BALTIMORE — Nyquist, the Kentucky Derby winner, spent Monday morning at Pimlico getting acquainted with the paddock and the starting gate. His trainer, Doug O’Neill, past performances in hand, will spend the next few days getting acquainted with the new competition that awaits Nyquist in Saturday’s $1.5 million Preakness Stakes.
When the undefeated Nyquist seeks the second jewel of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown in the 141st Preakness, he is expected to face as many as eight horses who did not participate in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. As of Monday, only two horses from the Derby — runner-up Exaggerator and ninth-place finisher Lani — were confirmed to run back. Gun Runner, third in the Derby, has not been ruled out from participating.
The newcomers include stakes winners Collected and Uncle Lino — who both, like Nyquist, began their careers in Southern California — as well as Abiding Star, Awesome Speed, Cherry Wine, Fellowship, Laoban, and Stradivari. It is the Todd Pletcher-trained Stradivari, a 14-1/2-length winner in allowance company at Keeneland, that has piqued O’Neill’s interest.
“He’s obviously very scary with those connections and the way he won at Keeneland last time,” O’Neill said Monday at Pimlico. “He strikes a lot of fear in you. I think the biggest thing is we’re not focused on who we’re running against. As long as Nyquist continues to do well, we feel very optimistic he’s going to run a big race after winning that Derby. He’s settled in here, looks great, good energy, total pro.”
Nyquist showed his professionalism again Monday when he schooled in both the paddock and the starting gate on a fall-like morning in Baltimore. O’Neill had originally planned to school Nyquist on Wednesday, but with rain in the forecast both Tuesday and Wednesday, O’Neill opted to do it Monday.
In order to accommodate O’Neill, starter Bruce Wagner and two members of his crew came in on what is typically a day off for the gate crew. Traffic delayed Wagner’s arrival, so O’Neill took the time to also send Nyquist to the paddock.
Nyquist jogged once around the Pimlico oval to the paddock and stood in an inside saddling stall perfectly still. He then jogged again over to the starting gate — located on the backside — and he went in twice, playing around a little the second time.
Wagner said he appreciated that O’Neill wanted to school Nyquist in the gate. He noted that in past years, some trainers have given him difficulty about doing so.
O’Neill elected to school both Nyquist and his Black-Eyed Susan contender, Land Over Sea, “out of respect for the gate crew.”
“Just so they get to see him,” O’Neill said. “I think both Nyquist and Land Over Sea are relatively good gate horses, but out of respect for them, it’s a big day, they got a full field. It’d be nice for them to at least know their personality a little bit.”
O’Neill was extremely pleased with how well Nyquist handled both the gate and the paddock.
“Now we just need the first turn to go well,” he said.
O’Neill said he believes the Preakness will be run differently from the Derby, where Nyquist was basically second throughout, stalking Danzing Candy.
Horses like Collected, the Lexington Stakes winner; Uncle Lino, the California Chrome Stakes winner; Stradivari; and Abiding Star all like to be forwardly placed.
“I definitely see the race unfolding different than Kentucky,” O’Neill said. “But I’m optimistic we’ll have the same results.”
Kentucky Derby runner-up Exaggerator arrived at Pimlico on Sunday following a 10-hour van ride from Churchill Downs. He walked the barn Monday morning and schooled in the paddock.
Though a perfect gentleman in the paddock, Exaggerator did get a bit antsy on the walk to and from the barn.
“He’s a little bit of a handful going over and coming home,” said Julie Clark, assistant to trainer Keith Desormeaux.
Clark said Exaggerator would school another time or two this week.
Entries will be taken Wednesday morning, and the post-position draw will be held ontrack at 5 p.m. Eastern.
In other Preakness developments
* Gun Runner, the Derby third-place finisher, worked a half-mile in 51.40 seconds Monday at Churchill Downs. His connections said they would wait until as late as Wednesday morning before deciding whether to run.
“Gun Runner was traveling good going into the Derby, and he’s traveling good coming out of the Derby,” trainer Steve Asmussen said by phone from Churchill Downs. “Working back nine days after a race is pretty typical of us. I need to speak to the owners and decide what we are going to do long term and in the immediate future.”
Creator, 13th in the Derby, also worked a half-mile in 51.60 seconds on Monday but has not been mentioned as a Preakness candidate.
* Fellowship, third in the Florida Derby and fourth in the Pat Day Mile, was due to arrive at Pimlico early Tuesday morning on a van carrying about a dozen other Mark Casse-trained runners.
* Uncle Lino, Collected, and Laoban were scheduled to arrive at Pimlico on Tuesday on the first of two flights bringing horses to Baltimore. Cherry Wine and Gun Runner — should he run — would be on Wednesday flights.
Horses based on the East Coast, including Stradivari, Lani (based at Belmont Park ), and Awesome Speed (Colts Neck training center in New Jersey), were scheduled to van to Pimlico on Thursday. Horses must be on the grounds by noon Thursday.
* Dazzling Gem, fourth in the Arkansas Derby, will run in Saturday’s $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes and not the Preakness, trainer Brad Cox confirmed Monday.
“We just feel that a mile and a sixteenth in that company suits him better than a mile and three-sixteenths facing horses like Nyquist and Exaggerator,” Cox said.
— additional reporting by Jay Privman