BALTIMORE – Four times Exaggerator chased Nyquist in vain, running fifth to him in his debut, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and second in the San Vicente Stakes and the Kentucky Derby. Just when it appeared that Nyquist was indomitable, his familiar foe rose up to deny his Triple Crown bid.
Exaggerator benefitted from a muddy track and Nyquist’s involvement in a hot early pace in winning the 141stPreakness Stakes by 3 ½ lengths against late-charging runner-up Cherry Wine on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course. Nyquist finished a nose behind Cherry Wine in third for his first defeat in nine starts.
Intermittent rain did not keep the middle jewel of the Triple Crown from attracting a record crowd of 135,256. Exaggerator became the first horse to win the Preakness after placing second in the Derby since Prairie Bayou in 1993 in a victory that will long be remembered by the Desormeaux family. Kent rode the colt; his brother Keith trained him.
“I can’t even put it into words,” said Kent when asked what the reversal of fortunes meant to him and to his brother. “It’s going to take a while. I’m in shock right now.”
Doug O’Neill, who trains heavily-favored Nyquist, also appeared to be stunned by the first blemish on his horse’s record. “I didn’t think he could get beat, to be honest with you,” he said. “Nyquist is such a great horse.”
“I looked at him, he looked at me and I got a fist pump,” Kent said. “That was all we did.”
Keith admitted he questioned his brother’s actions as the race unfolded. Why did he take Exaggerator close to the rail when other riders were avoiding it? Why was Exaggerator closer to the pace than usual?
It turned out that Kent knew exactly what he was doing, even if it did not appear that way at first. “This is why he’s in the Hall of Fame, those kinds of decisions,” Keith said.
Mario Gutierrez, Nyquist’s jockey, may have given him a ride that he wished he could do over again. He gunned him from the gate from post three, but any hopes of gaining an early uncontested lead were quickly dashed. Lightly-regarded Uncle Lino quickly engaged him, resulting in a torrid opening quarter of 22.38.
Nyquist quickly wore out Uncle Lino and took the field of 11 through half a mile in 46.56 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.97. The son of Uncle Mo dug deep to fight back after Exaggerator swept past him, but he lacked much-needed punch. Exaggerator, owned by the partnership of Big Chief Racing, Head of Plains Partners, Rocker O Ranch, et al, completed the 1 3/16-mile distance in 1:58.31.
“I could feel Exaggerator coming. There was nothing we could do,” Gutierrez said. “We swung out late, but they were tough. We tried but just didn’t get there.”
Three of Exaggerator’s five career victories have come on wet tracks. The dark bay or brown son of Curlin prepped for the Kentucky Derby by running away with the Santa Anita Derby by 6 ¼ lengths on a rare sloppy surface at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
Kent notched his third Preakness victory. For Keith, the race marked a breakthrough he sought for much of his life.
“It’s called an American classic for a reason,” Keith said. “To get to win one is hard to describe. It’s the culmination of a lifetime of dedicating myself to finding the best horse and getting the most out of him.”
While it is unclear whether Nyquist’s connections will want an immediate rematch in the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes at New York’s Belmont Park on June 11, Keith suggested that Exaggerator’s greatest asset is his ability to bounce back quickly after races.
“We’ll settle in at Belmont and we can’t wait to run in that race,” Keith said.