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Wire-to-wire for Nyquist as No. 1 contender for Derby

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Unlike Pharoah-phever a year ago, Nyquist-mania hasn’t yet struck in the days leading to the Kentucky Derby. It might by next Saturday night if the undefeated colt ends up in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.

American Pharoah came into the Derby off rousing wins in two races in Arkansas, then won the Derby as the favorite and went on to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Nyquist, meanwhile, will attempt to become just the eighth 3-year-old to win the Derby with an unbeaten record. Big Brown in 2008 was the most recent. Nyquist has won all seven of his races, including a showdown over highly regarded Mohaymen in the Florida Derby.

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The son of Uncle Mo has done everything right up to now, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to clinch 2-year-old champion honors. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Nyquist won the San Vicente in his 3-year-old debut prior to being shipped to Gulfstream Park for the Florida Derby.

And with that, Nyquist completes a wire-to-wire run through the prep season at No. 1 in the final AP Run to the Roses Top 10. Last year, Dortmund wired the AP Top 10 as well with six wins in six starts in 2015 before running third in the Derby to stablemate American Pharoah.

“Of course,” O’Neill said of added pressure in having the clear-cut Derby favorite. “But you might say it’s good pressure. I’d rather be the Derby favorite than a horse that snuck in.”

Nyquist seems settled in at Keeneland, and is expected to arrive at Churchill Downs as Derby week begins. He worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 last Saturday under regular exercise rider Jonny Garcia.

“He’s fit and ready,” O’Neill said.

Newly elected Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has two shots at winning his first Derby, with No. 2 Gun Runner and No. 9 Creator. Gun Runner took the Louisiana Derby on March 26 in his last start, and Creator stormed from last-to-first to win the Arkansas Derby on April 16.

“I’m extremely proud of the shape that both of these horses are in going into the Derby,” Asmussen said after both colts had workouts at Churchill Downs earlier in the week.

Also with two horses in the final Top 10 is Todd Pletcher, who trains No. 7 Outwork and No. 8 Destin.

Here’s our final Top 10:

1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): All good on Nyquist front after final workout at Keeneland. … Owner, trainer, rider won 2012 Derby, Preakness with I’ll Have Another. … A perfect 7-0 record. … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, May 7. … Derby odds: 3-1 (future wager).

2. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Trainer now a Hall of Famer in search of first Derby win. … Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner worked 6 furlongs in 1:12.20 at Churchill on Monday. … Geroux has first Derby mount. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

3. Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux): Santa Anita Derby winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 at Santa Anita on April 20. …. Santa Anita Derby winners have won two of last four Derbys. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 27-1.

4. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Can Baffert do it again? … Colt has been first or second in seven career starts. … Runner-up in last two preps, San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 11-1.

5. Brody’s Cause (Dale Romans, Luis Saez): Might be peaking at right time based on Blue Grass win. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.80 at Churchill Downs on Saturday. … First of three wins came at Churchill last year. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 10-1 (mutuel field).

6. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Looks to make amends for only loss in six starts. … Ran fourth in Florida Derby after five Grade 2 wins. … Worked 4 furlongs in 47.40 at Churchill on Friday. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 13-1.

7. Outwork (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Wood winner is one of three sons of Uncle Mo in Derby. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 at Churchill on Friday … Ran second to stablemate Destin in Tampa Bay Derby. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 30-1.

8. Destin (Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Eight-week layoff for Tampa Bay Derby winner. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 at Churchill on Friday. … Has three wins in five starts. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

9. Creator (Asmussen, Ricardo Santana): Arkansas Derby winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:02.40 at Churchill Downs on Monday. … Likely long shot with just two wins in nine races. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 58-1.

10. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise, Jr., Mike Smith): San Felipe winner among strong contingent of California-based horses. … Ran fourth in Santa Anita Derby. … Worked 6 furlongs in 1:12 at San Luis Rey Downs on April 23. … Next start: Kentucky Derby. … Odds: 16-1.

