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.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

Betway Challow Hurdle Day - Newbury Racecourse
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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.