Nyquist loses for 1st time, finishing 3rd in Preakness

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BALTIMORE —¬†Doug O’Neill was clapping feverishly as Nyquist charged to the finish line, a Triple Crown still within striking distance.

Finally, when it became apparent that Exaggerator had finally gotten the best of Nyquist, O’Neill dropped his hands to his side and shrugged his shoulders in defeat.

It was a scenario that had never occurred before. Eight times previously, O’Neill, the confident trainer of Nyquist, ended up in the winner’s circle with his talented colt.

Not Saturday, not in this Preakness. Exaggerator gained the lead in the stretch against a fading champion and won the race by 3 1/2 lengths.

Nyquist finished third, a nose behind Cherry Wine.

“I didn’t think we could get beat, to be honest with you,” O’Neill said. “Nyquist is such an amazing horse. He still ran a great race.”

In the two weeks since he won the Kentucky Derby, O’Neill rattled off the virtues of his unbeaten star. The public bought into it: Not only was Nyquist the 3-5 betting favorite, but a record crowd of 135,256 showed up in miserable weather.

O’Neill insisted on Friday that rain wouldn’t be a factor, and perhaps it wasn’t. But for the first time in nine career races, Nyquist ran on a sloppy track.

And for the first time, he lost.

“We’ll kind of figure this all out, watch some replays,” O’Neill said.

Four times previously, Nyquist beat Exaggerator. Someone asked Exaggerator trainer Keith Desormeaux if his horse finally wore down Nyquist.

“I always felt we had an exceptional talent in Exaggerator,” Desormeaux said. “It’s not someone who needs to grind down his opponent.”

O’Neill, Nyquist jockey Mario Gutierrez and owner Paul Reddam teamed in 2012 to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another.

On this day, they had to settle for third.

“I really didn’t get a chance to talk to Mario,” O’Neill said. “But Nyquist still ran a huge race. Big effort.”

Winning jockey Kent Desormeaux wondered if Nyquist was done in by taking a difficult path to the finish line.

“I think Nyquist had company all the around the course,” the jockey said. “They stayed really wide. These turns, you want to paint the fence. We did, they didn’t and, not for nothing, but knowledge is power.”

Gutierrez said, “I could feel Exaggerator coming. There was nothing we could do. We tried but just didn’t get there.”

Afterward, O’Neill was stunned to have lost but grateful to have gone this far with an undefeated horse.

“It’s a bummer, of course,” he said. “I can’t wait to see him in a little bit, give him a big kiss and pat him on the head because he’s still a winner in our book

“They’re not machines. Being 8 for 8, we kept thinking that this horse is never going to lose. But they all lose one time or another. We’ll be OK.”

If all goes as planned, the Nyquist and Exaggerator will meet again at the Belmont on June 11.

“It looked like he came back to be unsaddled in good shape,” O’Neill said. “So maybe we’ll try again.”

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.