I wish that this Preakness was setting up as a more compelling race. Don't get me wrong - it's pretty bettable - it just isn't exciting. It wasn't a hugely-compelling Derby, but Nyquist's total dominance and bad days by the rest of the most interesting horses in the field aside from Exaggerator means that we have a Preakness packed with new shooters.
Because Nyquist is so strong the new shooters largely aren't of a particularly high level. So we have a race with two horses that are head and shoulders above the rest of the field - and Nyquist has already beaten Exaggerator four times. It's not a recipe for maximum intrigue.
Whining aside, though, it's still a Triple Crown race, so it is worth our attention. Here are five Preakness predictions that I feel pretty good about:
The early fractions will be swift: There are five horses in this 11-horse field that want the lead early on. None of them are among the favorites, so they have nothing to lose and will have no incentive to save anything.
Behind them will be two horses that are very talented - promising-but-raw Stradivari and prohibitive favorite Nyquist - and will be sure to press the pace if it doesn't immediately develop. So there are seven horses in the field of 11 that have an inclination towards early speed. The chances of this race being slow or even moderate with that powderkeg waiting to explode are very low. At the very least we'll see Nyquist forcing a decent early pace - something in the low 47 second or high 46 range for the first half mile. More likely, though, a couple of the longs hots lock up and go crazy early and we see something a couple of seconds faster.
A fast early pace is the best way to make things interesting in this otherwise dull race. It will cause Nyquist to make some important decisions early on and will set things up well for the closers - most notably Exaggerator - to have their best shot down the stretch.
The track conditions will play a big factor: As I sit here writing this Thursday morning the forecast for Baltimore on Saturday is a 90-percent chance of rain, with it starting in the early morning and lasting all day. There is a good chance, then, that the track will be less than fast and perhaps even muddy or sloppy - a very good chance. That will have an impact here.
Exaggerator has run his best races on off tracks, but he's not the only one. Abiding Star, Awesome Speed, Cherry Wine, Lani, Nyquist and Stradivari have all shown off-track form - though in the case of Nyquist in particular the worst he has seen is a track labeled "good" in the Florida Derby. Laoban has never seen bad conditions, while Collected and Fellowship have not fared well, and Uncle Lino isn't at his best on an off track. This is a very different race on an off track than a good one.
Jockey inexperience will be a bigger story than is ideal: Three jockeys in this race - Fernando Perez, J.D. Acosta and Jevian Toledo - are not only making their Triple Crown debut but are very short on graded stakes experience. Yataka Take has won thousands of races, but very few in North America.
Four jockeys with high-level horses in an unfamiliar level of race on a challenging race surface. It's very likely that one or more will make a mistake that will have an impact on how this race turns out.
If Nyquist loses it will be his fault: For the sake of the odds and potential payouts, I wish it weren't true, but no matter how I look at this race Nyquist is clearly the best horse by a wide margin. Exaggerator is the closest, but Nyquist has already beaten him four times and has nothing to prove on that front. Stradivari has massive potential, but he has run only three times and is taking a massive step up in class. Every other horse may have potential, but they also have very significant concerns.
Nyquist can easily lose this race - we have seen a whole lot of seemingly unbeatable horses get beat in Triple Crown races over the years. If he does lose this one, though, then it seems most likely that it will be because he wasn't at his best on the day or because his connections made a mistake. If he is on it's hard to imagine him getting beaten.
Uncle Mo will have a big day: With four sons in an 11-horse field, including the almost prohibitive favorite, it would be an almost incomprehensible upset if Uncle Mo didn't have at least one of his offspring in the trifecta. This is the first year that he has had three year olds on the track, so having this many horses in this race, after having had three including the winner in the Derby, is truly remarkable. You couldn't come up with a freshman sire off to a better start to a career.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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