Weather Could Be a Big Factor in Preakness; Trainers See No Problems with Post Positions

By Jim Freer

The field was set Wednesday for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (Grade 1), and there do not appear to be significant post position problems for any of the eleven horses.

However, the weather could be a big factor in the 1 3/16 mile Preakness for which scheduled post time is 6:45 p.m.  Eastern at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

According to the Weather Channel, the Saturday chance of rain is 80 percent early in the afternoon and 90 percent late in the afternoon in Baltimore.  The forecast high is 58 degrees.

If the track is listed as muddy, sloppy or good that could be still another factor to help the two heavy favorites Nyquist and Exaggerator. Both have victories on fast tracks and off tracks (not listed as fast).

Nyquist at Pimlico

Nyquist at Pimlico

The Preakness will be a rematch of the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby (Grade 1), on a dry and fast track at Churchill Downs on May 7. That day, Nyquist beat the late-running second place finisher Exaggerator by 1 ¼ lengths.

Nyquist has won all eight of his starts. His lone race on an off track was the 1 1/8 mile Florida Derby (Grade 1) at Gulfstream Park on April 2. He won by 3 ¼ lengths over Majesto in the solid time of 1:49.11 on a track listed as good at the end of a day of periodic rain.

Exaggerator has raced three times on tracks listed as sloppy or muddy, with two wins and a second place finish.

His most impressive race was his 6 ¼ length win on a sloppy track in the 1 1/8 mile Santa Anita Derby (Grade 1) on April 9.  He rallied from sixth place after a half mile and won in 1:49.66, an impressive time considering the conditions.

Exaggerator has a pedigree that suggests success on wet tracks, and the stamina for Classic distances. His sire Curlin won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade 1) on a sloppy and sealed track at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.

Exaggerator at Pimlico

Exaggerator at Pimlico

Preakness runners Cherry Wine, Awesome Speed, Lani and Stradivari all have one win on an off track. Abiding Star has won two of his three starts on off tracks.

It is difficult to expect that any of those horses would be able to defeat both Nyquist and Exaggerator in the Preakness.

Nyquist has beaten Exaggerator four times, all on tracks listed as fast. Exaggerator has two second place finishes, one fourth and one fifth in those races.

Nyquist has post three and is the 3-5 morning line favorite in the Preakness. Exaggerator has post five and is second in the morning line at 3-1.

Preakness Field

Post positions, morning line odds, trainers and jockeys are listed at the end of this article.

Nyquist, Exaggerator and Lani are the only horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby and are back for the Preakness.

Lani finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, his U.S. debut.  He is from the stable of prominent Japanese owner Koji Maeda.

Lani earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby by winning the 1 3/16 mile UAE Derby in Dubai on March 26. At Churchill Downs, he became a celebrity for being rambunctious and hard to handle in training.

He was bumped near the start of the Kentucky Derby and fell back to 17th place. He passed tiring horses to finish ninth.

Maeda had planned to skip the Preakness and run in the Belmont Stakes on June 11. Now, Lani could run in all three Triple Crown races.

Gun Runner, third place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, was on the early probables list for the Preakness.  On Tuesday, trainer Steve Asmussen said he would give Gun Runner a break from racing for several months.

Mohaymen, Suddenbreakingnews, Destin and Brody’s Cause finished fourth through seventh, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby.

Most of those horses likely will be back for the Belmont.  For their human connections, there is a realization that it will be hard to beat Nyquist at 1 3/16 miles.

The eight new Triple Crown horses are Fellowship, Cherry Wine, Awesome Speed, Stradivari, Collected, Laoban, Uncle Limo and Abiding Star.

Posts and Pace

The Preakness has 11 entrants, whereas the Kentucky Derby had its usual maximum field of 20 runners.

Thus, outside post positions are not as far outside and are less of a problem in the Preakness.

The potentially squeezed and troublesome post one was drawn by Cherry Wine who will not be seeking the early lead.

“My jockey, Corey Lanerie, loves to come up the fence,” Dale Romans, trainer of Cherry Wine, told the Pimlico press office.

“It’s a good spot with him riding the horse,” Romans said. “He never panics. He stays down in there just like I like. Doug O’Neill, the trainer of Nyquist, said: “I think we’re going to leave there running and just kind of play it by ear. If they’re not showing a lot of pace, we’re going to make it.” O’Neill added that jockey Mario Gutierrez and Nyquist have “shown that they can sit off a hot and heavy pace.”

Keith Desormeaux, trainer of Exaggerator, said post position is “inconsequential” to his horse because of his late-running style.

“Being that Nyquist is speed-oriented, he’ll probably get pressed from the outside, which may make him go a little bit faster,” Desormeaux said. “I guess that’s tactically advantageous to us.”

Kent Desormeaux, Keith’s brother, is the jockey for Exaggerator who is owned by a partnership headed by Big Chief Racing.

Reddam Racing, whose principal is Paul Reddam, owns Nyquist.  Reddam. O’Neill and Gutierrez teamed up in 2012 with I’ll Have Another to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. That horse was retired due to injuries prior to the Belmont. Exaggerator, Fellowship, Cherry Wine and  Lani are  the only Preakness entrants without  histories  of  early speed.

Most of the speed horses might find difficulty in staying with Nyquist after a mile.

Stradivari, making just his fourth career start and his stakes debut, could be an exception.

Todd Pletcher speaks with reporters following the Hal's Hope, Jan. 9, 2016-- photo by Barry Unterbrink

Todd Pletcher

He is trained by Todd Pletcher and is in post 11, listed as the 8-1 third choice in the morning line.

On April 17 at Keeneland, Stradivari won a 1 1/8 mile allowance race in 1:48.64.  He won by 14 lengths under a hand ride with John Velazquez in the final furlong.

Stradivari earned a Brisnet Speed Figure of 101—just under the 104 for Nyquist and the 103 for Exaggerator in the Kentucky Derby.

But bettors also should note that Stradivari beat only four horses on April 17 and that he is taking a very big step up in competition.

Pletcher, noting the long run to the first turn at Pimlico, said post 11 could be a positive for Stradivari.

“It gives Johnny the ability to break and survey things inside and see where he wants to hopefully position him going into the first turn,” Pletcher said. “The good thing is you can kind of dictate things instead of them being dictated to you when you’re on the outside.”

Florida Connections

Fellowship, Cherry Wine, Awesome Speed and Stradivari all raced at Gulfstream this year. None of the horses in the Preakness have raced at Tampa Bay Downs.

Awesome Speed

Awesome Speed

Awesome Speed won the one mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 2.

Fellowship finished third in each of Gulfstream’s graded Triple Crown prep races—Holy Bull (Grade 2), Fountain of Youth (Grade 2) and Florida Derby (Grade 1).

Post Positions

1: Cherry Wine (Dale Romans, Corey Lanerie) 20-1

2: Uncle Lino (Gary Sherlock, Fernando Perez) 20-1

3: Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, Mario Gutirrrez  3-5

4: Awesome Speed (Alan Goldberg,  Jevian Toledo) 30-1

5: Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desotmeaux, 3-1

6: Lani 30-1 (Mikio Matsunaka, Take Yutaka)   30-1

7: Collected  (Bob Baffert, Javier Castellano) 10-1

8: Laoban   (Eric Guillot, Florent Geroux)  30-1

9: Abiding Star  (Edward Allard, J.D Acosta) 30-1

10: Fellowship (Jose Lezcano, Mark Casse) 30-1

11: Stradivari (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez) 8-1