If Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist wins the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico, this would be the third straight year a horse will vie for the Triple Crown.
In 2014, California Chrome came up two lengths short in the Belmont Stakes. And last year, American Pharoah won the Belmont to become the first Triple Crown champion in 37 years.
Nyquist (3-5) was made an overwhelming favorite by Pimlico morning linemaker Keith Feustle. Nyquist held off a fast-rallying Exaggerator (3-1) to win the Kentucky Derby by more than a length.
Nyquist, Exaggerator and Lani (30-1) are the only starters to exit the Kentucky Derby. There are eight new horses in the Preakness. Preakness history has taught us that unless you are Rachel Alexandra, newcomers don’t stand much of a chance. Most of the time the Preakness winner is either the Derby winner or a horse he faced in the Derby.
The Nyquist connections of owner J. Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez have been in this spot before. In 2012, their I’ll Have Another won the Derby and Preakness. But on the Friday morning before the Belmont Stakes, he was scratched because of an injury.
That experience has helped them shape the career of Nyquist so brilliantly. He is undefeated in eight career starts. He comes into the Preakness off a light three-start schedule this year.
Barring the unforeseen, Nyquist will win the Preakness. He has beaten his main foe, Exaggerator, all four times they have met. Exaggerator might be playing the role of Alydar to Nyquist’s Affirmed. Alydar ran second to Affirmed in all three legs of the 1978 Triple Crown.
The Saturday weather forecast for Baltimore calls for a 100 percent chance of rain. That is good news for Exaggerator, who has excelled over a muddy or sloppy main track.
But great horses can run over anything. Nyquist showed that when he easily won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park over a muddy track.
So who are the new shooters that have the best chance of finishing in the money?
Collected (12-1) is trained by Bob Baffert, who also saddled American Pharoah. Collected is no slouch, with three stakes wins on his resume. But comparing him to American Pharoah is like comparing a hand grenade to an atomic bomb.
Collected will be ridden by Javier Castellano, who is smart enough to know that a patient trip can lead to a nice paycheck.
Stradivari (10-1) has won his past two races by 26 lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher. He never has run in a stakes race, so this is a huge test. The question is not if the colt is talented enough, but is he seasoned enough. It is asking a lot to win your first stakes start in a Triple Crown event.
ENG’S PICKS: Nyquist, Exaggerator, Collected, Stradivari.
DAVIDOWITZ TO SIGN
Author Steve Davidowitz will sign his new book “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Sunset Station. He also will conduct a handicapping seminar Saturday before the Preakness.
Station Casinos will offer a special $15,000 Twin Quinella wager Saturday.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. You can get his Santa Anita picks by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick