted,” O’Neill said. “… We’re very optimistic that we’re going to break good and get into position.”
His selection as the best horse in the 11-horse field was justified, according to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who will saddle new shooter Collected.
“I’d probably be surprised if he didn’t win,” Baffert said about Nyquist. “He’s going to be tough to beat.”
Starting from the 13th post position in the Derby, Nyquist won the 20-horse race by 1 1/4 lengths over Exaggerator. Nyquist can expect far less traffic against a smaller field at the Preakness, which covers 1 3/16 miles at Pimlico Race Course.
“He’s a very mature horse that has speed away from the gate,” O’Neill said. “And he doesn’t like to lose.”
A year ago, American Pharoah became the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
Exaggerator has the best odds behind Nyquist at 3-1. The horse, trained by Keith Desormeaux, drew the fifth post position.
“Being that Nyquist is speed oriented, he’ll probably get pressed from the outside,” Desormeaux said. “It may make him go a little faster. That could be tactically advantageous for us.”
Exaggerator has finished behind Nyquist on four different occasions, but Desormeaux hopes things will be different on Saturday.
“(Nyquist is) just a phenomenal horse and he’s tough to beat, but it’s fun trying,” Desormeaux said. “I have a horse that one of his greatest attributes is his ability to recover. ... His demeanor and body looked the same 24 hours after the Kentucky Derby. That’s a great ability to recover. Maybe Nyquist doesn’t recover that well. It’s not normal for a horse to recover that quickly.”
Desormeaux said he doesn’t want his brother, jockey Kent Desormeaux, to change tactics from the Derby. He simply wants Exaggerator to find a comfortable groove and run as close to the lead as his Hall of Fame jockey sees fit.
“The smaller field, it’s got to help,” Desormeaux said. “It’s common sense.”
Japanese import Lani is the only other holdover from the May 7 Derby, where he finished ninth after struggling to compose himself in the paddock before the race. He’ll start from the sixth post as a 30-1 choice in the morning line.
From there, the field of 11 consists of fresh competitors looking to pull a startling upset.
Baffert is looking for his seventh Preakness victory after last year’s Triple Crown run with American Pharoah. Collected will start from the No. 7 post as a 10-1 choice in the morning line.
“This is like, take a shot here,” Baffert said Wednesday morning. “We won’t see any Belmont, nothing like that. It’s a one-shot deal, so let’s see what he does.”
He has never won the Preakness with a horse who did not run in the Derby, and he came away from Churchill Downs impressed with Nyquist’s ability to break cleanly and avoid trouble.
Todd Pletcher, is making his first Preakness appearance since 2011 with Stradivari, a lightly raced horse who might be peaking after an impressive win in his last start at Keeneland.
Stradivari drew the No. 11 post and is an 8-1 choice in the morning line, third-shortest odds.
“We think he’s a very good horse,” Pletcher said Tuesday. “It’s ambitious, but we think he deserves a chance. It might be that with only three lifetime starts, he’s not quite ready for this big a jump, but we think it’s worth a try, as long as he shows up and runs well, comes out of it well and continues to move forward.”
O’Neill said Stradivari is the fresh horse that scares him, both because of the win at Keeneland in April and because Pletcher is always a formidable competitor.
Post time: 6:18 p.m. (approx.) Saturday
Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore
TV: NBCSN — Friday, 3-5 p.m. (Black-Eyed Susan Stakes), Saturday, 2:30-5 p.m. (Preakness undercard); NBC — Saturday, 5-7:15 p.m. (race)
Purse: $1.5 million
Distance: 1 3/16 miles
2015 winner: American Pharoah