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Nyquist scared most Derby opponents away from Preakness

Nyquist ridden by jockey Mario Gutierrez races to victory down the homestretch with Exaggerator ridden by jockey Kent Desormeaux just behind at the 142st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by David Blair/Icon Sportswire)
(David Blair/Icon Sportswire)

Gustav Nyquist isn’t a big horse-racing fan, and he was too busy at hockey’s World Championships to attend the Kentucky Derby.

He might have to find time in his calendar to be at Belmont Park in five weeks, though.

After his namesake’s brilliant run Saturday at Churchill Downs, there’s a good chance that a second straight Triple Crown will be on the line on June 11. The Detroit Red Wings star won’t want to miss it.

The equine version of Nyquist came into the race with all the credentials – he was unbeaten, including a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Not only that, he had already defeated the race’s second favorite, Exaggerator, three times. Not only had Nyquist come out on top in their career debut at Santa Anita and again at the Breeders’ Cup, he had finished the hat trick in February in the San Vicente.

Exaggerator gave it another try on Saturday – he was the only horse who made a serious move down the stretch – but Nyquist cruised home. Trainer Keith Desormeaux said Sunday that he will take a fifth shot with Exaggerator in two weeks in the Preakness instead of waiting until the June 11 Belmont.

Nyquist’s performance was so impressive that Exaggerator is one of the only Derby horses that is expected to be in the starting gates at Pimlico on May 21.

A mile into the race, after pressing a blazing early pace – Danzing Candy had run 22.58 for the first quarter mile and 45.72 for the half mile – Nyquist and Gun Runner were a head apart. Moments later, as the horse hit the top of the stretch, Nyquist had already built a 2.5-length lead, and was never seriously threatened.

Exaggerator made up ground in the final yards, but he’s now had four chances to beat Nyquist and hasn’t managed it yet. He might be willing to take another shot at the Preakness, but most of his training colleagues have seen enough.

Steve Assmussen, who trains third-place Gun Runner and 13th-place Creator is taking his duo in a different direction.

“You look at that resume and think, why argue?” he told the Daily Racing Form.

Mohaymen, who finished fourth, will get some time off before pointing toward the Travers Stakes at Saratoga – the one race that eluded American Pharoah last year – while Bob Baffert (Mor Spirit) and Todd Pletcher (Destin, Outwork) are going to their benches for the Preakness. Baffert is expecting to run Collected, winning of the Lexington Stakes, in Baltimore, while Pletcher will be sending Stradivari.

That sums up the state of the active 3-year-old crop. The Derby was filled with mediocre horses that only caused traffic problems for the few serious contenders, and while most of them are off the Triple Crown trail, who is going to replace them?

Cherry Wine and Laoban, the two horses on the Derby’s also-eligible list, are heading to Baltimore. If they couldn’t get in ahead of Majesto, Oscar Nominated or Shagraf, do they pose any threat in the Preakness? Awesome Speed will probably race after winning a minor stakes race in Maryland, while Uncle Lino could give it a shot after winning in California.

If we learn from history, there’s a very good chance that Nyquist will win the Preakness and head to New York with a chance of matching American Pharoah’s feat. That third leg, though, has undone some great horses. He would probably be facing a few rested Derby horses and the best late-blooming 3-year-olds in the country.

First, though, he has to take care of business at Pimlico.

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