Nyquist remained unbeaten in eight starts with his victory in the Derby, and it was so impressive – he got a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 103 — very few who ran against him are going to try again at the Preakness. Runner-up Exaggerator is definite, but after that, only a few are even possible; they are far from definite.
In fact, most of the Preakness field might end up being horses who skipped the Derby, either by choice, or because they were excluded on points at entry time. That group includes Cherry Wine and Laoban, who ended up on the also-eligible list for the Derby and failed to scratch in, and Awesome Speed, Collected, Stradivari, and Uncle Lino.
Nyquist “looked well this morning,” O’Neill said in a text message on Sunday morning while en route to the airport to catch an early flight back to California, where he is based. He said Nyquist would fly to Baltimore on Monday, which is the exact same schedule he had four years ago with I’ll Have Another after his Derby victory. I’ll Have Another also won the Preakness.
Informed he now had as many Derby victories as legendary trainers Woody Stephens and Charlie Whittingham, O’Neill said, “Wow. That’s crazy.”
Leandro Mora, O’Neill’s top assistant, was overseeing Nyquist at the Churchill Downs barn on Sunday morning and said the colt had cleaned his feed tub and seemed well. He called the barn’s second Derby victory in four years “another dream come true.”
Keith Desormeaux, the trainer of Exaggerator, immediately after the Derby said he would come back in the Preakness. Desormeaux now has run second to Nyquist in six of Nyquist’s eight races – four times with Swipe, twice with Exaggerator.
Steve Asmussen, trainer of Gun Runner, who was third, and Creator, who was 13th, said he would wait until later in the week before making definitive plans for the Preakness, though he didn’t sound eager to take on Nyquist real soon.
“You look at that resume and think, why argue?” he said.
Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of fourth-place finisher Mohaymen, said Mohaymen would be pointed to the Travers this summer at Saratoga and would not compete in either the Preakness or the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes on June 11 in New York.
Bob Baffert is unlikely to press on with Mor Spirit, who finished 10th. He came out of the Derby fine, according to assistant Jim Barnes. Baffert will definitely run Collected, a three-time stakes winner who most recently captured the Lexington at Keeneland.
Todd Pletcher said plans for both Destin, who was sixth, and Outwork, who was 14th, would be determined after they return to New York on Monday, but he did not sound as though either would run back in the Preakness. He is, however, planning on running Stradivari, a recent Keeneland allowance winner, in the Preakness.
Awesome Speed earned an automatic berth to the Preakness by virtue of his victory in the Tesio Stakes last month at Laurel.
Uncle Lino won the California Chrome Stakes at Los Alamitos on April 30 after finishing third behind Exaggerator in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9.
A maximum of 14 horses can run in the Preakness. Entries are taken and posts drawn May 18.
Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.