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Preakness 2016: Derby winner Nyquist ready for another

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He’ll have another.

Happy, healthy and hangin’ in his new home, Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist is gearing up for another big race, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore next Saturday.

With a victory, Nyquist would head to the Belmont Stakes in New York three weeks later with a shot at winning the Triple Crown. What a turn of events that would be for horse racing – a record 37-year drought between Triple Crowns followed by back-to-back Triples for only the second time in history.

“He’s full of energy, and looks fantastic,” Nyquist trainer Doug O’Neill said this week as his unbeaten Derby winner settles into his fourth new stall in the past seven weeks. “He should be ready.”

O’Neill likes to say one race at a time, but it’s difficult not to think of the glory that awaits if his brilliant 3-year-old bay colt wins his next two races. Especially since O’Neill, along with owner J. Paul Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez – has been on the cusp of history before.

In 2012, O’Neill won the Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another, but the horse was retired the day before the Belmont with a tendon injury. A year ago, American Pharoah swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, a feat many consider the toughest in sports.

Like almost everyone else in racing, O’Neill saw how American Pharoah became the people’s horse, a calm, friendly and gentle colt that thrived on the attention. He’s hoping it can happen again with Nyquist.

“I thought the American Pharoah camp did a wonderful job, and having a horse that thrived on it (the attention) helped,” O’Neill said this week. “And I think Nyquist – they are big shoes to fill – has the ability to fill them if we were to get so fortunate and do what American Pharoah did last year.”

For his part, Pharoah’s owner Ahmed Zayat is all in.

“Let’s have another Triple Crown, back to back,” he said hours after Nyquist’s 1 1/4-length Derby win in a time nearly 2 seconds faster than American Pharoah ran.

But on to the Preakness, where a whole new set of challengers await. Unlike a huge 20-horse field in the longer 1 1/4-mile Derby, the second leg of the Triple Crown has a 14-horse limit, and is run at a shorter distance of 1 3/16 miles.

Back to take on Nyquist is Derby runner-up Exaggerator, a fast-closing second but an exasperating 0 for 4 against Nyquist. In the career debut for both, Exaggerator was fifth behind Nyquist, then fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and second in the San Vicente prior to the Derby.

Kent Desormeaux, the brother of Exaggerator trainer Keith Desormeaux, says “a clear trip” is what it’ll take to turn the tables. The Hall of Fame rider was aboard for three of those losses, and claims he had a troubled trip every time. Which is why, he figures, “I still have a chance.”

Lani, who ran ninth in the Derby, is a definite for the Preakness, with third-place finisher Gun Runner still possible. Lani would become the first Japan-based horse to run in the Preakness.

The list of newcomers is long in a field that could total 12. It includes Laoban and Cherry Wine, a pair of colts who were on the Derby also-eligible list but did not get to run because no horses were late scratches.

Others looking for an upset include possible rising start Stradivari, Lexington Stakes winner Collected, Federico Tesio winner Awesome Speed, California Chrome Stakes winner Uncle Lino and Fellowship, who ran third behind Nyquist in the Florida Derby.

With Collected, trainer Bob Baffert is seeking a record-tying seventh Preakness win. He’s currently tied with D. Wayne Lukas. Robert Wyndham Walden won seven, including five in a row from 1878-1882.

Stradivari is trained by Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by John Velazquez. The lightly-raced son of Medaglia d’Oro will be making his second start of the year and his stakes debut – he’s 2 for 3 overall – but won his last two races by a total of nearly 26 lengths.

“We’re behind in experience and seasoning to quite a few of the competitors in there,” Pletcher said. “But from everything we’ve seen from a talent standpoint, he belongs.”

For now, there seems to be no horse in a class with Nyquist, a perfect 8 for 8 and a presumed heavy favorite when the post-position draw takes place on Wednesday.

Nyquist is the eighth undefeated Derby winner to run in the Preakness, and first since Big Brown won the first two legs in 2008 but was pulled up in the Belmont with a quarter-mile to go and did not finish.

“It looks like the field is going to be tough,” O’Neill said. “It’s going to be a full field and there are a lot of new shooters, so that’s always a concern. But our main focus is on Nyquist’s health. He looks great and has good energy coming off a big win in the Derby. It’s amazing how good he looks.”

Maybe good enough for another.

 

Bob Baffert sweeps Futurity and Starlet at Los Alamitos

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert became the first trainer to win the $300,000 CashCall Futurity and $294,000 Starlet in the same year at Los Alamitos on Saturday.

McKinzie won the Futurity for 2-year-olds via disqualification after Solomini, Baffert’s other entry in the race, was cited by the stewards for interference in deep stretch and dropped from first to third.

In the next race, 2-5 favorite Dream Tree won the Starlet by 3 1/4 lengths to improve to 3-0 for the Hall of Fame trainer.

