Preakness Stakes 2016: Can Anyone Take Down the Champ?
Preakness Stakes 2016: Can Anyone Take Down the Champ? by Jordan Sigmon– Fifty-eight separate rivals faced, fifty-eight rivals dispatched with devastating ease. Nyquist has yet to be beaten and is stirring up talk of another Triple Crown winner, but he has to win the Preakness first. Each of his eight victories has left us wondering if there is anyone out there that can beat him. A speed-laden and likely full field await him at Pimlico in two weeks.
As of May 11, the Maryland Jockey Club has eleven horses listed as probable for the Preakness: Exaggerator, Nyquist, Awesome Speed, Cherry Wine, Collected, Fellowship, Lani, Laoban, Stradivari, Dazzling Gem, and Uncle Lino. Steve Asmussen has yet to make a decision on whether or not he will run Gun Runner and Creator in the race. From the Kentucky Derby, only two are willing to take another shot at the champ, Exaggerator (2nd) and Lani (9th).
With the majority of these horses already having been beaten by Nyquist at least once before, what’s to think things will change this time around? At first glance, the task looks impossible, but no horse is perfect. Even the great Man o’War lost a race once. The key to beating Nyquist is to find his vulnerabilities and use them to your advantage. So, what are his weaknesses? Well, for one thing, in every race except for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which was his narrowest margin of victory, he’s had nearly perfect trips. Also, though he has proven that he can rate, he seems at his best when near or on the lead. If the Preakness turns up with as much speed as it looks to have right now, that could be a massive disadvantage. And, the question of how he will handle just two weeks rest is always floating around.
Should there be a big pace meltdown in the Preakness, one of the biggest beneficiaries would be Derby runner-up Exaggerator. His 0-4 record against Nyquist is rather deceiving. The first time they faced each other was in both of their debuts. Exaggerator finished fifth; he found a lot of trouble and probably needed the race. They wouldn’t meet again until the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in which Exaggerator was rank throughout and only got running room in the very late stages of the race. Both colts made their 2016 debuts sprinting in the Grade II San Vicente. With how much raw speed he has, it was just too tall of a task to beat Nyquist at that distance. After that, they each went their separate ways to prepare for the Derby. Nyquist had just one more start, a win in the Florida Derby, and Exaggerator had a third in the San Felipe and a win in the Santa Anita Derby. So, Derby day was upon us, and according to the betting, it was clear that these were the two best colts in the race. Nyquist sat with an easy trip just where he liked it while chasing decent fractions, whereas Exaggerator hung back, at one point nearly 17 lengths off the leaders. At the top of the stretch, Nyquist was already even with the leader, and Exaggerator was making his way through the pack. Exaggerator, however, had to alter course dramatically, a move which may have cost him the victory. If you’re a big numbers person, you’d be interested to know that Exaggerator ran faster than Nyquist in the second, third, and final quarters of the race by a combined 2.77 seconds. Using the standard measurement of ⅖ of a second per length, that would amount to a combined 6.925 length difference during those three quarters. So, yes, Nyquist has beaten Exaggerator on four occasions, but when you lay out all the facts, there isn’t as much separating them as it seems to the naked eye.
Stradivari is going to be a bit of an X-factor in this race. Thus far, he has been very impressive, but the level of competition he has been facing does raise some questions. One of the biggest positives with this colt is his times. All three of his races have been run in good times with his most recent start being just ⅗ of a second off the track record. What sticks out in both of his wins is the fact that even though he’s geared down, he’s not slowing down. Talent certainly runs in the family with this colt. His dam Bending Strings was a four-time graded stakes winner, and his sire Medaglia D’Oro was a brilliant three-year-old and a top older horse. This brings up another point. Breeding-wise, distance looks like it should be no problem for this colt. He will need to learn to relax more with how much speed there is, but he has plenty of potential. Though he may not be quite ready to defeat Nyquist yet, he’s one that should be picking up some of the pieces at the finish.
Though he did not make it into the starting gate, Dazzling Gem was easily one of the best-looking horses during morning training hours going into the Derby. The speedy son of Misremembered ran third in the Louisiana Derby and fourth in the Arkansas Derby. Though his best races have been close to the pace, he did show some ability to sit back off the pace in the Arkansas Derby. Looking at his pedigree, it is very speed-oriented with both his sire’s and his damsire’s AWD’s falling between six and seven furlongs. He certainly has loads of talent from what he’s done so far, but 9-1/2 furlongs is going to be pushing his limits.
