Seventy-three wins. That is something huh? In the end though, would it be some kind of a surprise if LeBron James or Kevin Durant is the one celebrating an NBA championship? Uh, no.
Meet Nyquist, the Steph Curry of horse racing who might have had an all-time regular season, but the playoffs are turning into something that is far from a foregone conclusion. Don’t get me wrong; Nyquist is your MVP … the unanimous sort. But to be a Triple Crown winner, he’s going to have to go through two more rounds and the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t involved. There’s no tanking happening around Nyquist, and for that reason his run to immortality might very well get stunted.
Here’s the big problem with this Preakness Stakes. It doesn’t shape up to be the calm before the Belmont Stakes storm. It stinks of a huge surprise in the making if Nyquist can’t be the Nyquist we saw two weeks ago. I’m not rooting against Nyquist, and I’m not looking at it exclusively through the lens of the breathtaking odds of some of the contenders around him. The reason Nyquist was always going to have a harder time winning, like American Pharoah, was how deep the field was going to be in each and every one of the Triple crown races.
Before this NBA season started, the talk of the league was the road Golden State Warriors was fortunate enough to have last spring: an injured Oklahoma City Thunder, a San Antonio Spurs team in need of another younger piece and a injury-riddled Cleveland Cavaliers. Seventy-three wins was the point they wanted to make that luck of the draw had nothing to do with it. But as push is coming to shove, it’s playing out for the Warriors that the repeat isn’t as clear as that record-setting regular season suggested it would be. And Nyquist might just suffer the same fate.
Here’s the field for the Preakness Stakes:
1. Cherry Wine: The Kentucky Derby also-eligible entrant is rested here and loves to run from off the pace, which figures to work to his advantage based on the sheer amount of front-runners in this field. The problem is being 12 lengths behind Nyquist doesn’t figure to be the right way to go. He’s game, he’s live and he’ll be dangerous, but if he plays this thing like he has in recent preps, he won’t quite get there.
2. Uncle Lino: His last race was a gimme at Los Alamitos. The finish time of 1:40.82 over 1 1/16 miles is nothing to sneeze at, but now he’s back with the big boys and previously, the big boys got the better of him … by a lot. So, I won’t be fooled by his last go.
3. Nyquist: Do what he’s done, and everything I said earlier was a case of trying to rationalize a different outcome.
4. Awesome Speed: This guy figures to be on or near the lead and his past suggests he’ll either be hard to shake or get blown out in the stretch. At 30-1, he’s going in any exotic, because if Nyquist doesn’t have the turbo button at the ready, he’s going to hit the board.
5. Exaggerator: This is the only true contender who doesn’t want to be up front early. So, I like his chances to steal this one away at the end BUT that relies on the assumption that he can look as good as he did on two weeks rest and Nyquist doesn’t. What if they both needed more time to recover? Well, well, well …
6. Lani: Did his flight back to Japan get delayed two weeks in Baltimore? If the Japanese connections just wanted to try the crab cakes, I would have happily overnighted some Maryland specials. I see nothing here that suggests he’ll be any more of a factor then he was in Louisville. Again, have a nice trip back to Japan.
7. Collected: I’m trying not to get too excited about his 10-1 odds, but Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano only add to my optimism here. So, he also likes to be in front and almost certainly will be the one pushing Nyquist early. What his past has shown is that he doesn’t get shaken; instead, when it’s time to hit the go button, it works.
8. Laoban: It doesn’t appear like he can do the distance here. He looks like a really good seven-furlong stakes horse. Too bad he’ll be forced to run a lot farther than that.
9. Abiding Star: He’s 5-for-5 in 2016, which is a minor miracle based on his 2015 runs. So, tip of the cap to the connections who figured out how to get the best out of him this year. And I get it, delusions of grandeur are easy to come by here. Problem is, I’m not delusional.
10. Fellowship: He’s run in 11 stakes races. That’s quite a résumé. He’s won one of them. That’s not something worth mentioning on the résumé. He’s a beautiful house in a bad location. Sell, sell, sell.
11. Stradivari: What am I supposed to do with this? He’s won his last two races by a combined 25 3/4 lengths. But he may have been racing against human infants. With no stakes history, this is impossible to really project how he’ll fare facing horses of this caliber. I can’t toss him clearly having won those last two by a country mile. Add in the Todd Pletcher/Johnny Velazquez combo, and he’ll get some action on the ole odds board but I’m not going to pick him to win.
Here’s the bottom line. This doesn’t set up for chalk. The bulk of the speed in this race is early speed, which means Nyquist has to get going early. I don’t think the Nyquist people are not up for the challenge; the problem is the short turnaround and what that means for his ability to get there in the end. Two viable things can happen that involve Nyquist not winning — Exaggerator sweeps by him this time because Nyquist expends more energy than he has early keeping up or Nyquist never does overtake the horses who pushed him early and we get a wire-to-wire surprise. And if the latter is the case, I’m inclined to believe it’s Collected who allows me to collect at the window.
The Pick: I can’t in my right mind assume Nyquist won’t be up to the task, so I’ll take him but I’m not keying him. This has box written all over it, and if I’m right about Collected, I’ll tell you I told you so even if I hedged my way to that opinion.
The Full Milty: Trfiecta Box — Cherry Wine, Nyquist, Awesome Speed, Exaggerator, Collected, Stradivari