The hype of the undefeated Kentucky Derby Champion Nyquist reached a fever pitch just a couple days before the Preakness Stakes.
On my Facebook Page, Dead Heat Debates, some even tried to say that Nyquist was better than American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner. Unfortunately for them, Nyquist made them look mighty foolish.
Personally, I believed that, with all of the speed in this year’s edition of the Preakness, jockey Mario Gutierrez would take Nyquist off the pace. Rating Nyquist would avoid a speed duel, and allow the son of Uncle Mo to relax and avoid any early pressure, much like he did in the Kentucky Derby.
That did not happen.
When the gates opened, instead of easing back, Gutierrez hustled Nyquist to the front, causing him to engage the speedy Uncle Lino. Despite the conditions of the track, this caused a scorching pace battle to ensue.
Undeterred by the rapid pace, Gutierrez let Nyquist continue to battle with Uncle Lino. Entering the stretch, it was no surprise to see Nyquist growing weary. He had the heart to turn back Uncle Lino, but no reserve to hold off the late assaults of Exaggerator and Cherry Wine.
I can’t blame Gutierrez for his ride. He was no doubt was trying to avoid a deep and dead rail, while also riding his horse like he was the best in the race. When you are on a horse with a track record like Nyquist’s, how can you not ride with confidence? Had he taken back and gotten boxed in he would have been crucified for getting the race favorite into trouble.
Victor Espinoza did the same thing on American Pharoah last year, hustling him out of the gate through fractions of :22.90, :46.49, and 1:11.42. The difference was Amercian Pharoah was the best; he was a freak of nature, a rarity that only comes around every so often in racing. He was able to make those fractions look like a cakewalk, disposing of his competition and winning by seven easy lengths.
Nyquist, while a very good and very brave colt, is not a freak of nature. His performance on Saturday proved that, while he is very good, he is no American Pharoah. Outside of the initial quarter, 22.38 seconds, Nyquist actually had a slightly easier pace than American Pharoah. His splits were :22.38, :46.56 and 1:11.97. By the time he hit the mile marker, Nyquist was done in, clocking in at 1:38.45. American Pharoah, by comparison, hit the mile pole in 1:37.74.
Did Nyquist face some hardships? Certainly.
But, as noted above, and proven by American Pharoah’s performance last year, a great horse can overcome what Nyquist couldn’t. A truly great horse makes what defeats most others look easy. That is what American Pharoah was able to do and I hope that, after yesterday, people can appreciate what it took for the son of Pioneerof the Nile to win the Triple Crown.
Obviously, Nyquist is still a top-notch colt. He is very talented, and athletic, and he will get his chance at redemption in the Belmont Stakes. There, he will meet his rival, Exaggerator, for the sixth time in his career, along with plenty of other challengers.
Will he win?
He certainly has a good shot, but now that the hyperbole has been dismissed, I doubt many will view him with the same untouchable aura they did before — the aura that led many to believe that a win in the Preakness was a mere formality, a forgone conclusion.
He has now shown his vulnerability. He will be respected in the Belmont, but he won’t be put on the same pedestal as he was before the Preakness.
Nyquist is good, but he is no American Pharoah.