Awesome Speed is yet another horse in this field that possesses plenty of speed. Undefeated until a troubled fourth behind Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth, he returned to Laurel last out to take the Federico Tesio Stakes, known as the local prep for the Preakness, via disqualification of Governor Malibu for interference in the stretch. Even with that race at 1⅛ miles, the way he finished up in the stretch does raise some questions about his stamina. He’s certainly bred to handle a route of ground, being by Awesome Again out of an Aptitude mare, but that doesn’t definitively mean he’ll handle the distance.
Uncle Lino is one of three possible Californian invaders for the Preakness and another horse that is likely to bring speed to the race. The son of Uncle Mo was on the Derby trail, running two thirds and a fourth in his three prep races, but those results were not enough to get him into the Derby. A decision to stay home proved rewarding when the colt fought hard to win the inaugural running of the California Chrome Stakes at Los Alamitos. As persistent as they come and able to handle everything that’s been thrown at him so far, Uncle Lino is one that could pick up a top-three placing if he can relax off the pace more than he has in the past.
Another Californian new-shooter in the race is Collected. The Bob Baffert-trained son of City Zip has won on both dirt and turf, with his most recent victory coming in the 8-1/2-furlong Grade III Lexington Stakes over Keeneland’s main track. All four of his wins have come from running no more than two lengths off the pace, meaning we find ourselves with yet another front-runner. However, if there’s anyone who can teach a fast horse to rate, it’s Bob Baffert. The quality of horses he’s been defeating on the dirt, however, leaves much to be desired. In fact, the best horse he’s probably faced has been Swipe, the sixth-place finisher in the Lexington. Swipe, who was a four-time runner-up to Nyquist last year, exited the race with an entrapped epiglottis and had correctional surgery soon thereafter. With his connections, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him run well, but on paper, the class just isn’t there when it comes to his dirt races.
The final Californian and speed horse on the list is Laoban. The behemoth son of Uncle Mo was entered as the first also-eligible for the Derby but did not draw in. Though still a maiden, he has run very well in three different stakes on three different tracks. In fact, out of five career starts, Laoban has never run at the same track twice. This comes as an advantage because he has experience shipping, and from the way he’s been running, it looks like he “takes his track with him” when he travels. Possibly his most impressive performance, visually speaking, was the Gotham where he just got caught late by Shagaf. On paper, however, the race is far less impressive as it was run in a very slow time on a track that was acting as a conveyor belt for front runners that day. Trainer Eric Guillot has surprised us with big wins before. However, in this case, it doesn’t look like this is the horse to do it, especially against this level of competition.
Now, we finally find ourselves back to some closers, the first of those being the Dale Romans-trained Cherry Wine. The gray son of Paddy O’Prado just missed getting into the Derby starting gate by a nose when caught late for second by My Man Sam in the Bluegrass. Originally thought to be a turf horse, Cherry Wine took five starts to break his maiden, although once he put it all together, a devastating late kick was unveiled. Traffic problems likely cost him a better finish in is two stakes tries and, in turn, a spot in the Derby starting gate. He’s one that should appreciate the extra 1/16 he’ll get in the Preakness, and with a clean trip, look for him to be charging late.
Fellowship is another unfortunate victim of the Derby points system, excluded from the field due to a lack of sufficient points. Instead, his connections opted to run him in the Grade III Pat Day Mile, a race that was likely much too short for him. A heavy speed-favoring track led to a fourth-place finish in that race, though he did display a very impressive turn of foot. He’s one of those hard-knockers that always seems to be right there at the finish, but he may not be quite good enough to pick up a major placing in this spot.
Lani was a puzzling horse going into the Derby, and even after the Derby, it’s still not quite clear what one should do with him. He didn’t get the best of trips in the Derby, though he did outrun the expectations of many. Last year, we had Mubtaahij come from overseas to finish eighth in the Derby and fourth in the Belmont. In that case, there was obvious improvement between his first and second starts in America, which is something that could very well happen with Lani this year. Now, how much he may improve remains unknown, but to take home a top three placing for Japan, he’d need to take a monumental step forwards.
So, what does this all amount to? As I see it, there’s only one horse in the field on paper that has a clear chance to beat Nyquist – Exaggerator. But, if a horse like Stradivari, Awesome Speed, or Collected were to take a huge step forward, they could also pose a threat. Also, with so many speed horses in the field, you have a legitimate possibility of there being a dramatic pace meltdown. Should Nyquist get himself caught up in this fast pace, it could burn him out far too early and leave it for the closers to pick up the pieces. It comes down to the fact that this is in all likelihood going to turn out to be a jockey’s race. Mario Gutierrez will have some important decisions to make regarding how close he wants to put his undefeated colt to a likely hot pace.
Pace Logic and History Favor Nyquist in 2016 Preakness