He faces well-rested and capable “new shooters” Stradivari and Collected, but they haven’t won a Grade 1 stakes, while Nyquist has won five.
Collected, winner of three stakes this year, could set a hot pace, with Laoban, Uncle Lino and Pimlico-tested Awesome Speed also joining the front. Collected will be saddled by Bob Baffert, seeking a record-tying seventh Preakness win, and ridden by Javier Castellano, the most athletic of jockeys.
Stradivari, who benefits from the country’s leading trainer, Todd Pletcher, won a 1 1/8-mile allowance race by 14 lengths a month ago. He tries to be another Bernardini, 2006 Preakness champion after just three lifetime starts.
Nyquist was a 2-1 favorite at Churchill Downs with the only question being if he had the stamina for 1 ¼ miles. There’s now little doubt he can last in a race that’s 1/16 of a mile shorter than his route at Louisville.
Doug O’Neill sent Nyquist out for a gallop Sunday at Pimlico and found him eager. “Just eight days after he ran the Derby, you’d expect a little deflation in his energy level,” O’Neill said, “but he was just as strong. It’s amazing how good he looks.”
The champion 2-year-old, who’s named for hockey player Gustav Nyquist, is 8-0 for his career. He’s the eighth horse to enter the Preakness undefeated.
O’Neill trained I’ll Have Another to victory in the 2012 Derby and Preakness, and he claims this bay colt is clearly superior to his earlier Triple Crown contender.
The morning line will be set following Wednesday’s post position draw (5 p.m. Eastern, drf.com). But post isn’t as significant with a field limited to 14, as it is in the Derby with its ridiculously bulky lineup of 20.
And Nyquist is such a smooth starter and so smart and agile that regardless of where he begins he’s always where jockey Mario Gutierrez wants to put him.
Exaggerator, second in the Derby, 1 ¼ lengths behind, is the son of Curlin, a Preakness winner. His back-in-the-pack running style gets him in trouble, but Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux is as brave as anyone. If there’s a sliver of a hole to push through, he will enter it. He’s won six Triple Crown races, including the Preakness twice.
But Exaggerator has lost four times to Nyquist, and that’s a trend I won’t try to buck.
I give only three horses a legitimate chance at an upset: Stradivari, Collected and Exaggerator trying to be the ultimate table-turner. But all these are very long shots against a horse as classy, steady and gritty as Nyquist.
So how do you bet it?
It’s not much of an investment opportunity, with Nyquist certain to be less than even money. I see his win probability at about 80 percent. Reliable as he is, there’s a chance of a bobbled start or, sadly, an injury. And with 3-year-olds growing and learning, it’s possible someone makes a long step forward — perhaps Uncle Lino, who in his last race set a track record at Los Alamitos.
But unless I can get Nyquist at 3-5 or better (with the Baltimore weather clear, as expected), I’ll stay away from the betting windows, though the stakes-laden undercard offers some exciting plays. I’m not fond of exactas, trifectas and other exotics, because the takeout by the track is much higher than with win bets. I don’t buy lottery tickets either.
Alan Truex formerly covered horse racing, including the Triple Crown, for the Houston Chronicle.