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Pace Logic and History Favor Nyquist in 2016 Preakness

Pace Logic and History Favor Nyquist in 2016 Preakness: Pace handicappers will find an easy choice in the Preakness Stakes (GI), to be held at Pimlico Race Course on May 21. Nyquist, who won the Kentucky Derby (GI), quite simply did most of the hard running in the race and logically will handle the expectedly softer-paced Preakness whether or not a few speed horses show up.

Nyquist Preakness 2016

Reddam Racing LLC’s Nyquist returned to the track Wednesday morning for the first time since scoring an impressive triumph in last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1), acquainting himself with the Pimlico racing surface during a once-around jog in the company of a pony.
Photo: Jerry Dzierwinski

Trained by Doug O’Neill and owned by Reddam Racing, Nyquist looks set to give the team another crack at the Triple Crown. Their hopes were dashed in 2012, when I’ll Have Another suffered an injury before the Belmont Stakes (GI). Unlike I’ll Have Another, Nyquist heads into the Preakness undefeated.

At this point, the excitement seems tempered down, possibly because Nyquist does not win his races in a flashy style. The son of Uncle Mo “only” won the Kentucky Derby by a little more than a length under Mario Gutierrez.

But, look closer at the way Nyquist won.

According to TimeformUS Pace Figures, Nyquist recorded a 152 for the half mile, which the website claims is “comfortably the fastest opening ½ mile by a Derby winner since we started making figures in 2004.” Nyquist went super fast early, and kept going towards the end to win, earning a 123 TimeformUS Speed Figure.

For beginners, it might be difficult to understand why pace figures are important, or what the numbers mean. Most handicappers know speed figures. Think of the pace figure as a speed figure, but for a certain point in the race. The pace figure converts the fractional time to a number, in order to account for how fast or slow the track played.

If Nyquist ran a 152 early on, he had every right to collapse (not literally) and finish up the track because horses cannot sustain a high tempo for a long period of time. Despite concerns about his pedigree and the brutal pace, Nyquist kept going and had enough to put away Gun Runner at the top of the stretch and hold off Exaggerator.

The Preakness pace, while still capable of going at a fast rate, is not likely to surpass the Kentucky Derby in the early-pace category. Nyquist will face an easier tempo after already proving he could handle an extremely fast one.

Oh sure, other handicappers will talk of Exaggerator coming from several lengths back to close for second, but he took advantage of the quick pace and had dead aim on Nyquist in the stretch.

In pace handicapping, the horse who had the “pace-compromised” trip deserves more consideration because he overcame a situation unfavorable to his running style, and Nyquist fits the profile. He also happened to win.

Whenever a horse displays early speed in the Derby and wins, a Preakness win (usually) follows the effort.

Last year, American Pharoah pressed the pace in his victory at Churchill Downs, and then won the Preakness. In 2014, California Chrome used the same style in his successful Derby run, and he won two weeks later.

Three years ago, Orb did NOT use early speed while capturing the Derby and ran an average fourth in the Preakness.

Back in 2012, I’ll Have Another established a position not too far from the leaders (meaning he ran eighth or closer at each point) and ran down Bodemeister late, and he won at Pimlico too.

Furthermore, in case anyone is convinced Nyquist cannot lose to an old Derby opponent but possibly a fresh horse instead, history shows newcomers as a low-percentage play in the Preakness. In the last 10 years, only Rachel Alexandra and Bernardini were able to win the second leg of the Triple Crown without competing in the first one.

Upsets will happen. In this instance though, pace handicapping logic and history work so much in favor of Nyquist that it does not make sense to oppose him at the windows. Team O’Neill is in a good position for their second Preakness victory, and if Nyquist wins, the hype should ramp up going into the Belmont Stakes (GI) on June 11.

Related Links:
Looking Toward the Preakness Stakes: Cherry Wine

Nyquist trains at Pimlico on May 11, 2016: