Exaggerator Upsets Nyquist in the Preakness Stakes

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On May 21st at Pimlico racetrack in Maryland, the dream of having back-to-back Triple Crown winners came to an end over a muddy track in the Preakness Stakes. Following on the heels of American Pharoah’s Triple Crown sweep in 2015, many expected 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist to achieve the same feat, but the second leg of the Triple Crown proved elusive for the previously unbeaten colt, who suffered the first loss of his career when finishing third in the Preakness.

But even in defeat, Nyquist turned in a strong run that earned the admiration of racing experts everywhere. While attempting to take the early lead, Nyquist was challenged on his inside by Uncle Lino and on his outside by Awesome Speed, and with three horses vying for the lead, the first quarter-mile of the race was timed in 22.38 seconds, the fastest pace in the long history of the Preakness. This challenging pace—coupled with the muddy, tiring track—proved too much for Nyquist to overcome, and after continuing to battle with Uncle Lino for the lead through most of the race, Nyquist began to tire as the horses approached the homestretch.

“It’s a bummer, of course,” trainer Doug O’Neill said after the race. “…[Nyquist is] such an amazing horse. I can’t wait to see him in a little bit, give him a big kiss and a pat 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 any one time or another. We’ll be OK.”

Poised to take advantage was Exaggerator, a son of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin. Although he had been beaten four times previously by Nyquist, including in the Kentucky Derby, Exaggerator was getting faster with every race and had thoroughly proven himself over muddy tracks, a condition Nyquist had never faced. After settling well behind Nyquist’s early pace, Exaggerator ran very close to the rail throughout the race—saving precious ground compared to his rival—and coming around the final turn, jockey Kent Desormeaux guided Exaggerator to the outside, and the colt responded with a burst of acceleration that carried him to a decisive victory.

Cherry Wine, a late-running horse that was far behind the leaders early on, also saved ground and rallied to edge Nyquist for second place.

On a sadder note, the day of racing at Pimlico also saw two horses die as a result of unfortunate racing-related incidents. The popular gelding Homeboykris, a veteran of the sport that had been enjoying remarkable success in recent races, won the first race of the day at Pimlico but later suffered an apparent heart attack and passed away. Later, in the fourth race, a filly named Pramedya suffered a leg injury on the final turn and had to be humanely euthanized.

On Monday, O’Neill announced that Nyquist would not race in the Belmont after developing a fever and high white blood cell count after the Preakness. “He’s fine, but he’s got an elevated white blood cell count,” said assistant trainer Jack Sisterson. “We just want to do right by him and get him 100 percent.”

Although a chance at a Triple Crown sweep has ended and there will be no Nyqvist-Exaggerator rematch, the prestigious Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park still promises to be a must-watch race. Exaggerator will be joined by many other talented horses, including Cherry Wine and the Japanese-based colt Lani, who finished fifth in the Preakness and ninth in the Kentucky Derby.

The Belmont Stakes will be broadcast live on NBC on June 11th—be sure to tune in and watch!

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and racing enthusiast who considers Zenyatta to be his all-time favorite racehorse. He is the founder of the horse racing website TheTurfBoard.com and writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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