 

With no Triple Crown in play, Belmont lacks a singular buzz

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BALTIMORE — Cloud Computing stole the Preakness, and any hope of a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

The 13-1 shot did it on six weeks’ rest, having skipped the 20-horse roughhouse that is the Kentucky Derby even though he had enough points to get in that race. With another three weeks until the Belmont in New York, Cloud Computing could return to run on his home track.

“We haven’t ruled it out,” trainer Chad Brown said Sunday. “We’re just going to evaluate the horse this week and probably by next weekend we may have a decision.”

Cloud Computing didn’t race as a 2-year-old because of injury, so he is among the freshest horses out there.

Brown prefers to give his horses a month or more between starts. Trainer Todd Pletcher also favors long layoffs, although he made an exception to run Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming back in two weeks. The colt responded with an eighth-place finish – the worst of his career – on Saturday.

“He looks good, bright, alert, sound, healthy, happy,” Pletcher said. “We’ll head to Belmont and regroup.”

If the Derby and Preakness winners skip the Belmont on June 10, the likely favorite would be Classic Empire, who was runner-up Saturday after finishing fourth in the Derby.

It would be the first time since 2010 that neither the Derby nor Preakness winner run in the Belmont. That year, Derby winner Super Saver, trained by Pletcher, and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky sat out the third leg.

Trainer Mark Casse said Classic Empire is being pointed toward the Belmont, barring any unforeseen developments.

“He was a better horse yesterday than he was two weeks ago for the Kentucky Derby,” he said.

Among other horses likely for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont – the longest of the Triple Crown races – are: Senior Investment (third in Preakness), Lookin At Lee (fourth in Preakness) and Japanese invader Epicharis.

Lookin At Lee finished second in the Derby, when Classic Empire was fourth.

Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee would face off for the sixth time in the Belmont, and they could be the only horses to run in all three Triple Crown races. Classic Empire has three victories against Lookin At Lee, including this year’s Arkansas Derby.

“You’re looking at horses that traveled at 2, ran at as high a level as we have, so you’re not surprised,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Lookin At Lee and won last year’s Belmont with Creator.

“They’ve been able to maintain themselves physically. That puts them in a different position than horses who have not consistently run on that stage.”

Possible Belmont starters are Multiplier (sixth in Preakness) and Conquest Mo Money (seventh in Preakness). Gunnevera (fifth in Preakness) and Hence (ninth in Preakness) won’t run in the Belmont.

Epicharis, one of the top 3-year-olds in Japan, will make his North American debut in the $1.5 million Belmont. That would make him eligible for a new $1 million bonus offered by the New York Racing Association to any Japan-based winner of the race. The winner’s share of the purse is $800,000.

Epicharis would be the second Japanese horse to run in the Belmont. Last year, Lani finished third after running in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

Cloud Computing wins Preakness Stakes, ends Always Dreaming’s Triple Crown bid

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The bid for the Triple Crown is over.

Cloud Computing won the 142nd Preakness Stakes in 1.55.98, successfully ending Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite Always Dreaming’s Triple Crown run and upsetting multiple favorites.

Classic Empire and Always Dreaming bolted out in front early, splitting the lead multiple times in the first ½ mile, but Cloud Computing made a late run for trainer Chad Brown’s first Preakness win and jockey Javier Castellano’s second Preakness win.

Classic Empire finished second, Senior Investment finished third, and Always Dreaming finished outside the top 5.

Cloud Computing did not run in the Kentucky Derby, but came into the race with 14-1 odds.

Brown is not the only one who has a special connection to this win. Seth Klarman, one of Cloud Computing’s owners, is a Baltimore-native that grew up watching horse racing at Pimlico. The trainer also revealed that the strategy was to wait behind Always Dreaming and make a late move for the lead.

Always Dreaming ran away from the competition in four consecutive victories this year, winning by a combined 23 ¼ lengths, but could not outmatch Cloud Computing down the stretch. Two years ago, American Pharoah became the first horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 37 years, earning a Triple Crown win.

Contributing: Associated Press