Nyquist takes on ten in Preakness

Fresh off a convincing win in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, #3 NYQUIST (3-5, morning-line favorite) looks to keep his undefeated record intact in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse this Saturday. The Grade I $1.5 million event is listed as Race 13, and the estimated post time is 6:45 p.m. EST.

The second jewel of the Triple Crown attracted a field of 11, so NYQUIST won’t offer much value at less than even money. However, his accomplishments are hard to ignore. NYQUIST has compiled eight straight wins to begin his career, five of which were Grade I stakes. Still, NYQUIST is not a cinch to take a Triple Crown threat to Belmont Park in three weeks.

NYQUIST likes to race towards the front, but so does half the field entered against him. From the rail out, #2 UNCLE LINO, #8 LAOBAN, and #9 ABIDING SPEED will all be gunning for the lead, with #4 AWESOME SPEED, #7 COLLECTED and #11 STRADIVARI likely not too far behind. With a post inside of the majority of these horses, Mario Gutierrez’ hands will likely be forced early aboard NYQUIST, which could make him vulnerable to the late closers.

Additionally, there is a distinct possibility of significant rainfall in the Baltimore area for Saturday, which could turn the racing surface into a bowl of mud. NYQUIST has never raced in the mud but did win the Florida Derby over a “good” surface two starts ago.

Based on these circumstances, NYQUIST’s biggest threat in the Preakness is #5 EXAGGERATOR (3-1). The knocks are there against the second choice in the wagering; he’s lost four straight times to NYQUIST, including in the Kentucky Derby by over two lengths, and he’ll have a 1/16th of a mile less to work with compared to the Kentucky Derby. But EXAGGERATOR’s best career efforts have come over muddy goings (the Delta Jackpot and Santa Anita Derby) and he’s bound to get a fast pace to work with on Saturday. Kent Desormeaux, who calls the shots on EXAGGERATOR once more, has two career Preakness victories to his credit (Real Quiet in 1998 and Big Brown in 2008).

#11 STRADIVARI (8-1) is a new addition to the Triple Crown trail, running for Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez. He has yet to even run in a stakes race but he’s won his last two races by a combined 25 lengths, and earned a strong speed figure in his first outing of 2016. The post will be tough to negotiate but he should be able to last the distance and handle the muddy going based on pedigree (by Medaglia d’Oro).

#2 UNCLE LINO (20-1) is the final horse in the field that intrigues me. He comes in off a record-setting victory at Los Alamitos in the California Chrome Stakes, and put forth respectable efforts in the Robert B. Lewis, San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby while falling just short of a Kentucky Derby bid. The racing surface should pose no problem for him; the question is whether or not he’ll be able to handle the rigorous 1 and 3/16th mile distance while likely facing pressure the entire way. I think he’ll fall short of a winning effort but he’s worth including in the exotics.

The play: $10 exacta 3/5, $5 exacta 5/3, $3 exacta 3/2,11, $2 exacta 5/2,11 ($25)

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