It's been a nice run of late for Kentucky Derby winners in the Preakness Stakes. The last two Kentucky Derby winners (American Pharoah, California Chrome) and three of the last four (I'll Have Another in 2012) have also taken down the second jewel of racing's Triple Crown.
The success of Derby winners in the 1 3/16-miles Preakness can be attributed to a number of factors. Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert, who has won the Preakness six times, has often said it is the easiest of the three legs to win. Why? One reason is the Derby winner is dead-fit after just going 1 ¼-miles and the quick turnaround means little training is needed and there is less chance for things to go wrong. Additionally, these days the vast majority of Derby horses skip the Preakness. And the ones that do run just got beat. Two weeks is a short time to improve enough to make up those beaten lengths.
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Finally, the "new shooters" in the Preakness are typically horses that weren't good enough to make the Derby starting gate in the first place. There are exceptions, of course, but history tells us it takes a special a horse. The last two horses that didn't run in the Derby and won the Preakness? How about only the Hall of Fame filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Bernardini, who won the Preakness and would go on to be named champion 3-year-old despite skipping the Derby in 2006.
So, what does this portend for 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist? The Uncle Mo colt, who has never been beaten in eight lifetime starts, will have to navigate a field of 10 rivals in the Preakness. The Derby also-rans are led by Exaggerator, who was beaten just 1 ¼-lengths by Nyquist at Churchill Downs. That's the good news. The bad news is he's now been beaten all four times he's lined up against Nyquist.
The only other Derby horse in the Preakness is the quirky Lani, the Japan-based colt who split the field when checking in ninth in the Derby. He's a 30-to-1 outsider on the morning line in the Preakness.
So what about the new shooters? Is there a potential "special" horse in the group? The only possibility would seem to be the lightly-raced Stradivari for trainer Todd Pletcher. Since running fourth on debut at Aqueduct in the fall, the son of Medaglia d'Oro has won his last two starts by a combined 25 lengths. He'll have had just over a month of rest, which is ideal, and his speed figures are competitive. However, this will be his first time in the deep waters of stakes competition. Stepping up from a simple allowance win, no matter how impressive, to being a winner of a Triple Crown race would absolutely take a special horse.
The remainder of the new shooters are the usual suspects we saw during the winter/spring prep season that failed to do enough to make the Derby starting gate.
So, given that, it's no wonder Nyquist has been installed the heavy 3-to-5 favorite on the morning line for the Preakness. He would become the 11th Derby winner in the last 20 years to also take the Preakness.
For those understandably unwilling to take 3-5 or lower on Nyquist, there would seem two potential upsetters. Uncle Lino was no match for Exaggerator in the Santa Anita Derby, but the other son of Uncle Mo is coming off an impressive win in the California Chrome Stakes at Los Alamitos that earned a monster speed fig. Three-year-olds are developing rapidly this time of the year, so perhaps this is a colt on the improve that could challenge with another step forward.
The other is Collected from the Baffert stable. He earned a competitive speed fig when winning at Sunland Park two starts back and came right back to dominate a solid field when winning the Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland by four lengths.
Recent history tells us it will be tough to beat the Derby winner in the Preakness. But no matter how you decide to play, good luck.
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