Baffert has won the Futurity a record 10 times, including the last four at Los Alamitos, where it was moved from now-closed Hollywood Park, where he won it six times.

McKinzie, named for Baffert’s late friend and Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, was carried wide into the first turn and kept clear by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. McKinzie rallied approaching the stretch in tandem with Instilled Regard while Solomini started to gain outside of that pair.

The three horses came together and with a sixteenth of a mile to go, Solomini came in and bumped Instilled Regard before going on to finish three-quarters of a length in front of McKinzie, who was a head in front of Instilled Regard.

Baffert was surprised when the three stewards voted 2-1 to disqualify Solomini.

“It’s really too bad they took him down,” he said. “He was the better horse today.”

McKinzie returned $3 and $2.40. Instilled Regard paid $6.80. There was no show wagering because of the small field.

The final time for the Futurity was 1:42.57. McKinzie earned $180,000, increasing his career earnings to $210,000.

In the Starlet for 2-year-old fillies, Dream Tree and jockey Drayden Van Dyke covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.87 and paid $2.80 to win. It was Baffert’s fourth career win in the race.

Yesterday’s News was second and Piedi Bianchi was third.

Trainers rushed to save terrified horses as flames closed in

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BONSALL, Calif. — A routine day at an elite training center for racehorses transformed into terror and chaos in minutes, with hundreds of thoroughbreds stampeding out of their stalls in a desperate attempt to flee a Southern California wildfire that set their barns ablaze.

Turned loose by their trainers in a last-ditch effort to save their lives, the huge, muscular animals, their eyes wide with fear, charged through thick smoke and past dancing flames.

While hundreds made it to the safety of a nearby racetrack, others galloped in circles, unsure which way to run. Still others, too frightened to leave their paddocks, stayed there and died.

Workers at San Luis Rey Downs said an estimated 30 to 40 horses perished Thursday in the wildfire still raging out of control north of San Diego on Friday. At least two stable workers were injured, and their conditions were not immediately known.

Trainers described a terrifying scene that erupted at the facility Thursday afternoon, recalling how only minutes after smelling smoke, they saw flames roaring down a nearby hillside.

“I was heading to my barn to drop my equipment off and I smell smoke,” trainer Kim Marrs said Friday as she stood outside the still-smoldering facility. “Within two minutes, I look up the hill and you could just see it come up over the ridge.”

She and others tried to turn back the flames with hoses and fire extinguishers before firefighters arrived. But when embers from burning palm trees began igniting the roofs of barns, they realized they had no other alternative than to turn loose the approximately 450 horses stabled there.

“The next thing, there’s a stampede of 100 horses coming through here,” said Marrs, who was trying to lead one of the horses she trains, a 5-year-old named Spirit World, through a tunnel. “We almost got trampled to death.”

At one of the center’s many barns, video showed a group of trainers frantically tearing down a wooden fence and shouting at their horses to run.

One large black horse, its forelocks wrapped in white leggings, bolted toward safety but then spooked by the burning palm trees, turned and fled back toward its stable. Scores of others charged through thick smoke to safety.

Trainer Cliff Sise suffered burns on his chest and arm trying to get a 2-year-old filly named Scat Home Lady out of her stable. She wouldn’t budge, and he said she burned to death there.

“She was one of my favorites,” Sise said as he sat outside the facility.

Trainer Jerry Contreras said one of his best friends, a fellow trainer, was hospitalized.

“He was trying to get his horses out and was burned,” Contreras said.

At San Luis Rey Downs, the phone rang unanswered and the owners quickly barred outsiders from the sprawling facility.

It is Southern California’s premier training center for thoroughbreds, with a competition-sized racetrack, a smaller one for training, numerous trails for horses to relax on and even a swimming pool for them to work out in.

The center can house as many as 500 horses and states proudly on a sign out front that it is the “Home of Azeri,” racing’s U.S. Horse of the Year in 2002.

Other thoroughbreds that have trained there include Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand.

The facility sits among rolling hills, picturesque vineyards and farms down a winding, two-lane road just a few miles off busy Interstate 15, the main thoroughfare connecting Southern California to Las Vegas.

The horses that fled were quickly rounded up, and many were taken to the nearby Del Mar racetrack, where a veterinary center was set up for the injured.

The tragedy resulted in an outpouring of support from the racing community, with Southern California’s Los Alamitos Race Course canceling its daytime thoroughbred program Friday out of respect.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and the Stronach Group, owners of San Luis Rey Downs, have set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for hospital and rehab costs.

Santa Anita racetrack officials in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia collected clothes and other items for stable workers who lost their possessions.

“I lost everything. Forty years. I lost all my tack, all my machines, my webbings. It was all burned. My whole livelihood. I feel like quitting,” the 66-year-old Sise said.