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Derby winner Nyquist heads to Preakness; new rivals await

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist heads to Baltimore on Monday to prepare for the Preakness, where the undefeated colt could face up to 13 rivals including nine new shooters seeking to derail his Triple Crown bid.

Nyquist had been walked, bathed and returned to his stall at Churchill Downs by 6 a.m. Sunday, less than 12 hours after he won the Derby by 1 1/4 lengths and improved his record to 8-0. Trainer Doug O’Neill had already gone back to Southern California for a few days before returning east to rejoin his bay colt at Pimlico.

O’Neill told a track official that Nyquist was “doing great” and “looking bright-eyed” the morning after. The colt is the first unbeaten Derby winner with eight victories since Majestic Prince in 1969.

He will put that record on the line in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 21 against a mix of old and new rivals. The field is limited to 14 horses.

Derby runner-up Exaggerator, who has lost all four meetings with Nyquist, and ninth-place finisher Lani, who was beaten 10 3/4 lengths, are expected to return in the Preakness. Also possible are third-place Derby finisher Gun Runner, who was beaten by 4 1/2 lengths, and Suddenbreakingnews, who was fifth.

The newcomers are Laoban and Cherry Wine, who were both entered in the Derby but didn’t get in the race; Lexington Stakes winner Collected, trained by Bob Baffert; Federico Tesio winner Awesome Speed; Stradivari, trained by Todd Pletcher; and California Chrome Stakes winner Uncle Lino.

Also under consideration are Pat Day Mile winner Sharp Azteca; Wood Memorial third-place finisher Adventist; and Florida Derby third-place finisher Fellowship.

Keith Desormeaux, who trains Exaggerator, said he would like a rematch in the Preakness.

“He was the closest threat,” said J. Paul Reddam, who owns Nyquist. “If I were him, I would want a rematch too. The horses are not machines, so it will be a great race.”

Reddam, O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez enjoyed their second Derby victory, having won in 2012 with I’ll Have Another.

“There was no wild, drunken party,” said Steve Rothblum, manager for Reddam Racing. “With a horse this good, we wanted to treat it with respect and the reverence that we owe the horse.”

I’ll Have Another also won the Preakness that year but was retired on the eve of the Belmont with a leg injury.

Nyquist is following a schedule similar to I’ll Have Another, who also spent the two weeks leading up to the Preakness at Pimlico. Nyquist came into Louisville a week before the Derby after training at Keeneland in nearby Lexington.

“This year we are a lot more mature,” O’Neill said. “The people that were surrounding Nyquist are a lot more mature. It felt really good to be the (Derby) favorite. I felt it was a real honor. Part of me was, `God, I want to represent Nyquist in the proper way.’ I think the whole crew did a pretty good job, so it felt good being the favorite.”

Nyquist is expected to have a light training schedule between now and the Preakness.

“He’s way too fit already,” said Leandro Mora, O’Neill’s chief assistant. “I don’t think we’re going to push it as much as a few others. We found what he likes to do.”

Five of Nyquist’s eight wins have come in prestigious Grade 1 races. His latest victory boosted his earnings to $4,954,200, which includes a $1 million bonus for winning the Florida Derby in his previous start.

The colt is the third straight Southern California-based horse to win the Derby, and the fourth in five years. I’ll Have Another started the run. Nyquist was the fourth consecutive wagering favorite to win, too.

Native River gets wire-to-wire win in Cheltenham Gold Cup

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Native River delivered an exhibition in front-running to outlast favorite Might Bite in a thrilling duel to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Britain’s most prestigious jumps race, on Friday.

Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, 5-1 shot Native River took the lead right from the start and was never passed in the race over 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs in front of a crowd of 70,000.

After they jumped the last fence, Native River and Might Bite were neck and neck, but Johnson got a kick out of the Colin Tizzard-trained horse on the uphill finish and Native River won by 4 1/2 lengths – a year after finishing third in the race.

For Johnson, it was a second victory in the Gold Cup – 18 years after his first on Looks Like Trouble.

“It’s been a long 18 years,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I was a passenger.

“The more I asked from him, the better he jumped.”

Might Bite’s handler, Nicky Henderson, was looking to become the first trainer to capture the Cheltenham Festival’s three signature races in the same year – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup.

It was Might Bite’s first defeat over fences, and Henderson said the heavy going didn’t do the horse any favors – especially against a rival who is a past winner of the Welsh National and the Hennessy Gold Cup

“It was the right thing to track Native River because no other horse got into the race, he had to be in the right place,” Henderson said of the 4-1 favorite.

“On better ground, stamina wouldn’t have been an issue. But in that ground you have to work so much harder. The winner is a Welsh National winner and the reason I’ve never won that race is because I can’t find horses that go in that ground.”

Native River won his owners 369,822 pounds ($515,000).

Anibale Fly, a 33-1 shot, was third.

Jockey Ruby Walsh to miss rest of Cheltenham Festival

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Jockey Ruby Walsh will miss the remainder of the Cheltenham Festival after aggravating a leg injury when falling off his horse during the RSA Insurance Novices’ chase on Wednesday.

Walsh, the most successful jockey in the festival’s history with 52 wins, had only recently returned to competition after a four-month layoff due to a broken leg. He was taken to a hospital for X-rays and his sister Jennifer said in a statement that “unfortunately he has aggravated a recent leg injury and will see his consultant in Dublin next week for further assessment.”

Walsh had been set to ride Killultagh Vic in Friday’s Gold Cup.

On Wednesday’s second day of the festival, Altior extended his unbeaten record over jumps to 13 in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Altior had a slow start eventually powered seven lengths clear of the Willie Mullins-trained Min.

It was also a good day for trainer Gordon Elliott who took home three wins, headlined by Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

The 8-11 favorite beat Black Op by two and three-quarter lengths.